The last we spoke to Nicki Bluhm was three years ago. The San Francisco-based singer/songstress was currently starring in a GAP campaign and touring her band, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers (which features her husband Tim Bluhm, her self-professed favorite singer/songwriter of her generation, as player and musical director) in their earliest stages. At the time I described her sound as, “A nod to vintage southern soul, embracing the spirit and swagger of both country and rock’n’roll.” They went on that very month to play the sweatiest and obviously “sold-outtest” show I’ve ever seen at The Tin Angel, Olde City’s legendary listening room that has housed the majority of music history’s greatest singer/songwriters of recent decades.
2013 saw the release of Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers’ self-titled debut and this spring saw the release of their follow-up, Loved Wild Lost. The album sees Nicki and her band exploring the broadest depths of their plentiful competencies, from 1960s sunshine SoCal pop to blue-eyed soul, the most classically uplifting Americana, elegantly sexy southern rock, and some of the most beautiful road songs of the century. Fittingly, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers have spent much of the summer on the road and will be playing downstairs at World Café Live this Saturday, August 29th, and I recently got the chance to chat with Nicki and got caught up on the current state of her and the Gramblers.
Izzy Cihak: Since this is a Philadelphia-based publication, I’m curious about your thoughts on the city. Any particular favorite experiences?
Nicki Bluhm: Last time I was in Philadelphia was last fall. It worked out that we had a day off there on my birthday. I spent the day cruising around some shops and treating myself to some treasures. We stayed at a great hotel in Fishtown with a beautiful view of the river and ate Indian food. It was a good day.
Izzy: Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers’ second LP, Loved Wild Lost, has been out for a while now. Have you had any particular favorite reactions to it, whether from critics, audiences, fans, or just friends or family?
Nicki: It’s always really interesting to see people’s reactions to new music. We put the album out in April and played a show in Lake Tahoe, CA shortly after its release. Even without having time to marinate on the album, the audience seemed to really connect with the songs. One in particular, “Queen of the Rodeo,” had a surprisingly strong reaction. It was pouring rain but no one seemed to mind, in fact they embraced the nasty weather and started to sway in unison to the song and sang along. It was very touching.
Izzy: I love the album, but I think “Queen of the Rodeo” is my very favorite track.
Nicki: Thank you. I appreciate that. “Queen of the Rodeo” is one of my favorites for sure. It feels the most personal to me; the most reflective of who I am and how I feel at this point in time. It’s not always the easiest to sing live but it always feels good to play it.
Izzy: Also, while we’re talking about that, I can’t help myself from asking this, as I was really into Seattle grunge as a kid, but did you know that “Queen of the Rodeo” is also the name of a very-different-from yours Alice In Chains song? It’s this weird blend of glam, outlaw country, and hardcore (albeit a bit obnoxiously redneck and homophobic).
Nicki: No! Wow, that’s crazy. I’ll have to check that out.
Izzy: How do you feel like the album compares to your band’s debut, both in terms of sound and the process of writing and recording it? What would you consider to be the album’s most significant influences, whether musical or not?
Nicki: We went into making this album with a lot of focus. We were able to do some pre-production work out at a ranch and having those 10 days together really helped prepare us for the studio. We had outside producer Brian Deck work with us, which was a new experience. He was very intentional in how we executed each song and in the approach. He was very careful about the arrangement and structure of the songs. The outcome of that approach is a lean album with no extra fat.
Izzy: And I know you’re currently on tour. Have there been any particular highlights thus far?
Nicki: We were invited to play Rocky Mountain Folks Fest in Lyons, CO. It was an absolute highlight. The day we played we were joined by Session Americana, Martin Sexton, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Jason Isbell, and many other fabulous musicians. The fest is right along the river, just one stage. The vibe was magical and we felt very welcomed. We didn’t want to leave.
Izzy: What can be expected of the live experience when you stop in Philadelphia at World Cafe Live later this week? I’m pretty sure this is the biggest headlining show you’ve played here.
Nicki: We are going to be playing a lot off our new album, Loved Wild Lost, so hopefully people will have a chance to check it out before the show. We’ll also play some older tunes and some choice covers. Andrew Combs and his band will be opening the evening. They are an incredible country band from Nashville. I would highly recommend folks getting there early to check him out.
Izzy: And what’s next for you? How do you and the band hope and plan to spend the remainder of 2015 and the first part of 2016?
Nicki: We have a pretty full touring schedule through the rest of the year and into early 2016. It looks like the band may be heading overseas to Europe in early 2016, which is very exciting. You can keep in touch about our schedule at www.nickibluhm.com/tour.