Prepping for the release of her forthcoming fourth album later this summer, I spoke with Nicki Bluhm this week about what goes into a great cover song as she heads to town with her band The Gramblers for a show Friday night at Lincoln Hall...
With a viral video and recent Gap ad campaign under her belt, Nicki Bluhm's is a unique success story free (for now) of major label intrusion. Making the most of their time in the van traveling from city to city while on tour, Bluhm launched "The Van Sessions" on YouTube, a series of videos that sees the band, while driving, cover everything from The Beatles to Madonna, putting their own spin on the songs in the acoustic setting along the way.
Earlier this week, The Gramblers took a break from the sessions and I chatted with Nicki Bluhm on the phone as she drove from Burlington, Vermont to Boston, Massachusetts...
Q. Well let’s start with the Van Sessions… Do you think the covers help draw attention to your original material or distract from it? Can that kind of internet success be a bit of a double-edged sword?
Nicki Bluhm: I think the reason a lot of people are listening to our original music is because of the covers. You know, that’s sort of what grabs people’s attention and once they go a little deeper and find our original music, I think that they become (the hope is they become!) fans of both. And we definitely see that happening. It’s been a help to reach a wider audience.
It’s a great tool, you know? It’s really fun and it’s a way to get new footage or new material out literally within minutes. It’s a great way to keep things fresh and just kind of stay in real time with your fans and family and friends. I think it’s exciting, it’s fun and it’s what’s happening now, so to use it to your benefit is a wise thing. It’s cool.
Q. How do you guys go about choosing the songs to cover for those sessions?
NB: We usually just try to have like a big brainstorming session in the van. We kind of throw out ideas until everybody is kind of unanimously in agreeance... which actually does happen! We’re all like, “Yes! That’s what I want. Let’s do it!”
Q. To me, one of the attractions of the Van Sessions is that in a world where pop music is so slick and over produced (even bordering on fake in some cases with how difficult it would be to ever recreate in the live setting), the Van Sessions manage to tackle these huge pop numbers but do it in a manner that’s laid-back, stripped down which anyone can relate to. They inject some much needed honesty into that music. Does that make sense?
NB: I think that’s a really great way to say it. A lot of the songs that we choose, we go into it thinking that they’re going to be really easy and then we kind of slowly, as we dissect the songs, realize they’re a little bit more tricky than we thought and there is a lot more involved in working it out. We kind of really make our renditions as close to the original tunes as we can with the instruments that we have. But a lot of those pop songs are a lot smarter than you think they are. So it’s kind of fun to get inside of them and check them out.
Q. You’ve obviously got a great voice. Not unlike someone like Linda Ronstadt, there’s a lot of range there and you really interpret the songs of others well. Who were some vocal influences for you over the years when it came to finding your own voice as a singer?
NB: I love Linda Ronstadt and I love Bonnie Raitt. A lot of the country singers… Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. Dolly Parton I love. When I met my husband Tim, he kind of helped me to find my voice. Growing up, listening to the radio in the 90’s, it’s really easy to get caught up in a lot that sort of fancy singing and over the top vocal acrobatics and stuff like that. He just kind of gave me good advice which was to stay honest and play it straight and I’ve really taken that to heart and I just try to kind of keep it simple.
Q. Your first three albums of original material (Toby's Song, Driftwood and Duets) are very raw. They come across as more singer-songwriter affairs whereas I’ve read that the new album was recorded with the full band. Now that you guys have been touring so relentlessly, has that given the new project a different sound?
NB: I think so. It’s definitely like a little bit more rockish and we recorded this next record (that’s not out yet) at our studio in San Francisco and we got to listen to it all live in studio so it was a very much band feel. We’ve been on the road so much that we were feeling really warmed up and the band was just in a really good mood so I think it’s very much a reflection of our live show.
We’re shopping it to labels right now and we’re hoping that we find a good fit. We’re hoping that happens so we can put it out by the summer and it will probably be self-titled. We couldn’t really wait any longer so we wanted to put out two tracks from the new album... One is called “Too Little Too Late” and the other is called “Ravenous” and those will be on the next record. It’s kind of like a preview.
Q. Well you guys will be back in Chicago on Friday, April 5th at Lincoln Hall. What can fans expect at that show?
NB: We’re really excited to play Lincoln Hall. Tim and I played there once as a duo with our friend Jackie Greene. We were supporting him on tour and we just really liked the venue so much so we’re very excited. We’re just excited to be in Chicago. There’s a great energy. Last time the audience was just so great. So we're really looking forward to seeing those fans again, connecting with them again… We’ll have it all. It’s gonna be a full rock show - a country rock show probably with some softer moments too. We’ve been really trying to craft a nice set for people.
*** This interview was conducted by Jim Ryan
(Details on Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers' show Friday night at Lincoln Hall after the jump)
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Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers
Friday, April 5, 2013
Live at Lincoln Hall
2424 North Lincoln Avenue
Chicago, IL 60614
Starts at 9PM
Rayland Baxter opens
Click HERE to purchase tickets