Bluhm splits his time between fronting Mother Hips and performing with his wife’s band, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers. In September both acts are hitting the road together for a run of co-bill dates. Somehow, Bluhm also managed to squeeze in a trip to Europe in July to play guitar on Hiss Golden Messenger’s tour.
Before crossing the pond, the guitarist/vocalist talked about learning lessons from his younger self by reexamining the material on Chronicle Man.
The 11-tracks on Chronicle Man are described as the cream of a lost crop. Mother Hips assembled the LP after going through hours of material from a short stack of 2-inch analog tapes found in a Los Angeles basement in 2009.
The Mother Hips’ new album features songs originally recorded around the time the band was working on 1995’s Part-Timer Goes Full and 1996’s Shootout. Did you always know that you eventually wanted to use the tracks?
No, I don’t think anyone ever really thought too much about them. And a couple years ago we put out a box set of all this old stuff that had never been released. It was like four CDs and we ran into all these songs that are on this new record, Chronicle Man. And we just sort of set them aside because we thought they would make a better single record. So we kind of knew it was coming. But you know, the older songs get … your opinion of them can change. Sometimes I really won’t like something that I recorded a year ago but if I wait nine more years I can have a different perspective on them.
Why was 2014 the right time to release these songs?
Oh, it was just a part of a larger plan that’s been developing for a long time. So yeah, it was the right time to do it.
How do you think Chronicle Man compares to some of The Mother Hips’ more recent music, like your 2013 LP, Behind Beyond?
Well, we’re better musicians now and we’re older so we write lyrics about different things. That happens, you know. (laughs). But it’s fascinating to me to go back and hear what we sounded like when we were younger. Because at the time we made this we were as old as we’d ever been. That was the pinnacle in our ability at that point. It’s fun to go back and actually learn things about yourself by studying your past self. I don’t know what that does for the people who are just buying it and listening to it, but I can only speak for what it does for me.
A lot of times you do stuff when you’re younger, and maybe you’re more innocent, that you wouldn’t think of doing as an older person. And your younger self can teach yourself some lessons sometimes.
Do you care to share any of the lessons that you’ve learned?
Well, nothing specific, but the more you learn about something, say the craft of songwriting or the craft of playing music, the more education you get with it, you sort of lose your beginner’s mind and you become a little more rigid in what’s right and what’s wrong, what you should do and what you shouldn’t do. When I was younger I didn’t know as many of those shoulds and shouldn’ts, which makes for more interesting musical choices.
For someone who’s not a musician, the experience might be like rediscovering a diary.
Yeah, exactly. A lot of times it’s really embarrassing and you’re like, “Oh my god, I can not believe I wrote that.” But unlike a diary – and I’ve kept a journal for many, many years – these recordings were supposed to be consumed by other people so it’s a little different, not quite as embarrassing. I’m sure my journal from that era is extremely embarrassing. But there’s already been a lot of filters on those recordings, of course.
Did you rerecord any of the tracks on Chronicle Man?
No, no. We didn’t add any sounds to them at all. We just had them remixed. That was sort of the rule, we didn’t want to mess with them in any way. Because if you’re going to do that, then you might as well start over from scratch.
Do you have any favorite tracks from the new album?
There’s a song called “The Flood” that I feel does that thing I was talking about, where there’s a lot of musical choices that are just sort of really odd, unconventional and I find that to be pretty cool. I’m not sure I’d be bold enough to do that in this place in my musical career. But I could, because I used to.
Are you also touring with your wife’s band, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers, this summer?
Yeah, yeah, we’re doing some shows in Colorado in July, coming up here pretty soon. That tour goes through the whole sort of inter-mountain West. I’m just going to be joining up with it for [a few] shows, including one where we’re playing at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver. That’s with the Tedeschi Trucks Band, so that’s going to be really cool.
How do you balance your time with The Mother Hips and Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers?
It’s one of the largest challenges of my life. It’s really hard. I just try and get a lot of sleep and work hard.
You don’t want to be overtired when you’re trying to handle two different schedules.
No. It’s pretty much either playing or traveling, every day of the whole year.
So you’re only going to be doing a few shows in July with Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers. What else will you be up to?
Yeah, I’m going to be in Europe at the beginning of that [tour]. … I’ll be in Europe with another band, playing guitar for a friend. That band is called Hiss Golden Messenger. They’re from North Carolina [and] they’re doing really well in Europe.
Is that something you often do? Fill in on other band’s tours?
Not often. I’m so busy doing my own stuff but once in a while someone will ask me to do something that I just can’t say no to.
Sounds like a cool opportunity.
Yeah, The Grateful Dead drummers asked me to do the same kind of thing about four years ago – and I had to do it. Just a good experience, you know.
Your publicist describes Mother Hips’ fanbase as “a voracious cult following.” What’s your relationship with your fans?
Well, it’s funny because it’s sort of a small group of people and they’re super into it. And so I feel like I know a lot of them personally. (laughs). At least a little bit, sort of like acquaintances. That’s just the way my personality is too. I like to meet people and talk to people. So, [Mother Hips’ annual festival] The Hipnic, you know, that’s a good example – there are probably 500 or 600 people that go there every year and I feel like, I might not know them all by their first name, but probably like half of them.
And you see some of the same fans at your shows?
Totally, yeah. They’ll fly in from all over the country. A lot of people travel to see our band because it’s not like we play every major market in the nation so our fans … sometimes have to travel a ways to see [us].
That’s neat to have such a dedicated fanbase.
Yeah, I feel really lucky to have that.
Upcoming dates for Mother Hips:
Aug. 1 – Cisco Grove, Calfi., Cisco Grove Campground & RV Park (Guitarfish Festival)
Aug. 2 – Petaluma, Calif., Sonoma – Marin Fairgrounds (Petaluma Music Festival)
Aug. 29 – Bozeman, Mont., Peach Street Studios (Live From The Divide)
Aug. 30 – Bozeman, Mont., Peach Street Studios
Sept. 13 – Guerneville, Calif., Historic Redwood Forest Theater (Old Grove Festival)
Sept. 14 – Saint Helena, Calif., Long Meadow Ranch Winery
Sept. 18 – Cambridge, Mass., The Sinclair
Sept. 19 – Brooklyn, N.Y., Brooklyn Bowl
Sept. 20 – Brooklyn, N.Y., Brooklyn Bowl
Sept. 21 – Philadelphia, Pa., World Cafe Live
Sept. 23 – Baltimore, Md., Baltimore Soundstage
Sept. 25 – Wilmington, N.C., Ziggy’s By The Sea
Sept. 26 – Charleston, S.C., The Pour House
Sept. 27 – Atlanta, Ga., Terminal West
Sept. 28 – Fernandina Beach, Fla., Buccaneer Field at Central Park (Goin’ Coastal Music Series)
Oct. 10 – Washington, D.C., The Howard Theatre
Oct. 11 – Roseland, Va., Devil’s Backbone Brewing Co. (The Festy Experience)
Oct. 23 – Denton, Texas, Dan’s Silverleaf
Oct. 24 – Austin, Texas, The Continental Club
Oct. 25 – Austin, Texas, The Continental Club
Oct. 31 – Mill Valley, Calif., Sweetwater Music Hall
Nov. 1 – Napa, Calif., City Winery Napa
Mother Hips appears with Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers Sept. 18-27. Catch the band with Anders Osborne Oct. 10.
For more information please visit MotherHips.com.