The Mother Hips turn 20 this year and, while the band members may be older and wiser, the core of their music still rests on the sparkling interaction between bandleaders and guitarists Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono. The music they were playing when they were in college at Cal State Chico, a psychedelic blend of roots and Americana, still dominates their style and is even timelier today than it was when the band was born. They found their own unique niche by avoiding the temptation to fit into a niche.
"We were young and rebellious and hated all the descriptions people came up with to identify us," Bluhm says of the band's early days. "If people said we sounded folky or country, we'd immediately run in another direction. In the short term, it may have been harmful to our financial situation, but looking back, we can see it was the right thing to do. We still do it that way. Not having a niche means we don't have to sound a certain way, or sell a certain amount of records to be successful."
Loiacono and Bluhm started off as an acoustic duo, but when they saw the amount of girls and attention rock bands got, they found a rhythm section, put out a self-produced album, and started building a following by playing every gig they could find. They had a brief run on a major label, but for most of their career, they've produced their own albums, including their recent opus, Behind Beyond.
"This album took three years to make, longer than any other record we've done," Bluhm says. "It's the best sounding music we've ever put out, so it was worth the wait. We didn't work on it constantly, obviously, but after you've been in a band for 20 years, you're not in a hurry to do anything. The songs were written before we started, but [everyone in the band] got a chance to add their input during the production and arranging and editing. As you get older, you want songs that have real meaning. Music comes from the subconscious, so it doesn't have to make sense, musically or lyrically, to the rational part of your brain. That's why it's so surprising and intriguing."
Behind Beyond is as eclectic as anything the band's ever done, and includes the historical ballad "Jefferson's Army;" the funky country of "Shape the Bell;" the jazzy meandering improvisations of "Tuffy," and "Song for JB," a pedal steel heavy tribute to musician friend (and former Wilco member) Jay Bennett. They gave "Song for JB" away free on Rolling Stone's website last week. "Free music is the new paradigm," Bluhm says. "It's par for the course these days; besides, we've always made most of our money playing live."
The Mother Hips will be playing San Francisco's Outside Lands Festival on Saturday, August 10, before heading out for select festival dates for the rest of the summer. "We don't tour that much," Bluhm concludes. "We do keep writing songs, and Greg and I have a bunch for the next record. We've already started working on it and hope it'll be out before another three years go by."