Photo by Lauren Massie
Interview by Scott Preston
Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers
with David Ramirez
Taft Theatre (ballroom), 317 E 5th St, Cincinnati, OH
7pm doors, 8pm show, $15, Buy Tickets
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers made a needle’s-eye leap onto the national music circuit in 2012, bringing with them a refreshing sound, spirited stage show and wellspring of good vibes, along with a turntable and milk crates stocked with their favorite vintage vinyl for backstage sustenance.
Now, the San Francisco-based band and its striking front woman with a girl-next-door demeanor step out with Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers, a luminous, heartfelt patchwork of California folk-rock, brisk Americana and show-stopping soul, punctuated with fresh four-part harmonies, crisp rock guitar and Nicki’s soaring, nuanced vocals that some critics say remind them of Linda Ronstadt. (from Nickibluhm.com)
Cincy Groove: I understand you are about to start recording a new record.
Nicki Bluhm: Yes we will go into the studio in August. We are going to record part of it in a studio in Stinson Beach and the other part at our home studio.
Cincy Groove: Are you taking a different approach to the new record in comparison to your previous ones?
Nicki Bluhm: We are looking for more of a cohesive sound. Our previous records have covered a lot of different styles and genres. So we are just looking to narrow it down a little. We are also going to be working with an outside producer, Brian Deck. It will be interesting to see what his take will be on the new songs. I’m really excited to see how this will affect the process.
Cincy Groove: Is the song writing process for the band more of a collaborative effort or just a few people handle the writing?
Nicki Bluhm: Typically we will have a pre-production week where we will all bring the songs we have written so we can teach each other before going into the studio. So this time I brought a bunch of songs, Tim Bluhm brought a bunch of songs, Deren brought a few. We just show each other what we had and worked on the arrangements together, but its the band executing the songwriters vision. Whoever wrote the song we are working on is in charge of where its going, but there are always times when someone will have an idea right there on the spot.
Cincy Groove: It seems the last year or two the band has really started to attract a lot of attention. Do you think there is one event you could point to that started to push everything forward?
Nicki Bluhm: I think playing Bonnaroo last year was quite meaningful. It was the opening set of the festival. A photograph came out of that set that ended up on the cover of Pollstar. Each one of these things makes it easier for our booking agent to get better and better shows for us. Its also very important when getting these great gigs that you prove to the industry people that you are focused and hardworking and not out of control.
Cincy Groove: When did you first start showing an interest in music?
Nicki Bluhm: I have always had an interest in music ever since I was a kid. I would sing in the shower, record my self on the tape deck, ask for a karaoke machine for Christmas, I did all those things. It wasn’t until I got my first guitar when I was 18 that I really started to think about playing. Then I met Tim and I started writing my own songs. Thats when everything came much more into focus.
Cincy Groove: Have you performed with anyone on stage that you kind of “geeked out” over?
Nicki Bluhm: I think the first time playing with Phil Lesh was one of those times. My brother and I are big Grateful Dead fans so I remember thinking my brother isn’t going to believe this. Another great moment was playing with Bob Weir and Chris Robinson at the same time. Usually in the moment I am trying to suppress any excitement and stay focused. Its not until after its over that I really think about what just happened.
Cincy Groove: I really enjoy your informal “Van Session” videos, are there plans to do more?
Nicki Bluhm: If we feel the urge to do one, we will. But this summer we aren’t in a van we are traveling in a bus. We are trying to do a bus session, but it hasn’t happened yet. It really a matter of everyone being in the right mood to do it because you don’t want it to seemed forced.
Cincy Groove: How was your European tour last year?
Nicki Bluhm: It was great, it was just a trio of us playing. We hit seven countries, Germany, Spain, France, Holland. We were there for four weeks total. Madrid, Spain was by far the most enthusiastic crowd we had. The attention we received was a nice surprise.
Cincy Groove: When you are on the road, do you get much of a chance to do any sight seeing?
Nicki Bluhm: If you asked me a month ago I would have said no. But bus touring is a lot different than van touring. When you are in the van, you wake up in the morning and try to get everyone coffee and fed. Then you have to take turns driving all day. But now with a professional driver, they will leave at 2 or 3 in the morning and you get to sleep and when you wake up you are in the town you are playing in that day. We brought bikes on this tour so Tim and I have been cruising all day everyday. It is such a game changer to be able to exercise.