Singer and guitarist Tim Bluhm has been chasing his rock dreams for over half his life. His band, The Mother Hips, released its debut album, Back to the Grotto, way back in 1993, and the group built momentum as part of the H.O.R.D.E. tour in the mid-'90s.
But The Mother Hips were never a jam band. The San Francisco-based quartet's nine studio albums vary from fuzzy, balls-out rock to Black Crowes-esque jangly roll. After a 20-year career that includes an extended hiatus and three rockumentaries about the band, 2013's Behind Beyond seemed to declare that The Mother Hips were still in it for the long haul. Songs like "Jefferson Army" — about a still viable independence movement in northern California, interspersed with imagery from the Jack London novel The Iron Heel — demonstrated that Bluhm's knack for poignant songwriting only continues to grow.
In 2007, the now 45-year-old Bluhm produced an album for a woman who would soon be called Nicki Bluhm, his wife. With a relationship built upon writing songs and harmonizing from its inception, it was natural for Tim to back Nicki in her band, the Gramblers.
What Bluhm couldn't have anticipated, however, was a viral video of the Gramblers performing Hall & Oates' "I Can't Go For That" in their van. That clip vaulted the group to the same levels of name recognition that The Mother Hips had tasted two decades earlier. A self-titled Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers album released in August 2013 built further traction, thanks to infectious tunes like the leadoff single "Little Too Late" and the loose, hooky "Deep Water."
Over the last year, Tim Bluhm has found himself on the road playing keys and singing backup with the Gramblers, while also keeping up the group he's been nurturing since his mid-20s. With the two-week tour that brings both bands to the Pour House this Friday, those two worlds finally come together.
"We've done New Year's Eve shows together, but we've never done a stretch like this, especially out of [California]," says Bluhm, who will pull double duty as a member of both the Gramblers and The Mother Hips. "This is the first time, and it's pretty exciting."
While Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers will likely bring more bodies through the door, Tim says he's conscious of not letting The Mother Hips become a built-in opening act for his wife's group. As such, the tour will include plenty of collaborations between the bands throughout the two sets.
With Bluhm busy jetting between the two bands over the last year, The Mother Hips looked to a stack of unreleased tracks from their early '90s time on Rick Rubin's American Recordings label to release a "new" album, Chronicle Man, this summer. The raw, energetic quality of the resulting 11-song collection may surprise listeners only familiar with Behind Beyond, but throughout, it's classic Mother Hips. In the title track, Bluhm bellows, "Are you scared of 25, because you have felt more alive?" It's a song he's still performing today.
"I think I've gotten used to the concept of getting older," he claims. "That 25-mark is the first time you go, 'Oh shit, I'm getting old.' But then each of those landmark birthdays goes by and you come to accept it a little bit more."
Bluhm admits that it's risky to put out work written and recorded 20 years prior. "The album doesn't represent the cutting edge of the band. It's more for the hard-core fans and could sound a little outdated if you didn't know the context," Bluhm says. At the same time, he says the Hips have enjoyed revisiting their older songs on the tour and that putting their catalog out there to the world is part of a greater plan that involves both his original band and the Gramblers.
Bluhm won't divulge details of what he calls his "secret plan," but he's clearly still bullish on The Mother Hips, even after nearly a quarter-century together. Following this tour, the band is headed back to the studio to record a follow-up to Behind Beyond.
Bluhm says, "I definitely feel pretty comfortable and optimistic, like I'm still improving as a musician and a writer."