Taking it Easy with the Mother Hips
In the early 1990s, the Mothers Hips helped lay the groundwork for California’s jam-scene, offering a improv-oriented sound which owed as much to the Beach Boys as Neil Young. Formed in 1992 while students at Chico State, the quartet—- singer/guitarist Tim Bluhm, guitarist Greg Loiacono, drummer John Hofer and bassist Isaac Parsons,—-spent the next decade on stage, earning a sizeable west coast following and establishing loyal pockets of fans across the country. In the process, the group also released a series of well received studio albums, toured with everyone from Johnny Cash to Wilco and survived enough label shuffling to rival an episode of Behind the Music. But, in 2001, after issuing Green Hills of the Earth, Loiacono decided to take a hiatus, leaving the group’s future in a state of flux. After four years in limbo, the Mother Hips retuned with renewed energy and a new bassist Paul Hoaglin, releasing an EP and, covering Neil Young’s Everyone Knows This is Nowhere in its entirety. While working on the Mother Hips’ first proper studio album since 2001, Bluhm took to break to clue Jambands.com onto how the Mother Hips learned to live by good life by “taking it easy.”
MG- The Mother Hips are currently working their first album in years. How will this album differ from the group’s most recent release, 2001’s Green Hills of the Earth?
TB- It is actually the first Mother Hips record we’ve made where we haven’t played any of the songs live before entering the studio. We have about half the album done and are going to start working on the back half of the record soon. Our last record was really produced. We recorded it in little pieces at a lot of different locations over a long period of time. So, for this album, we are hoping will our sound will be a little looser, kind of how we first sounded when we started out in the early 1990s.
MG- Since reuniting in late 2004, what percentage of the Mother Hip’s catalogue has been brought out of retirement?
TB- As I said, we are probably not going to play any of these new songs in concert before the album comes out which, for us, is pretty exciting. We have such a big back catalogue that we are lucky to lean back on. We’ve been relying on about 50% of our recorded catalogue so far, but we have at least that many that songs we’ve never recorded. So, we have at least several hundred songs we haven’t played yet. We also have been playing some of our solo songs—-it’s a nice way to get those songs out of the bag. I have this one song “Harnessmaker's Song” which I wrote in 1998 and which ended up on a solo album called the Land and Sea Chanteys. The Mother Hips tried to play it back in ’98 but we just couldn’t figure out how to record it right so I put it on my solo record. But, hopefully, we can try to play it again.MG- Not only have the Mother Hips reunited, but the group appears to be back with a vengeance (albeit a mellow one), releasing a new album, a new EP and clocking in a number of high-profile dates. What led to this resurgence of energy?
TB- A few years ago, Greg decided to take a hiatus but he never said he would quit for good. But, in my mind, I kind of thought that it was over for the Mother Hips and hoped I’d be successful doing something else. But, I kind of realized how important the band was for me and was pretty bummed. Lately, Greg began expressing some interest in playing and I immediately wanted to make it happen. Greg and I were talking everyday anyway—-we were still best friends. Our manager really was instrumental in coming up with all these good ideas and helping us secure some great shows. We were really missing playing together and were all missing the money so we decided to give it another try. It ended up being more fun than ever and then we met Jon at Camera Records. He was super pumped up and had this conviction that we could do well—-we really didn’t have that conviction before he met him. Before that, we were just kind of talking it easy [laughs].
MG- Since reuniting, what has been your most memorable performance?
TB- We did this show at the Belly Up in Solana Beach, CA in 2004 [10/22-23/04]. It was one of the first places we played after we came back. It was a big room and we had a great crowd. The staff was really friendly and the equipment was great. I think what I missed most about not being in the band was the chemistry. We took that for granted for many years—-we have such a special chemistry. I learned how to play music with these guys and when I would try to play harmony with other musicians it just didn’t work. There are certain chemical connections. You only meet 1 or 2 people in your entire life with whom you have that connection.
MG- Before taking a hiatus, Greg mentioned that playing in the band had “become work” and “didn’t feel right?” How has the group sought to alleviate that pressure?
TB- We all sort of sought out alternative incomes, which kind of took some of the pressure off. For instance, I did some mountain guiding and played with some other bands. We don’t really have to tour fulltime anymore—-we can just play shows when we want to play. We’d like to get to the east coast as well, which is where our label is located. But we really enjoy California —-its really comfortable here. I am also running a little recording studio out of my house. Its not exactly a money maker but it’s a great outlet. Money comes in and money comes out.
MG- Before the Mother Hips releases its next album, you and Greg will also release your second album under the name Ball-Point Birds
TB- We did that in December and January—-only about six days of recording. It has a completely different feel to it than a Mother Hips record which is why we decided to do it as a solo record. Most of the songs are too down tempo to be in the Mother Hips catalogue. We wanted to get those songs out so that we didn’t have to make the new Mother Hips album as eclectic as they used to be.
MG- Last year, the Mother Hips also played Neil Young’s Everyone Knows This is Nowhere in its entirety. Can you talk about the process of learning that album
TB- Its always been one of my favorite albums. But, by learning it, you really get to be in someone else’s head and figure out how someone else writes their music. Its amazing all the thing you notice. For instance, the bass is at a different speed than the guitar on the entire album, but when you just listen to the album it sounds so complete. It’s really cool to try to figure out all the sounds on an album
MG- Looking back, how do you feel the jam-scene has changed over the past decade?
TB- I’m not sure if it has hanged our my perspective has changed but I feel it’s not as separated as it used to be. You have people playing music together from different genres—-the jamband term doesn’t have the stigma it used to have. We always felt kind of mislabeled and kind of fought against that. But I think we ended up hurting ourselves by reacting in that way. So now I am much more open minded. Being a jamband doesn’t mean you can’t have good songs.
Contributing Editor Mike Greenhaus has belatedly entered the 21st century with his own podcast Cold Turkey (www.relix.com/radio) and self-depreciative blog (www.greenhauseffect.com) .