Tim Bluhm Interview: Why Has Fame Escaped the Mother Hips?
Image attributed to Andrew Quist
Songwriter, producer, multi-instrumentalist Tim Bluhm is known as the primary vocalist and guitarist for the Mother Hips, a rock band based in the San Francisco Bay area. The group was founded in 1990 while Bluhm, Greg Lociacono (guitars/vocals), Isaac Parsons (bass) and Mike Wofchuck (drums) were attending California State University-Chico. After releasing four albums with the Mother Hips in the 1990s, Bluhm issued his solo debut, Land & Sea Chanteys, and has released other solo albums since that time.
In September of 2015, Bluhm suffered a serious accident while speed flying. Following his recovery, the Mother Hips recorded 2018’s Chorus, their first album of original material in five years. The band’s 11th studio recording, Glowing Lantern, is scheduled to be released December 3, 2021, and is available on vinyl and digital formats.
"It just feels like no one cared. No one was listening."
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Tim, it’s been over 30 years since you and Greg Loiacono founded the Mother Hips.
Tim Bluhm: Yeah. Exactly. It’s been over 30 years. It’s crazy.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Does it seem like that long?
Tim Bluhm: Yeah. It seems like it when I look back at when we first started. We were just kids, basically. So yeah, it feels just like substantially more than half my life. It feels very settled like it’s always been there, you know? Kind of nice.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Let’s talk about the band’s 11th studio recording, Glowing Lantern. What was the inspiration for the album?
Tim Bluhm: Well, I guess, practically speaking, it was time to make a new record. We weren’t playing any shows during that time. We created the record during the start of the pandemic, obviously. It was a reflective time for us and everybody, I think. In some ways, it was an ideal time to write songs.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Had you already written the songs before going into the studio?
Tim Bluhm: There were a few songs that existed, as will happen. But then Greg and I got together and wrote a bunch of material together, which was really nice. That doesn’t always happen. We’d never really done a whole lot of collaborating. People assume that we do, but we really haven’t done that much. So this record gave us that opportunity. We needed songs, and we didn’t have enough, so we got together, sat down and co-wrote a bunch of songs. It was great. It was a nice process for us to go through.
We’d been friends for well over 30 years because we were friends before the band started. When it came to songwriting for a particular record, I provided most of the songs throughout the history of the band, but as the band wore on, Greg started writing more and more stuff. I wouldn’t quite call it competition, but there’s always the fact that everyone wants their song to be featured on the record. So there’s that small amount of tension there. Maybe it’s a friendly competition, but we’ve always worked it out.
This time, it was nice to just get together with Greg and make music together so so that we were both equally invested. I think that’s a better way of saying it. We were both equally invested in the songs. It was like, “These are our songs.” That was something I wasn’t all that conscious of until I saw that it felt really good to both be equally invested in the songs.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So what happened in the past was that you would write, Greg would write, and then you’d work together?
Tim Bluhm: Yeah, and we would share them, but they were already done by the time we would share them. It’s an efficient way to work, and it’s a way to make sure the individual songwriter’s accurate. But it doesn’t always represent what it means to actually be a band because a band really, in my opinion, and I’m sure it’s highly subjective, is the sum of its separate parts put together, and hopefully it makes everyone better. It elevates everyone in the band musically, intellectually, socially and artistically. It doesn’t always happen. It’s not always that practical.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you and Greg produce the album together?
Tim Bluhm: We did. I’ve been producing records for other bands for decades. Greg just started to get involved in it in the last few years, which is really cool. It was nice to connect with him on that stuff. So the label wanted Greg and me to produce and mix the record. I was scared. It was a lot of pressure. You’re self-producing, but you have to make sure everyone in the band is happy. If the record is not as well-received as say, for example, the previous record, then it can reflect on the person that produced it. So I guess it remains to be seen what our audience’s reaction will be to the record. But the first single has been very well received.
The record sounds good, I think, because it was produced by Greg and me, and we both know the culture and history of our band. Of course, we know it more than anyone else because we lived it. We defined it. So I think that there’s a directness to the record that would be much more difficult to attain by hiring an outside producer. Hiring an outside producer, you know, is also very valuable. That’s valuable as an outside perspective. So many times, that’s the way to go, and that’s the way we’ve always felt. But this time, we removed that element at our peril, but I think it worked really well. I think the record sound very much like what our band is supposed to sound like.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you write the first single, “Looking at Long Days”?
