The Mother Hips: A beam of light in the darkness from one of San Francisco’s best-loved bands

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WINNING PAIR Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono front the group and write the songs that make their albums so compelling.

The Mother Hips have played their unique blend of music—a freewheeling mixture of rock with folk, blues, R&B and country influences—since they came together in the dorms at Cal State Chico almost 30 years ago. The quartet didn’t fit into any category when they started playing, but after relocating to San Francisco they created a loyal fan base that allowed them to quit their day jobs and devote themselves to music. Tim Bluhm and Greg Loiacono front the group and write the songs that make their albums so compelling. Although they’re both talented multi-instrumentalists, singers, songwriters and producers, their recently released album, Glowing Lantern, marks the first time they produced their own record.

“There were fewer challenges, working as co-producers, than there would be working with an outsider,” Bluhm said. “It was easy to arrive at the places we wanted to arrive at. Since we know what we sound like, there were no arguments.

“It was written, recorded and mixed in a few months time, more or less during the lockdown. We cut the basic tracks at 25th Street Recording in Oakland. We had some concerns about all of us being in the same room. Greg was the only one vaccinated at that point, so we had to calculate the risk,” he added.

Loiacono and Bluhm each wrote songs at home, getting together to work out arrangements at a friend’s studio. “Since we’ve been a band for a long time and made so many records, we didn’t have to rehearse that much to get the songs in shape,” Bluhm said. “There’s an unspoken, unwritten formula that happens when we play. We know what we’re going to play the minute we hear a song.” He also mentioned co-writing two songs on the album with Loiacono: “Sunset Blues” and “Looking at Long Days.”

“I don’t have one particular method I use,” Loiacono said. “Frequently, I come up with music first and free-associate the lyrics. I record into my phone and listen to the playback and see if there’s anything there. The voice memo is very handy for passing things back and forth in terms of collaborative songwriting. I write in a journal and can get ideas from there. Sometimes, songs come quickly. You hear the words and melody in your head all at once, but it can go any which way.”

Loiacono said they often perseverate over the titles of their albums. This time, the idea of lanterns and darkness came to both of them during the writing process. “Lanterns feature in several song lyrics,” he said. “They came up for both of us, but not while writing together. When Tim suggested it as a title for the album, I agreed immediately, which is not always the case when we title an album. This time, the words and images were satisfying. The idea of a beacon of light that will guide you is a good thing, particularly in these times.” 

Although the duo wrote most of the songs on the record during the past two years, the tunes on Glowing Lantern showcase their usual mellow take on things. “Looking at Long Days” is a mid-tempo rocker, driven by the crisp interaction of Loiacono and Bluhm on electric guitars. Their voices blend on the winsome Beach Boys–style harmonies they add to the catchy vocals. The song describes the tortured moments when time seems to stand still, using the images of a boy waiting for the school day to end and a man dealing with the indifference of the woman he desires.

The band shows off its deep Americana roots on “I Wish The Wind,” a country rocker with a twang-heavy guitar line and a hint of R&B in the backbeat, laid down by Hofer’s drums. The tapping of a cowbell adds a touch of syncopated rhythm to “Song in a Can,” a funky tribute to the musicians who provide the soundtrack to the lives of music lovers. There’s a hint of Memphis soul in the Hammond organ that drifts through the mix, as the band tips its hat to the dancers and romancers on a nightclub floor. 

Just before the flair-up of the Omicron variant, the band had been cautiously getting back on the stage for live performances. “We’ve played some outdoor shows in the second part of the summer and a handful of indoor shows at venues with a variety of Covid protocols in place,” Loiacono said. “We played in Texas and, contrary to what you might think, they were very sturdy in their procedures. It’s been quite an experience to go through this time.”