If you've ever thrown a party on New Year's Eve, you understand the pressure. There are intense expectations; as a party host, you have certain responsibilities -- mainly (and this is paramount) to make it unforgettable. No big deal, right? Needless to say, a party on Dec. 31 is unlike any other of the year: Some partygoers romanticize the ball drop, looking for any type of love (whether it be infatuous, begrudging or long-lasting), while others just want it to be glorious -- a sign of a good year to come. No one wants a dud. That pressure's not lost on the Mother Hips' frontman, Tim Bluhm.
"New Year's Eve is always a notable occasion," he tells SoundDiego. "If you choose to make it a party, then it should be the best party of the year. If it's going to be a concert, it should certainly be memorable."
Attendees to the Mother Hips' New Year's Eve show at the North Park Theatre with Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers should be in for just that. For those who didn't catch the whole last name thing, Nicki is indeed married to Tim -- which should make for some interesting and enjoyable band intermingling come Dec. 31 ("We plan to show people what [collaboration] is all about," Tim says).
Even though they've been playing together for more than two decades, the Hips seem to be on a career upswing, with their last three studio records (2009's "Pacific Dust," 2013's "Behind Beyond" and this year's "Chronicle Man") featuring some of their most impressive songwriting and most impassioned performances. The band deals out a hefty mix of alt-country and fuzz-rock blues with a jam-band mentality -- it's a sound that sits somewhere between Wilco's "Being There" album and the Grateful Dead's "American Beauty."
Even more interesting is their inability to write a bad tune, which becomes apparent on "Chronicle Man" -- a collection of songs the band recorded nearly 20 years ago. In 2009, the San Francisco Bay–area band found a bunch of long-forgotten tapes from the recording sessions for their 1995 album, "Part-Timer Goes Full," and 1996's "Shootout." After rummaging through the tapes for their favorite cuts, the Hips were surprised by what they found -- and decided to give the world a glimpse into what they left on the cutting-room floor back then.
The Mother Hips' lead vocalist/guitarist talks to us about what it was like digging through all those old songs, why the band decided to release them after all this time, his love for San Diego and what it's like playing shows with his wife.
Dustin Lothspeich: We're excited to have you guys in town -- do you have any particular fondness for San Diego?
Tim Bluhm: I love San Diego. When the Hips first started playing outside of Chico, San Diego was one of the cities that we did well in. Since then, we have met and played with a lot of great musicians from there: Convoy, Steve Poltz, the Beat Farmers. It's also the place where Nicki and I first met.
DL: Wow, that's so cool. As a member of both bands playing the NYE show, is it fun playing alongside her?
TB: Since the beginning of our musical relationship, I have always sought to play a supportive role. That has included producing the records, writing and co-writing songs, providing positive reinforcement and constructive criticism and trying to fill whatever musical role was needed. Most recently that has been one of "utility guy": playing keys, guitar, percussion, harmonica. All of those are fun, and I've learned a lot, but my favorite is always guitar. When I play guitar with Greg [Loiacono, the Mother Hips' guitarist], I feel together we come closest to mastery.
DL: When you were putting "Chronicle Man" together, were you surprised by what you found on those old tapes, or did you have a general idea of what was on them going into it?
TB: Singers have a way of remembering words to hundreds of songs. I don't think it is the same type of retention that students exercise when taking exams. It's below the surface. If I think about the words at all, I forget them right away. All those old songs are stored like that in my brain. At first I can barely remember anything about them, but after a few times of going through them, the words, the shapes, even the circumstances around the creation of them start to come back. I don't understand it. I just try to let it happen.
DL: Do you consider the material you found to be as relevant, or as much of the band's identity now, as it was when it was recorded?
TB: Everything a band records is relevant to the story of that band. To label a song an "outtake" is to make that song perhaps inferior in relation to the album cuts but also makes it seem like a glimpse into the decision-making process during that time period. I think that once that time period is well in the past it is safe to expose the outtakes to public scrutiny. It's like laughing with friends at your old prom photo. You would have been mortified if someone had laughed at your haircut on prom night.
DL: After 20 years, do you still get excited to play shows?
TB: I do get excited for shows, but I think of this occupation more with a wider view. Each individual performance becomes less important as the numbers stack up. I grow increasingly interested and dedicated to the ever-revealing nuances of music, art and expression. If a show or a recording session doesn't end up being mind-blowing, that's OK. There will be another one coming up pretty soon.
DL: If you weren't playing a show on New Year's Eve, how would you be ringing in 2015?
TB: It has been many years since I haven't played a show on NYE, but I think I'd probably opt for an old-fashioned warm-water surf trip.
Be sure to catch the Mother Hips and Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers at the North Park Theatre on Dec. 31. The show is 21+, starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are available here.