Tim Bluhm: Greg and I co-wrote the song. I came up with the words, and Greg had the opening guitar, and we fleshed out the verses and defined what the chorus was going to be. It was very collaborative and satisfying that way.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: What did you have in mind while writing the words to “Looking at Long Days”?
Tim Bluhm: I think what I was thinking about was that I had a son of a good friend of mine who was staying at my house. He was not going to college due to COVID, so my friend asked me if his son could sleep on my couch for a semester. He was very interested in music production and outdoors things. My friend asked me to just put him up at my house and show him stuff that I might know.
I spent a lot of time with this young man. It was great. It was fun to just sit around and hear the perspective of a 20-year-old kid for a long time. It was four months, and I hung out with him every day, and I don’t have kids. Greg has a 19-year-old son, so he’s used to it, but I’d never had that experience. It was fun, and the song wasn’t really speaking to him specifically, but just kind of sharing an older person’s perspective with a younger person.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I imagine it was interesting to discuss his musical tastes.
Tim Bluhm: It was fascinating. It really was. I’m so busy producing records and writing my own music that I always have a terrible answer when people ask me, “What have you been listening to”? It’s always stuff I’m working on. I don’t have time to do anything else. It was refreshing because not only did he like to play guitar a lot more than I do now, but he’s like I was at his age where all I wanted to do was sit around and play guitar. That changes as you get older the longer you’re a musician.
I definitely have compartmentalized a little bit where I have other things going on in my life besides sitting around and playing guitar. Even if I had the time to do that all the time, I probably would choose to go do other things. So it was fun to just be around someone who’s super focused on playing guitar and then listening to music constantly. So I was exposed to a lot of cool music that I never knew existed.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Did you name the band the Mother Hips?
Tim Bluhm: Yeah. I wrote a song. I forgot what record it’s on. It didn’t come out right away, but it was one of the first songs I wrote, and it’s called “Mother Hips.” In the lyric, it was sort of about this girl I had a crush on, and I was 19 when I wrote it, a younger 19, too, I might add. It was just a line in the song, a refrain in the song. We needed a band name. We had a show coming up, and we had some other terrible names we were trying to call ourselves. We had to come up with a name for the party we were playing, and that’s what we all could agree on. Then we started getting popular right around that same time, so we were stuck with it.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: It must have been exciting to be signed by Rick Rubin’s American Recordings while still in college.
Tim Bluhm: I think, by that time, I was probably 22 or 23 when we started talking to the major label. But, yeah, it was incredibly exciting. I didn’t have the perspective as a person to know how much of an opportunity that really was. I think it came a little bit easy, which has its costs as well. We didn’t really struggle and struggle to get to that point. Everything happened quickly.
Looking back on it, at least it seemed like everything was just flowing. It was effortless because we were working very hard, and we didn’t experience a lot of discouragement until a little bit after that point. So it was a lot of forward progression very quickly, and it was extremely exciting. But I also wasn’t conscious of how rare and precious of an opportunity we were handed at that time in our careers.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So the struggles came after the band split with American Recordings?
Tim Bluhm: Well, we had some personal problems and drugs, things like that. There were just general bad behaviors as many young people have, especially people that are in rock and roll bands in the early 90s. The label relationship was pretty good, but we didn’t sell records like we thought we would. We really didn’t have the perspective, so we thought that when we got signed to a label, we were going to get rich and famous because that’s what happens. We weren’t really conscious of the odds of that really happening. So when it became apparent that wasn’t happening, we were touring full time all over the country, back and forth across the country for quite a few years there, and we weren’t really growing anymore. That’s when we started to see that this isn’t a fairytale. We started to see this was hard.
I still struggle with these same things today, and I’m a 51-year-old person. You put so much of your life and your effort and your experience into the music, and often times, it feels like you don’t get any reaction from the world. I’m sure that’s common for every creative person, even the very successful ones. It just feels like no one cared. No one was listening. It was around a few years after we got signed. It was clear that we weren’t going to sell a million records, and we were working harder than ever before. So, yeah, it got hard.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: The band has made some great music over the years, and why it didn’t break through as more successful has probably baffled many people.
