Photograph by Jay Blakesberg
Mother Hips started out in Chico “steal[ing] frat gigs from cover bands.”
The Mother Hips formed in Chico, California in the early 90s. They were operating against the grain from the start — most of the bands in their college town were playing covers. They set out to make an impact by playing originals and, according to singer/guitarist Tim Bluhm “steal frat gigs from the cover bands” by playing their own music. Their plot worked better than they imagined it would. Soon thereafter, representatives from major labels were showing up at their front door. The band was so young and clueless as to how the music industry worked that they assumed this was standard practice.
“At the time, we didn’t even know that that was unusual,” Bluhm explained. “We didn’t even know enough to know that that was like the golden ticket. We were just like ‘Yeah, that’s just what happens when you start a rock and roll band. You learn how play to guitar. You start a band and you get signed and you get famous. That’s just what happens.’”
The band signed a deal with Rick Rubin’s American Recordings and commenced a heavy touring regiment. As the 90s progressed, the band began to change. Their sound became more streamlined, the songs became less experimental and were often influenced by country artists such as Gram Parsons and Merle Haggard. In the late 90s, they enlisted Convoy’s Jason Hill to record some songs for them. His makeshift studio was in the garage of a modest house on a large property in Jamul.
“It was probably four or five days,” Bluhm recalled. “I remember sleeping in the back of the van and waking up because it was too hot. Jason had sort of built this wooden floor in the garage so that the drums would sound good. The tape machine was set-up in what would have been where the work bench was in the garage. At the time, it was pretty cool. It was pretty inspired. It probably formed some of my desires in the future to get into recording and have my own space to record bands.”
Convoy didn’t last too long, but The Mother Hips are still gigging to this day. In fact, they would be playing The Belly Up this month if COVID-19 hadn’t shut down the live music scene. Bluhm and his bandmates are full-time musicians, so the lack of shows has a harsh sting.
“This our job. It’s our only job,” he explained. “So, it’s upsetting for sure. It’s going to be hard. I don’t really have a plan for how to pay the bills, but I’m sure it will work out somehow.” He said.
Bluhm also theorized that, “As soon as stuff comes back online, and people start doing gigs there are going to be a lot of weekend dates in demand, because everyone is going to be trying to crowd in to try to make them up as soon as possible. It’s actually a good thought. It’s an interesting sort of strategy to start trying to get hold of weekends in the early summer to try and replace these things,” he said.
As a touring veteran, Bluhm admits that he has never experienced a disruption to the music industry that approached the impact that COVID-19 has had on it. “This is not only completely unanticipated — I’ve never even thought of this scenario,” He said. “This is crazy. The entire music industry is basically shutting down.”