Nicki Bluhm landed on my radar just over a year ago when I still had “Callin’ Oates” on my speed dial (a revitalized dial-a-song-automated system). So when I saw the video of a sun-kissed young band with an absurd amount of swagger and style belting out “I Can’t Go For That” in their van, I knew that it was just a matter of time before they’d hit the dusty I-84 and make their way East. Sure enough, Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers are headed to Rams Head On Stage this Saturday night on their way to Bonnaroo.
But that’s hardly the beginning of this story. A native of sunny Lafayette, California Nicki Bluhm grew up layering her own vocals as a kid on her cassette tape recorder, picked up her first guitar at 17, and found herself a substitute teacher when she met and started hanging out with Tim Bluhm. For those unfamiliar with the Bay Area (the West Coast one) music scene, Tim Bluhm is the songwriter/singer/producer for the indie outfit “The Mother Hips” as well as the second half of the “Skinny Singers” along with Rams Head alum Jackie Greene. Through the careful mentoring of Tim (now her husband and band-mate), Nicki honed her songwriting chops, recruited her childhood friend Daren Ney to sling guitar and ALO’s Steve Adams to round things out on the Bass and the band started making memories.
This summer marks the Annapolis debut for the band and so of course, I jumped right in to learning more about what makes these talented troubadours tick.
How did the Van Sessions come about? What gave you the idea? Touring. Being bored. Being in the car a lot. Being musicians in a car with no radio, I think that it was a very natural thing to do. We always had Steve bringing his Ukulele in the car, or some kind of little instrument and we started playing songs. We recorded the first one, put it on YouTube just over a year ago now when we did the first one and we just sort of wanted people to see what we do during the “work day” when we’re touring. And just keep in touch with friends and family and fans back home, and it was fun for us to put out. To kind of put something into the universe and see what happens, and it was well received and so we just kept doing it.
In the last year your “I Can’t Go For That” cover has exploded. Has that been good exposure for your band? Definitely. It’s been a great help in getting people to perk up and take a look at what we do. It’s a good introduction to the band and then hopefully people dig a little deeper and see our massive touring schedule, and find a show near them and come out to the show and hear some original music or download some original music or whatever it is, and hopefully they like it. It’s been a great tool for us to just kind of get people to take a look at what we’re doing.
Do you have plans to compile the Van sessions into something for people to purchase? Well they’re kind of already all available for free on YouTube, and if you just did audio, it kind of loses the whole… it kinda needs the visual to get the whole experience of it, but you never know!
You’ve shown off the Kazoo and Melodica in your YouTube videos before, are there any special instruments we should expect at this show? Well, I started playing Kazoo on stage, which I didn’t do before, because my friend made me a custom wood Kazoo that actually sounds pretty good. So I’ll play that every now and then… sometimes we’ll bring the melodica into the live performance if we’re doing a more acoustic van session or something like that.
The videos show off your adorable fashion sense [note: Gap also noticed and made her the Face of last year's fall campaign along with other indie darlings like the Avett Brothers, Karmin, and Kaki King], what has influenced your style? You know, I think my mom, actually, was my first real fashion icon, if I really think about it and am really honest about it. She always looks awesome, and I was looking back at her old pictures of her from the 60s and she just had a great sense of style. And she still does. Although it’s changed a little bit. I’m sort of a fan of her older styles, from the 60s and 70s and even into the 80s. There are definitely blogs that I love… my friend has a blog called “The Post Social” which I love to look at, Lizzy Garret has a great blog called “Tomboy Style” which I love. My friends: Lauren Maffey is an incredible inspiration; she’s a stylist and photographer. I love her style and her vibe… Places inspire my style. Places likeBig Sur where you want to be really comfortable, and it’s really hot in the day and really cold at night so you have to get creative at being versatile, functional and stylish all at the same time.
What does the future hold for you? We’re going to put out our new record (it looks like) at the end of the summer, and we’ll be making some announcements in June about the release date, so you can stay tuned on nickiblum.com about that.
Any hints about the name on anything else? It’ll probably be just self-titled. The first two albums we used a lot of studio musicians and it was before the band was fully formed, so the two records we put out “Toby’s Song” and “Driftwood” were both Nicki Bluhm, so this record will just be called “Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers.”
Where did the name “The Gramblers” come from? Our friend, Greg Loiacono, who is Tim’s band-mate from The Mother Hips just made it up. And we stole it!
Are you bringing the custom wood kazoo with you to Annapolis? Oh yeah, of course. Everywhere.
Is this your first time in Annapolis? Yes, it is!
Oh good. Then I get to ask you all the fun questions. Have you ever had soft-shell crabs or Maryland Blue Crabs? I’ve had soft shell crabs, but I’ve never had a Maryland Blue Crab, and I love crabs.
Favorite Beer? Sierra Nevada. Pale Ale.
What are you most looking forward to on this tour? Well now I’m looking forward to Blue Crab! And playing somewhere new, and checking out a new place is always really cool for us to do, so we’re really looking forward to it a lot!
For tickets to Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers on Saturday, June 8th click HERE.
*Our Guest Blogger this week is Valerie Wierenga – Northwestern transplant, lifelong music-lover and self-prescribed Rams Head “music nerd”.