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Mother Hips '01

A Golden-coast

By: Hank Ten

Mother Hips at KFOG Kaboom, May 2002. Photo: Koster.

2001 was a banner year for California rock group Mother Hips. Maybe the best year yet in their 10 year career.

The year saw the release of their fifth album, Green Hills of Earth and unprecedented buzz for the band. For a band that doesn't have a major label deal, and major financial backing, they had as successful a year as possible. Critics and fans alike praised the new album, tossing around words like "masterful", and "irresistible" to describe it. The San Francisco Chronicle's, James Sulliavan, called the album the number one rock event of the year, stating the album makes "a quantum leap, redefining Left Coast rock 'n' roll." Beyond their Bay Area home, the Hips received some national recognition when Rolling Stone critic, Bill Crandall, picked Green Hills of Earth as the top album of the past year in the magazine's year end critic roundup.

Mother Hips band leader, Tim Bluhm, recently explained how the year was from his perspective. "It’s definitely been an exciting year relative to the several years preceding it because Green Hills Off Earth got more attention, and I think it deserved more attention than Later Days." He went on to explain that the increase in buzz and album sales has led to better attendance at the shows: "That manifested itself, and continues to manifest itself, in higher attendance at the shows, which is really a much more tangible thing in our lives. When we go to work, it’s more successful. We see more people come through the door. And that’s just awesome. It’s so good for our morale. It’s good for our music. It just motivates you to try harder. It makes it seem like you’re doing something that’s worthwhile. I think playing music is always worthwhile, but sometimes it’s hard-- no matter what you’re doing – it’s hard to see why you do it. And we’ve had a lot of reminders this year…it’s such a blessing."

Besides higher attendence at shows, other reminders included high profile radio appearences (KFOG, San Francisco) sharing the stage with the likes of Wilco and Blues Traveller, and playing bigger and better venues.

The year began with a near fever pitch of buzz surrounding the Hips - a cover story in the San Francisco Chronicle, a live appearance on KFOG, an instore record release, and a fantastic, sold out show at Slims. When Bluhm came on stage that night donning Indian formal wear, fans knew they were in for a special year. That week ignited the Hips' year in the Bay Area and beyond. More matter of fact, than cocky, Bluhm, explains the band's success in NorCal extended well beyond the Bay Area: "The situation in SF definitely refelects what’s happening everywhere else… much to my surprise, actually! [In SF] The KFOG support was unprecedented for us, selling out the Fillmore was a rush, the KFOG Kaboom, was all-time for us! The situation in San Francisco definitely refelects what’s happening everywhere else… much to my surprise, actually! I guess it’s not that surprising, but it’s certainly fortunate, that everywhere else we’ve gone, since about July or August, we’ve sold out. And we’ve been playing bigger venues. Like in San Diego we switched from a 200 capacity club to a 700 capacity club, and sold it out. Twice. That’s just really encouraging to see that."

On the road again
The Hips toured hard in the year 2001. Except for a brief respite in the Autumn to allow for the birth of guitarist Greg Loiacono's newborn boy, the band toured pretty much relentlessy all year.

While the vast majority of shows were in California and western

states, the boys extended themselves outside of their home state venturing into the mid-west, as far as Chicago and Minneapollis. Bluhm commented how playing outside of their home state affects the band -- "We don’t have as much of a definition in people’s minds there. Maybe they’ve only seen us play once, or only heard the record, or only heard a song.
They’re fans, that’s why they showed up, but they’re curious more than fanatical." The fact that these fans don’t know what to expect is somewhat refreshing-- “It’s cool, actually, because it gives you a chance to slightly reinvent yourself because there aren’t expectations. You aren’t anything yet, and you can become something. You can define yourself." A couple different tours through the Rocky Mountain states (Idaho, Colorado, Utah) kept the odometer rolling on the tour van. Late in the year, the boys managed a fairly high profile show in Denver opening for kindred musical spirits, Wilco. By all accounts the live show has never been better. The band kept things fresh and added some new songs into the rotation (Red Tandy, Incredible Man, Harnessmaker's Song) and resurrected some older Hips' chestnuts like Bent Carousel, Mona Lisa snd the Last Supper, and Can't Sleep at All.

Radio appearences

The Hips played a number of in-store appearences as well as many

Early morning appearence on Santa Barbara radio station, KTYD
radio show appearences in '01. These appearences helped spread the sound, but proved challenging at times, playing for DJ's unfamiliar with the Hips. "It’s like it used to be in the old days when we’re trying to prove ourselves on the spot. You’re sort of like against the odds.
You’re sitting in there and all you have is an acoustsic guitar and your voices, and it’s usually like 8 O’clock in the morning and you’re not feeling so hot, and you try and turn that person around and make him, and hopefully anybody that’s listening, understand why there’s any little bit of fuss about the Mother Hips, you know?” But Bluhm welcomed the challenge, stating, “It’s cool. It’s been really healthy for our musicianship and for our morale.”

Rock nights, early morning Radio shows, sand and surf:
But playing rock shows, record store appearances, and radio shows can be taxing. The boys often found themselves booked solid, and working harder than usual to promote an album. A weekend in November was illustrative of their sometimes hectic schedule:
“A lot of times doing these radio shows – it’s pretty
grueling. You gotta play the rock show at night -- like this one (KTYD, Santa Barbara) was scheduled for 8 o’clock in the morning after a rock show the night before in San Luis. We had to drive to El Capitan (just north of Santa Barbara), after the San Luis show and slept in the back of the van. Luckily it (the surf) wasn’t breaking, cause I would’ve been bummed! But we got to the station about
7:45 and warmed our voices up and played. Then went to Leadbetter Beach, swam, took a run on the sand. It was a good day.” Later that afternoon, the band did a record store appearance, a two plus hour rock show that night, and then drove to LA, for the next show.

Three night stand

The end of the year found the Hips booked for a bold three night run at San Francisco’s storied, Great American Music Hall. Playing these Christmas shows, has become a Mother Hips tradition of sorts, something they’ve done the last eight years. I asked Bluhm about this seemingly bold move of playing a three night stand and he replied, wearily, “It’s definitely a deep dig. There’s a little anxiety. It sort of reflects the optimism that the year has allowed us to feel. We’ll see. I think it’s pretty optimistic.” Turns out the three night run was a big success, with two packed nights, and a full house on night three.

On tap for 2002
In addition to non-stop touring, radio and record store appearences, the band spent some time in the studio to record more demo songs,presumably newer stuff like Incredible Man and Grizzly Bear. Bluhm and guitarist/singer Greg Loiacono, (the Tim and Greg duo) also recorded songs for a forthcoming duo album, entitled, The Ballpoint Birds. The record is done and will see its release in early 2002. “I’ve been really stoked we’ve had this period of productivity. Greg and I made the record, Ball Point Birds. Probably ready to release in February.” Does this new releasea warrant additional touring by Tim and Greg? “I’m sure we’ll do some more touring … but it’s hard to balance it with the Mother Hips…we don’t want it to interfere with what the Mother Hips are trying to do right now… "

The band will be off for most of the month of January, as the hard

vacationing Bluhm is out of the country and everyone is likely basking in the success of 2001. But the group comes back strong in February. With new recordings (Ball Point Birds), new songs coming out, and a heavy road schedule for February, fans have a lot to look forward to in 2002 and the
band’s next decade.

Special thanks to nd Koster for all photos, except KTYD stuidos, courtesy of Tim Bluhm.

Click on any of the photos for larger versions.


Golden-Coast Productions, 2001