Mother Hips move on and up
By Doug Miller
FOR THE FIRST TIME in weeks, the Mother Hips have the night off. Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono-- guitarists/vocalists/songwriters--kick it on a couch at Loiacono's home in Marin County, plucking twangs on Epiphone acoustics and crooning hillbilly harmonies. Bassist Issac Parsons performs family-man duties in Sacramento with his wife and infant son. Drummer John Hofer, whom bandmates call "the disasta' from Nebraska," is with his wife in Oregon, probably watching videotapes of his beloved Cornhuskers football team.
Ah, the joys of relaxation.
Sandwiched between live performances up and down the coast, studio sessions in Los Angeles, countless episodes of pissing in bottles in the tour van, and painstaking rehearsals, there seems to be little time to rest in Hipsville. And, alas, time is running out. There's a show next week that brings the popular band to the Phoenix Theatre in Petaluma.
Northern California's hardest-working country-rock outlaws have seen their band weather plenty of changes in the last year, but members are happy to report they're still pretty good at picking up the changes.
"We're still kicking," says Loiacono, "although we've taken our share of hits from the industry. It's a good thing we get along so well." The band's three-record deal with American Recordings, struck in 1994 with label chief Rick Rubin, is now long gone, and, as a result, so is access to the major-league dollars that came with it. In January 1997, three months after the Hips released their third American CD, the critically acclaimed Shootout, the label dropped the band from its roster. Now all three CDs are out of print and the label is legal limbo.
The Mother Hips are rock 'n' roll free agents, looking for the security a major-label contract could provide while they're no longer willing to sit around and wait for the big break. And proud of it. Sort of.
"Sure, we'd like to sell a million records," says Loiacono, "but more important, right now, we'd like to give our fans new material to listen to," he says, adding that "the only problem now is lack of tour support, but we're doing it ourselves, which is the righteous way, I suppose."
THE HIPS HAVE just completed recording an independent album, tentatively titled Later Days, and a new official website (www.motherhips.com) is under construction. As always, they are touring, bringing their unique blend of country-fried psychedelia, honky-tonk blues, urban stomp, grunge funk, and surfer pop to a rabid group of West Coast hipsters.
Musically, the band has changed quite a bit from their Cal State Chico dorm room origin in 1990. While their first two American-label efforts, Back to the Grotto (independently released in 1992, reissued by American in 1994) and 1995's Part-Timer Goes Full aptly highlighted the chaotic, tempo change-laden Hips sound, they weren't true albums, according to Bluhm.
"Those records were made without a big picture in mind," he says. "We just figured we had all these songs and we might as well just put 'em on records."
With 1996's Shootout, however, the band thought "album" from the beginning. The result is an airtight, plaintive, carefully knitted quilt of Americana, perhaps one of the decade's great unknown rock LPs.
"I don't think too many people heard it, and it's a shame, but we can't worry about that anymore," says Bluhm, adding that "the new record's our best work to date. We've turned over soil and exposed fresh skin."
According to Loiacono, whereas the older albums jumped from mood to mood, Later Days maintains variety while mining the same neo-country vein. "The songs are definitely becoming more alike," he says, "but there's variety, too. There are some upbeat jumpers on this one, and there's also what could be described as stoner music."
Hofer's musical intuition, says Loiacono, was a key to the Hips' latest studio conquest. "John started laying down drum tracks that seemed a lot faster in tempo than we'd previously tried," he says. "We all found ourselves playing much faster than we were used to and it panicked us a bit. But then, when all of the music was laid down on top of the drums, it sounded much more alive and real. John's the 'magic boy.'"
Lyrically, the magic is still there, too.
Bluhm, who has said he used a connect-the-dot approach to songwriting, weaving non-sequitur, casual conversation, and color landscape observation into sometimes extended verse, flexes his writing muscle on the new album and stretches Later Days into new, more personal territory. The band-penned "You Can't Win" says it all: You can't win, but you can feel good trying'.
The Mother Hips are still feeling good trying.
And, for them, that's winning.
The Mother Hips perform on Saturday, March 14, at the Phoenix Theatre, 201 Washington St., Petaluma. Amoonra open. 9 p.m. Admission is $10-$12.762-3566 or 762-3565.
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From the March 12-18, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.