Questions by Nicholas Stock
Tim Bluhm is another prolific and seminal musician that you may have overlooked. A founding member of The Mother Hips, Tim has been navigating the music scene on a national level since they made their big splash in 1991. They quickly gained notoriety in Chico, California where they formed, but it wasn’t long before they hit the road to share their gospel far and wide. Simply put these guys are rockers, but there is nothing simple about The Mother Hips. Scene Magazine caught up with him before his show at Hodi’s Half Note on August 9th with local favorites The Grant Farm.
The Mother Hips released their first album Back To The Grotto in 1993 to wide praise, but their “uniqueness” made them tough to adapt the mainstream. Since his early days with the Hips Tim has done it all. He formed a singer/songwriter backpacking trip for High Sierra Music Festival with Steven Poltz. Bluhm opened The Mission Bells Studio with Jackie Greene where he produced albums for Hot Buttered Rum, Dave Brogan and several others. Phil Lesh and Los Lobos would also record there. After marrying Nicki Bluhm he became the music director and one of the songwriters for her band The Gramblers.
Tim spent a decade touring with his wife before the bottom fell out. He suffered a horrific paragliding accident that nearly cost him his left foot and shattered his hip. Around the same time, Nicki left Tim eventually settling in Nashville and putting the Gramblers on hiatus. Tim spent the next two years enduring multiple surgeries, battling infections and getting healthy again. Bluhm now released a solo record appropriately titled Sorta Surviving, and he is back on the road. He has limited dates with The Mother Hips this summer and will be again hosting their annual soirée The Hipnic in Big Sur.
NS: Your career has been prolific spanning 3 decades starting with The Mother Hips trough today with your various projects and solo endeavors. Talk about the beginning, how did you fall in love with music?
TB: I came into performing music when I was pretty young. I got wrangled into singing in the church choir and pretty much did that and school choral groups all the way through high school. As a kid I loved The Beach Boys, Buddy Holly and Little Richard.
NS: The Mother Hips are a blend of rock and soul wrapped in a cool California package. Talk about the band and how it grew in a nationally touring sensation in the nineties.
TB: We were lucky enough to get signed to a major label when we were just starting out. We were determined to maintain the uniqueness that we had developed in the relative isolation of Chico. Our originality was both a help and a hindrance though. The label put us on the road for a few years which helped us build our business but ultimately I don’t think they really knew what to do with our kind of music.
NS: Anything new on the horizon for The Mother Hips?
TB: We’re working on a few releases right now, some reissues, a live record and a new studio record after that.
NS: What’s the High Sierra Singer Songwriter workshop? Why did you decide to set it as a backcountry trip?
TB: That trip was really fun, though I haven’t run it in quite a few years. I was working seasonally as a mountain guide and saw a way to integrate the wilderness setting with music. 10 songwriters and guitars, 8 mules, 2 guides and 5 days in the mountains. It’s a great place to focus, to collaborate and to relax. I partnered up with Steve Poltz for a couple of them. I think people got a lot out of those trips. I should probably do one again.
NS: You gained a lot of notoriety nationally as the musical director and member of The Gramblers with your ex-wife. Talk about that project, how it developed, and what it’s been like to let it go.
TB: Those were some good times. It was a very different experience than forming the Mother Hips. I had more experience and a clearer sense of what I thought should happen and how to do it. Nicki wasn’t sure at first that she even wanted to try and be a professional musician but she quickly saw that she was well-suited for it. Great voice, great ear and a good head for the business side of it. After a while she didn’t really need my help in the same way as before. That band really took on a life of its own and I accidentally drifted away from what I had set out to do originally for myself. I didn’t record or release any of my own music for over a decade because I was really busy producing, writing and touring with Nicki and the Gramblers.
NS: You suffered a horrible paragliding accident that nearly cost you your foot and has led to a long road of recovery. How did this accident change your perspective on life?
TB: Thankfully my life is pretty much back to normal after a few years of pretty dramatic health stuff. Before I crashed I hadn’t really ever dealt with any health issues. It was a pretty humbling thing to go through and I’ve noticed that I am definitely a bit less bold in my choices these days. I get scared of things more easily, which I’m not thrilled about, but ultimately it’s probably for the best.
NS: You opened up the Mission Bells Studio with friend and collaborator Jackie Greene. Why?
TB: When Jackie and I met we realized we both owned Tascam 1” 8 track tape machines. We felt it was necessary to join forces and create a good recording studio of our own. I found a spot on Mission Street that was formerly a studio and we took it over. Made a lot of records there over the years. Eventually we both moved our stuff into our respective home studios.
NS: In 2007 you started hosting the Hipnic a 3 day festival in Big Sur that continues today. What’s it like to host your own gig in your backyard?
TB: The Hipnic is really good. It’s 3 days of music and camping right on the Big Sur River. I’m not much of a festival guy myself. I don’t really like huge crowds, high temperatures, dust and waiting in line for portapotties. The Hipnic has none of those things. There’s no MC shouting at you to drink water and put on sunscreen. The bands just get up and play. My cousin makes signs for each band so you know who is playing.
NS: You’ve been coming to Fort Collins during the Bohemian Nights at New West Fest for a number of years. What’s it like to play in The Choice City?
TB: I’ve always liked Fort Collins. I almost went to school there. We’ve probably played Fort Collins more than any other town in Colorado except Denver.
NS: You’ve recently released a solo record Sorta Surviving, talk about the process of writing these incredibly personal songs and working with Dave Schools.
TB: Dave and I had wanted to work together for a long time and we finally got the chance to do it. I told him I wanted to make a country record and he knew just what to do. He had just been working with Todd Snider at the Cash Cabin and so we went there to do it. Dave really knows how to put a successful recording session together and this was no exception. He gets the setting and the musicians all dialed and then just sits back and lets it happen.
NS: What does the future hold for Tim Bluhm?
TB: I’ve got a bunch of music recorded and it’ll be released steadily over the next year or so, lots of singles and an LP or two. Then I’m going to record a sequel to my 3rd album California Way.
Life is finally finding a new normal for Tim Bluhm. See Tim and the Mother Hips at Hodi’s Half Note on August 9th.