Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers traverse genres and highways to play hard at the game of music
Nicki Bluhm, who fronts the San Francisco-based rock and soul band the Gramblers, knows the score, and says she doesn’t mind playing the game—not if it means getting her and her band’s name known on a national level.
“We’re a work in progress,” Bluhm says. “We know we’re still pretty much a baby band, so we’re just working hard.”
That’s an understatement.
Over the past two years, the band, which features Bluhm with her husband, Mother Hips singer-songwriter Tim Bluhm, has released an album, Driftwood, found new management and then rereleased Driftwood. The band also produced a YouTube viral video of themselves singing the Daryl Hall & John Oates classic “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” in their van (the clip garnered almost 2 million views in just 10 months), toured heavily up and down the West Coast, completed its first national tour and then embarked on a second one.
Even with all that going on, however, Bluhm says she’s well aware that cultivating an audience takes time.
“It takes a little while to see how it works,” Bluhm says. “Because when you go and tour a place like Birmingham, Alabama, and people like the show well enough to buy the record, then the hope is they’ll like the record enough to want to come back to a show again. You have to go out a few times and do a few national tours to get a feel for it.”
Driftwood, the album the band’s been touring touring behind, features 11 tracks that run the gamut with country-bluegrass numbers, such as “Stick With Me,” and mid-tempo folk tracks, such as “Carousel.” “Before You Loved Me” exudes a split-personality, musically, with the first half exhibiting a dreamy, doo-wop-meets-Americana sound before it absolutely explodes into a rocking jam in the second half. Meanwhile, a song such as “Women’s Prison” features a more straightforward country vibe. And this is to say nothing of the Lynyrd Skynyrd-esque “Little Too Late,” a single from the band’s forthcoming as-yet-untitled album, or the ’70s-era rocker that accompanies it, “Ravenous,” which features Bluhm singing in an echoing, breathy way agrave; la Stevie Nicks.
The variety on the album has much to do with the fact that multiple band members contributed songs to it.
“On Driftwood … Tim contributed a few songs. [Guitarist] Deren Ney also contributed one or two, and I wrote a few as well,” Bluhm says. “We have different writers for this record, with different feels, but I think it all comes together and coexists really well.”
Whether the tracks are empowering—“Jetplane,” for instance, was written after Bluhm spent two months with some friends in Yosemite National Park and focuses heavily on the transition from being a kid to being a grown-up, from being a daughter to a wife—or more downtrodden (“Barbary Blues”), the band’s tracks are infused with genuine passion, soul and emotion.
“Music is the ultimate means of expression,” Bluhm says. “Sometimes it’s too hard to verbalize something, but if you write about something you don’t want to bring up with somebody, at least you can get it out of your system. It’s an expressive, therapeutic process we go through, and that goes for listening to music, too, not just writing. It’s about getting your ultimate emotional fix.”
2013 promises to be just as busy for the band. After its current tour ends in the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver in February, the group will head back out on the road in March to play several showcases at this year’s South by Southwest festival in Texas before embarking on another cross-country van tour. And somewhere in the middle of all this, the band plans to release a new album.
All just part of the game.