When a band is together for thirty years, things can change in ways that are imperceptible in the moment but obvious with a bird’s eye view. Sometimes that’s behavior within a group, sometimes that’s the way bands play songs live. For the Chico-born “California soul” group, The Mother Hips, that’s often meant the way the band interprets the music it’s played for three decades when on stage. This year, the band is celebrating its 30th anniversary by rereleasing its entire 10-album discography on vinyl, one album each month. In April, the band will release the reissue for their classic LP, Later Days. And today (March 24), they are sharing an exclusive acoustic video for the titular single below. But by looking back on all this music, the band’s co-founders, Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono, say that while some things have changed, some things still thankfully remain the same.
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“It’s been fun,” Bluhm says. “Because we’re making a new record now. So, it’s a good reference point to listen back to those old records that we haven’t heard for so long. Because when you play it live, it changes by degrees.”
A lot can happen when you form a band in 1991 and for The Mother Hips that is certainly the case. The group formed on the west coast in northern California at Chico State University and quickly gained a following. Bluhm and Loiacono met and had immediate chemistry, jamming with their acoustics on campus and eventually playing gigs on campus and around town. Together, The Mother Hips blended a sense of ‘70s psychedelia with folk guitar strumming. In those early days, they lived together in a house and musicians would visit to talk strategy or jam on guitars, while perhaps using a beer bottle as a slide. The band wrote often, sometimes hosting late night sessions after gigs.
“Definitely in the early days,” Loiacono says, “we would sit around with our guitars. We had a series of band houses in Chico that were always going off late into the night. Sometimes we’d set up recording equipment and we’d make up tunes.”
As the band’s output and reputation grew, major labels courted them. It was the ‘90s, so the labels rolled out the red carpet. Bluhm and Loiacono were wined and dined and limos were involved. Eventually, they signed with American Recordings and worked with the major label for a time. But, like many bands, the partnership didn’t quite work out. Deciding then to be independent, however, The Mother Hips were equipped with how to run their ship without outside help. Sure, it would be a smaller outfit, but it would be what they wanted when they wanted.
“What made us who we are these days,” Loiacono says, “is that Tim and I had a very strong vision. Even though we don’t always know what that vision is, we always know what it isn’t. So, we stood by each other, for better and for worse. Overall, it was a great experience and we toured our asses off and the extended fan base we have today came from all that touring.”
Over the decades, The Mother Hips have enjoyed a swath of loyal fans. The band was linked for many years with the popular Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers (Tim and Nicki were married for several years) and fans would annually travel to California’s redwood forest for the summery, exclusive Hipnic campouts where they could hear The Mother Hips, Nicki Bluhm and many other like-minded string ticklers. One of the standout qualities of The Mother Hips was that the group was always on the lookout to aid other bands and grow along with them.
“When we started getting our own scene going,” Loiacono says, “bands would come and open for us that we’d be trying to help. We’d record them or have them on our recordings. It grew organically.”
Both Bluhm and Loiacono grew up listening to music, from what’s now classified as classic rock to acts like Earth, Wind & Fire and the Bee Gees. While they didn’t have much expectation when it came to musical success in any career sense, when they joined forces, a pathway opened up before them. The duo has enlisted a handful of other musicians along the way but their relationship has been central from day-one. Their friendship and musical chemistry is the unwavering foundation upon which all things from the band have been built.
“Because we never had a hit song,” Bluhm says, “I feel like an external pressure to be anything besides what we feel like being has never existed for this band. There’s definitely some frustration around not ever gaining that type of success but we also all feel gratitude for maintaining our autonomy. And here we are, still a band and still making music.”
With more releases slated for 2021, followed by the rumored new album, The Mother Hips are poised to experience a gamut of recollections, thoughts and memories. It’s likely that, as the year unfolds, both Bluhm and Loiacono will continue to look back at where they began, enjoy what’s happening now and still work to forge ahead with new songs and new ways to tell their unspooling story via the music that’s always been there for them.
“The thing I love most about music,” Bluhm says, “is the feeling of magic. Nothing else that I’ve ever experienced in my life has that power.”
“I’m not one of those people who wants to live forever,” Loiacono says. “But I recently had this moment when I felt like there was still so much more music I wanted to learn about and experience. It was the first time I wanted to be immortal.”
Photo by Andrew Quist