Tim Bluhm: Yeah, it has, and it continues to. But at a certain point, Greg and I really had to stop allowing ourselves to be baffled by that. It wasn’t serving a purpose. We had to just accept it and keep doing what we were doing. Just keep doing our music for the reasons that were not baffling. It’s a continuing lesson to be learned, of course. It never gets easier.
We had to accept that we were not going to be the Rolling Stones, but we still have this incredible opportunity. We’ve been given this amazing gift of a musical career, and we haven’t had to do any other work for money, and that alone is like a real watershed. I know many people who are more talented than I am and better at making music. They’ve had to get jobs and had to be pulled away from their musical pursuits to pay for their lives and their musical pursuits. So the simple fact we’ve been able to do it exclusively is super important.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: That is actually success.
Tim Bluhm: Yeah. It can certainly be a sign of success.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: So in the song “Third Floor Story,” the lyrics, “The company quit, they didn’t do shit for that new record. What do I have to do to get a break. Won’t somebody just give me a hit?” That is the story of what happened to you and the band?
Tim Bluhm: Yeah. That was right in those years. It was probably about ’94. I was living in some small apartment in San Francisco, had bad neighbors, had bad habits, and I was freaked out by the way my career wasn’t going (laughs). There was some anger and some fear, for sure.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I also do not understand why “White Falcon Fuzz” wasn’t a hit.
Tim Bluhm: It’s a complicated phenomenon, I think, not that I know anything about it. But a lot of things have to happen at the right time.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Have you completely healed both physically and emotionally from the speed flying accident in 2015?
Tim Bluhm: I definitely still have some pain associated with a very badly damaged ankle. It’s basically a huge metal rod down my lower leg, so I’m not the same as I was, but I can get around pretty well. I can’t really run anymore, but I can walk pretty far. I can do most of the things I need to do.
Emotionally, there’s definitely some stuff going on for me in general like a PTSD kind of thing. It’s sort of an irrational fear of some cataclysmic thing happening to me again. I think that’s there. I recognize that. I’m conscious of it because I still do things. I don’t do anything nearly as crazy as what I was doing when I got hurt. But I’ll get in a risky situation at times, and I’ll really have to tell myself that this is not an unreasonable risk to be taking. I have a new relationship with fear now, which is good, I think.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: A healthy relationship with fear?
Tim Bluhm: Well, I think it’s healthy in the sense that I probably won’t kill myself doing something like an extreme activity, but it’s not healthy in that sometimes self-doubt and hesitation can actually put you at more risk than decisiveness depending on what it is. I’m talking about an activity where you have to go really fast to make it, and if you don’t go really fast, you’re not going to make it. It’s that kind of stuff that can trip you up and get you in trouble.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Do you have someone to discuss these self-doubts and fears with?
Tim Bluhm: I’ve had a therapist off and on for many years, and that has really helped. My parents are nearby, and they’re really close with me. My older brother is very close. We’re very close. Greg is not my oldest friend, but he’s my closest friend because we’ve been through so much together. So I have plenty of people to talk it out with. I have lots of great friends. I’m lucky.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: Are you preparing for a tour on the new album?
Tim Bluhm: I would hesitate to call it touring, but yeah, we’re definitely playing around the US a little bit. We’re doing some Texas dates and some Utah dates. We pretty much stick to places where we know people will come to the shows. We gave up trying to gain audiences in places we don’t have them. We’re starting a new record in the end of November, so we’re getting prepared for that as well.
Smashing Interviews Magazine: I’d ask what type of music, but you guys jump around from rock to folk rock to alternative rock.
Tim Bluhm: We try not to be too aware. We try not to be too self-conscious about it. We just try and come up with what it is, and take it from there. But I think we’ll be somewhat conscious of not trying to make it too similar to the last one because it’s a pretty quick turnaround on this one. Our new record, Glowing Lantern, hasn’t even come out yet, and we’re already writing songs for the next one. Usually there’s a little bit more time in between. But that’s just the way it worked out this time. That’s the way it is.
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