San Francisco by way of Chico, Californ-I-A four-piece the Mother Hips have gone through loads of changes over the past two decades. The band is currently in the studio working on a new record—their eighth long player—but we’re here to talk about what went down back in 1992 … you know, the year Nirvana’s Nevermind hit No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Chart, Quentin Tarantino made his directorial debut with Reservoir Dogs, a tribute to Freddie Mercury was held at Wembley Stadium …
… it was a long time ago. In a galaxy far, far away. I was just out of high school, not yet living in Chico. The Mother Hips released their debut Back to the Grotto in February of 1992, and eventually put out on Rick Rubin’s American Recordings. It was largely overlooked at the time (you’d be hard-pressed to find any ink on the record), but it’s a seminal release for the band. Intertwining guitars and vocals support Tim Bluhm’s playful, confessional lyrics. The album seamlessly brings together British Invasion melodies, Dead-like extended passages, California pop harmonies. Listening to it again, it’s hard to believe this is a debut album. The Hips simplified their sound over the following years, but have since embraced the elements that make Grotto great.
In true 2012 fashion, the Mother Hips are planning to play the album in its entirety on June 15 at San Francisco’s Independent. What’s more, the band is offering the record for free download through June 2. It’s your chance to discover a lost gem. It’s the hippiest, unhip thing you’ll do all day … or the hippest, unhippie thing. Either way, you’ll be glad you did.
“Precious Opal” – The Mother Hips
Thursday, March 29th, 2012 | musiX | No Comments
Your vehicle is the most sacred of places when it comes to belting out a song or two. Or Iron Maiden’s Live After Death in its entirety. Of course, I don’t stop there. My steering wheel automatically becomes a snare drum, and my seatbelt strap connects to an invisible Flying V. All this while chugging a Big Gulp, plowing through a double-cheeseburger and mussing my hair … although I will never, ever talk on my cell phone because it’s, you know, against the law.
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers enjoy a good singalong as well. The San Francisco-based country band has documented their en-route shenanigans in the Van Sessions. The sessions—yes, recorded in the band’s van while driving—have included a few more obvious choices from Patsy Cline to the Grateful Dead. But it’s the quirkier ones that are the most fun—Madonna’s “Material Girl,” Funkadelic’s “Can You Get to That,” and most recently a flawless rendition of Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do),” complete with kazoo solo.
It makes me want to take a road trip … with the Gramblers. Sadly, a journey in the car by myself resembles something more like this.
I’ve seen the Mother Hips about a dozen times. And these eyes have seen the many faces of those Hips—the unpredictable instrument-swapping kids, the sweaty, full-throttle bar band, and the play-it-safe adults. Many times I thought they were the best live band around, although there was a show where I had a difficult time keeping these eyes open.
It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a Mother Hips show, and I’ve never actually seen them outside of their old stomping grounds of Chico, Calif. I was looking forward to finally seeing the band far away from the drunken throngs … in the acoustic wonderland of the Doug Fir, no less. But I left the show a little unsure as to how I felt about the whole experience. It wasn’t bad. The performance seemed to lack energy. I don’t know if unenergetic is even the right word. It was just … slow. They were tip-toeing through their songs instead of stomping.
The Mother Hips also eased into a fair amount extended jams, “jam band” being an an old association they’ve tried to distance themselves from. Sometimes those jams worked—usually when they were more on the spacey and adventurous side. Other times they were derivative and sounded like noodling for the sake of noodling.
There were songs made for the stage—”Red Tandy,” “Del Mar Station” and “Timesick Son of a Grizzly Bear” to name a few—combining Tim Bluhm, Greg Loiacono and Paul Hoaglin’s stunning Beach Boys-meets-Bee Gees harmonies with pop hooks and loud guitars. There were times, however, that I found myself waiting for the next song to start. Now I’m anxiously waiting for the Mother Hips’ redemption song.
Tuesday, February 17th, 2009 | interviewZ, musiX, pdX | 1 Comment
Tim Bluhm and the Mother Hips have been at it for the better part of two decades. The band has gone through it all—getting the ax from a major label, drugs, indefinite hiatus—and has still managed to hold it together without compromising their sound. I don’t think the Mother Hips have made a bad record.
