April 29, 2008
At Harmonix we’re all about giving the people (that’s you) what they want, and we’re glad to supply DLC tracks that you already know and love. But we like to throw great indie bands into the mix as well, especially if they have a song or two that cries out for the Rock Band treatment. So if you’re not familiar with the Mother Hips, we’ve got a couple of tunes that you just might fall in love with—especially if you go for mile-wide pop hooks, raw guitar sounds and a classic California rock feel.
Though the band’s history stretches back to the early 90’s, the two DLC tracks were both recorded in the last couple years. With its offbeat title, “Time Sick Son of a Grizzly Bear” is a country-tinged, slightly psychedelic-ized vision of the West—but fear not, it’s also catchy as hell. And “Red Tandy” starts out as a rocker with a touch of early Bowie flamboyance—but don’t get too comfortable, and don’t be fooled by the false ending: At midpoint the tune shifts into an abstract jam with much trickier guitar and drum patterns. It’s one of those cases where our authors spent days coding a moment that happened on the spot.
“If you want to sing that song, you have to be a little bit sarcastic—and belt it out, just sing from the gut until you’re almost yelling,” says singer/guitarist Tim Bluhm. “And it helps to pretend that you’re British—unless you’re British already, of course. That song has every combination of vocals you can think of, with me and Greg (guitarist Greg Lociacono) switching off the leads and harmonies, so it’s a real sound man's nightmare. The jam at the end is definitely not the same every night; that was just the one that happened to get recorded. We like the idea of embracing the moment. When I take a solo I have certain motifs that I might return to; but the rest of the time I’m just making stuff up.”
Moments like that show what can happen when a band plays together so much that they can anticipate what each other are going to play. If you think your virtual band works hard on the road, they’ve got nothing on these guys: The Mother Hips used to play as many as 300 shows a year. “It was rough, man. It takes over your life and you definitely pay for that in your personal relationships. However, it gave us something we’ll always have; a level of musicianship and a chemistry that we can’t get any other way. Even though we don’t play every night of the week anymore, we can always draw on that now. And I think that’s the attractive thing about us, something people get turned on by when they see us play.”
Not surprisingly, long-term survival on the road got to be a challenge. Bluhm’s advice is to make touring more interesting by getting a sense of place. “My outlet was to go hiking and try to enjoy whatever area I was in. I’ve always been into history, especially western American history, so I always liked to read books that overlapped with wherever we were. I’ve always been into Jesse James, so I’d seek out areas that were part of his story. Also places like Robbers Roost in southern Utah, where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hid out from the Mormons. But touring has probably changed since the 90s, when we did all that. Nowadays it’s a little more industrial: You’re doing long drives and you’re probably cranking it to keep the cost down. You don’t have the time to go messing around a river.”
Trips like that inspired “Time-Sick Son of a Grizzly Bear,” our other DLC title. “You know that the grizzly bear is the California state animal, but they’re extinct in California. So I was thinking, what does that mean and what does that say about the way we manage our progress and our surroundings? When I wrote it, I was imagining what it would be like if you’d liked in 1830 in California and you were still alive. You might be pretty sad; you’d be a homeless dude who was homesick for that earlier time. I feel that way myself sometimes, even though I wasn’t alive in 1830.” Musically, he admits to a certain 60’s influence in there. “Of course the Byrds are a huge influence on me—you can’t be a psychedelic rock and roll band from the West Coast and not have that influence. After all, we’re drinking out of the same reservoir they were.”
Asked about the best attitude for playing that song, Bluhm gives some advice that non-virtual bands can use. “Our style is more about emotion that about being smooth and perfect, so I say—don’t be afraid to go for it and take chances. People want to hear spirit and conviction, so don’t worry about sounding like anybody else—You can sound like yourself.”