Nicki Bluhm on Singing While Driving and Her Band's June Residency at Rickshaw Stop
Nicki Bluhm plays tonight at Rickshaw Stop.
While touring around the Western U.S. this summer in support of her second album, Driftwood, S.F. country-rock singer Nick Bluhm got a big surprise. She and her band had posted numerous videos of them performing covers in their tour van, and one of them -- an excellent cover of Hall and Oates' "I Can't Go For That" -- was blowing up. Now with more than 1.3 million views, the clip has helped draw lots of attention to Bluhm's own laid-back roots rock. Nicki is preparing to re-release of Driftwood next month; she's also playing a June residency Tuesday nights at the Rickshaw Stop that begins tonight. We recently spoke with her about whether it's hard to sing well while driving, how her fans relate to those of S.F. jam-rock band the Mother Hips (her husband, the Hips' Tim Bluhm, also plays in her band), and the inspiration for the three-week residency.
You've gotten a huge response to your Van Session videos -- the cover of Hall and Oates' "I Can't Got For That" is up to 1.3 million views. How did these come about?
I think Hall and Oates was like the seventeenth one that we'd done. It started really on our first tour, when we went to the Pacific Northwest, and [bandmember] Steve Adams brought a ukulele. We just started playing in the car. Tim [Bluhm, Nicki's husband] wasn't with us at the time, we were missing him, and we were like, 'Let's put this up on YouTube and show Tim and our family and friends at home. Then we just had so much fun doing it that we kept doing them. It was a great way for us to pass the time. It's great exercise to really kind of dissect a song, and you realize how actually complicated [are] the pop songs that you think are really simple.
Is it hard to sing while driving?
No! I mean don't you sing when you drive?
Yeah, but I don't sing as well as you do.
But that has nothing to do with the driving part. I mean I think everybody sings in the car. I always have. Since the day I got my license, that was the first thing I did.
Your current album, Driftwood, is being rereleased this summer.
Yeah, it is, in July. We are out of Driftwoods. I think I have like 50 more on me, on the road, but they're pretty much gone. The record is pretty much unknown to the world and our new management, Another Planet Entertainment, helped us get distribution, so now the record will be physically in stores nationwide. And so we remastered a few of the songs, we tweaked the artwork a little bit, we added some liner notes and some lyrics, and yeah, we're going to re-release it July 17. We're going to print it on vinyl for the first time. I'm really excited.
How many of the first pressing did you sell?
It's hard to say with iTunes and stuff, but we've probably sold close to 4,000. We did it all ourselves, so when we put it out, we had no management, no label, no nothing. We had our booking agent that's been with us since the beginning, but it was self-released and really the only place you could pick it up was either my website or at a show.
On the YouTube plays, do you see any revenue out of that?
Not yet. We should be, but we haven't yet. We've taken all the steps to monetize from the video but nothing's come of it yet. It's hard -- the Internet is like the Wild West. It's really hard to navigate and to just figure out rates.
What's the crowd like at your shows? Is there a big overlap with Mother Hips fans?
I certainly think the Mother Hips affiliation has been a really great asset for us. A lot of the Mother Hips fans are men, and I think when we started opening for the Mother Hips, a lot of those guy fans, their girlfriends were like, 'Whoa who is Nicki Bluhm, and I love it!' Wives and girlfriends really started to like our stuff. So it is related, but I think it's like an extension. I think it was like the female Hips fans are kind of like, 'Oh, now we have our thing,' which is really cool.
Are most the venues you play 21+, or do you make a point to play all-ages shows as well?
We do both. We certainly understand the importance of playing all age shows because kids really do like this music, little kids even. So we try to make a mix, but you can't always do that.
Tell me about the Rickshaw residency and how that came about.
We haven't played San Francisco, like our own show in San Francisco, since the album release party back in February of 2011. A residency is something that I wanted to do for a long time, because I think it creates a really comfortable, relaxed atmosphere to try new music, to have guests come. I've certainly been inspired by Phil Lesh ... just gathering a bunch of musicians together and giving them a list of songs and learning them. We're fortunate enough to be part of one of those rambles, as he's calling them. It's just really fun and exciting and stressful, and you have to just totally immerse yourself in what you're doing. I'm kind of trying to model it after [their residency] a little bit, because I just loved his approach. You know, get to the venue early -- because we're going to have a bunch of special guests, which is really exciting. We're going to be doing a lot of new songs, and different songs that we don't normally do.
Can you give me any hint on who the guests might be?
Well, no. I can't. It's going to be good. And it definitely reaches a broad variety of people.
It must be nice to be able to be home for a while, too, right?
Yeah, in June we're going to be pretty much in California, which is great.
Your press kit mentions that you have a special affinity for Bonnie Raitt. I wonder if you'd talk about that and maybe some of your other influences?
I'm not that familiar with Bonnie Raitt's current musical career... but one of my friends gave me like a bootleg CD of one of her super-early shows --- I guess it was probably early '70s -- and it's just rad. It's super loose and relaxed, and fun. I like her approach to music: It feels really pure, it's not an act, it's an extension of who she really is. So I admire that. I love a lot of the strong female singers. I love Loretta Lynn, I love Dolly Parton. I really love the women that kind of have a tough attitude and aren't afraid to kind of be gruff and say what's on their minds and belt it out.
If you could get onstage with one of your musical heroes, dead or alive, who would you choose?
Ray Charles probably. He could play the piano. We could do a duet together. It'd be pretty rad.