Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers were founded in San Francisco in 2008 by Bluhm, her husband Tim Bluhm (The Mother Hips) and longtime friend Deren Ney. They were soon joined by bassist Steve Adams (ALO), Dave Mulligan on rhythm guitar and drummer Mike Curry and released their debut album Toby’s Song in 2008 and subsequent release, Driftwood in 2011. I had the chance to speak to Bluhm prior to her show at the Independent in San Francisco. We discussed her love of pie crust, the viral phenomenon that is the “Van Sessions,” and how weird Wiki pages are. She’s a brilliant artist on the rise and we’re looking forward to what her future holds.
Matt De Mello - With the success of the “Van Sessions” you've exploited a wrinkle that most artists never think about. What was your mindset going into it and how surprised were you when the Hall and Oates cover went viral?
Nicki Bluhm - Well, we certainly weren’t expecting anything to happen, because we’d done 17 of them. The Hall & Oates “Van Session” was our 17th and when it caught on it was pretty cool, but it was certainly was unexpected.
MD - Are you driving the van, because I can never tell?
NB - Yes, it changes. Sometimes I drive, sometimes Tim will drive, I’m not sure if Dave’s ever driven in one of the “Van Sessions” but yeah.
MD – That’s cool. Singing and driving at the same time.
NB – Yeah, don’t you do it?
MD – All the time.
NB – Exactly, we all do.
MD - Do you and Tim ever fight about his having a Wikipedia page and you not having one?
NB - Wiki pages are weird. You can’t create your own so someone else has to do it for you. Hopefully, one will pop up sooner or later, but I’m still waiting on it.
MD - What is the song writing process like for you?
NB –It’s changed a lot since I first started writing songs. When I first started I lived in this really great house in San Diego with a huge back porch and it was nice to have that time to write outside. Things have changed a lot. Now I live in San Francisco, I’m a lot busier and I’m on the road a lot. It’s a little bit different now. It happens when it happens. I don’t have a schedule or plan it out. Sometimes I try to dedicate time to writing, but you don’t know what you’re going to get. For me, anyway, it means being comfortable in my surroundings and usually that means being at home.
MD - There seems to be a lot of chemistry and affection within the confines of the band. How'd you guys come together and when?
NB – I think it’s really true we do really enjoy each other’s company. It’s really like you’re living with each other when you’re on tour, because you are. I started playing as a solo artist and for a very short amount of time I was playing in loud crowded bars and wanted some accompaniment. So I asked my friend Darren if he would come play a show with me and we had a duo for a while. I played rhythm guitar and sang and he played lead. When we made Toby’s Song, our first record, and had a record release party, I wanted to show people I was like the record. After playing with a full band, which I’d never done before it was just so fun, I knew I didn’t want to go back to a duo. It was just so much energy and it was definitely a turn on playing with a band.
MD – Are you a pie or cake person?
NB – That’s a funny question. I don’t know I guess I’m a pie person. My mother-in-law makes the best pies in the world and she makes her own dough. She taught me how to make the dough and it’s really good raw. We both like it raw. I actually like pie dough.
MD – Do you have a favorite kind of pie?
NB – I like any berry pie and I like apple pie. I love all pie actually.
MD - Have you given any thought to doing one of your own songs during a van session?
NB - We have been talking about that and we probably will. We’re just dying to play all of our new songs. Maybe when it closer to the record coming out we’ll do that. But yeah we think about it, a lot. I think it’ll come eventually.
MD – When does the new record come out?
NB – We’re going to put it out in 2013, early 2013. We kind of thought we were going to put it out at the end of this summer, but we pushed it back because there’s a lot going on. We’re going to rerelease Driftwood in July. That’s our second full length record and pretty much unknown because we didn’t have any distribution. We’re going to try to get it out in stores throughout the United States and on tour and hopefully people will listen to it. We’re really proud of that record and it still feels very relevant to us. Then we’ll put out the next one in 2013.
MD - Your Tuesday residency at the Rickshaw Stop, in San Francisco, is coming up starting in June and lasting three weeks, not to mention playing in your hometown of Lafayette. Has all the sudden attention made the return to the Bay Area even more exciting?
NB – I’m always nervous about people showing up at the shows, because the audience has so much to do with the energy level of the band. We’re playing in San Francisco tonight, at the Independent, which we’re really excited about and we love the venue. I’m always nervous until I see that there’s people in the crowd or that this actually transferring to our live show. It definitely has been so far.
MD - Who were some of the earliest artists that you opened for that influenced you?
NB – I’m not really certain that there have been that many artists that we’ve opened for that have influenced us. Certainly the Mother Hips, that’s my husband Tim’s band and they were really, really nice to us to let us play so many shows with them. I’m not sure the music influence trickles into our sound.
MD - What was the last piece of music you actually bought, if it was Carly Jepsen feel free to lie?NB – I just had to buy a ton of music off of iTunes, because Tim and I did a musical duet at a benefit. The set list was lengthy and gorgeous and I didn’t know I had to learn them, so I was feverishly downloading songs…trying to learn all these songs. That was my last purchase, just a medley of songs from the Grateful Dead catalog and songs from the ‘60s, ‘70s and the ‘80s.