The Hips released Kiss the Crystal Flake in 2007 after taking a few years off to regroup—it was the band’s first full-length since 2001′s critically lauded Green Hills of Earth. Crystal Flake received similar accolades, taking the band’s proclivity for ’60s-era Bee Gees and ’70s rock and country and playing like a love letter to the Golden State.
It’s safe to say the Mother Hips are in the best shape of their career—no label pressure, no bad feelings or vices, only the music. Bluhm and the rest of the band—guitarist/vocalist Greg Loiacono, bassist Paul Hoaglin and drummer John Hofer—are taking a break from work on the followup to Kiss the Crystal Flake to play a handful of West Coast dates, including this Friday (Feb. 20) at the Doug Fir. And if you’re hip enough to have scored tickets to SXSW, you’ll probably see them there, too.
Bluhm caught up with The Days of Lore to talk about the new record (tentatively due out this fall), and to reflect on 20 years of music making.
TDoL: You seem to be in a really good place right now musically with the Hips going stronger than ever, and your collaborations with Jackie Greene and others …
Tim Bluhm: I feel really grateful to be where I am right now. There is lots of great stuff happening all around.
How’s the new Hips record coming?
The Hips record is probably about 70 percent done and I think we are all very excited about how it is sounding. We have been so fortunate to find ourselves where we are, in a studio where we all feel comfortable [Mission Bells in San Francisco], and with a producer, Dave Simon-Baker, who is incredibly talented.
What do you try to achieve production-wise with each new record?
The Hips are in a unique position because we have a great fanbase without having a commercial-style record label breathing down our neck. We can really do whatever we want, and we do. We love to stretch out and see what we can get away with, make ourselves laugh. But also try and throw down some serious rock ‘n’ roll.
You’ve been making music for almost 20 years. What are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the fact that the Mother Hips have been able to stay friends and have fun for as long as we have. My relationship with Greg [Loiacono] is one of the most important relationships in my life.
“Transit Wind” – The Mother Hips (Shootout)
Saturday, November 15th, 2008 | musiX | No Comments
What a difference 492 miles makes. I’ve traveled to my former stomping ground of Chico for some pre-Thanksgiving festivities. The crystal-blue sky and sun-glazed trees in California always makes me think of backyard get-togethers with friends and road trips—windows down, stereo up. The perfect soundtrack? The Mother Hips.
The band got its start here in the dorms of Chico State, flirted with commercial success in the ’90s, relocated to San Francisco, battled the dreaded (and lazy and erroneous) jam-band label, battled personal demons, took an indefinite hiatus, and made some of the finest rock albums of the past 15 years.
The Hips came out at a time when Chico was divided by hippie-dippy Dead followers (influenced by the town’s longest-running band Spark ‘n’ Cinder) and bands like The Downsiders and Trench, who were revolting against anything that reeked of patchouli. Looking back on that time, Mother Hips singer and guitarist Tim Bluhm explained that he never thought the Hips fit in either camp, and that they built their sound on their own random tastes.
“We mostly just had the records in our house: Leonard Cohen, Black Sabbath, Gene Clark, Led Zeppelin, Merle Haggard, the Bee Gees. It came out kind of weird, but we liked it.”
Those influences tell it all. Distorted guitars were tempered by Bluhm and fellow guitarist/vocalist Greg Loiacono‘s sweet harmonies. Early songs had multiple parts with out-of-left-field dynamic shifts. Later they would adopt more simple, pop arrangements, and in 1998 the band released a stripped-down country gem called Later Days, one of their best.
The Mother Hips recently performed at San Francisco’s Cafe Du Nord, playing three and a half hours of music from one fan’s ultimate setlist which was chosen weeks before. The marathon performance is available for 10 bucks (three discs’ worth) exclusively at the band’s Web site. Bluhm told me recently the Hips are currently in the studio working on the follow-up to 2007′s excellent Kiss the Crystal Flake. I was glad to hear it. At this point I don’t think I can imagine not having The Mother Hips around. Take them along with you on your next road trip, windows down, stereo up.
“Been Lost Once” – The Mother Hips (Live at Cafe Du Nord)
“TGIM” – The Mother Hips (Kiss the Crystal Flake)
“Stunt Double” – The Mother Hips (Later Days)