Like many bands nowadays, Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers got their big leg up by way of a little website called YouTube. Last year, the band went semi-viral with a cover of Hall & Oates’s “I Can’t Go for That,” which was performed and recorded while driving between tour stops. While the track, part of the Gramblers’ ongoing Van Sessions, was lauded as better than the original by many a viewer, it also turned more than a few people on to the Gramblers’ original works. With Bluhm at the helm, the Gramblers churn out rugged and dusty ’70s-inspired Americana that draws immediate comparison to greats like Bonnie Raitt and Linda Ronstadt. The band — made up of Bluhm and her husband, Tim Bluhm (of Mother Hips fame), Deren Ney, Dave Mulligan, Steve Adams (ALO), and Mike Curry — is currently on the road in support of its forthcoming third album. I recently caught up with Nicki Bluhm to talk tours, tunes, and what it’s like to be married to a musician.
I know you’re not the only writer in the band. How does that work out? There’s four songwriters in the band — me, Tim, lead guitarist Deren Ney, and rhythm guitarist Dave Mulligan. Basically we all write independently and then bring songs to the table and play ’em for each other. Typically we always like the songs that people bring in; I think there has yet to be a song that we didn’t like, which is really lucky. We all definitely have a common thread in our songwriting, but it’s all got some personality to it. I think it’s really cool to have multiple songwriters; it kind of diversifies the feel and the sound. So far it’s worked well for us.
Do you have a place you like to go to write? I like to write at home in a quiet house and alone. I don’t like to have anybody around. I can get a little bit self-conscious, especially with Tim in the house. I admire his songwriting skills so much that I prefer to wait ’til a song is finished and thought through before showing him.
Are there any drawbacks to being in a relationship with a fellow musician? Well, sure. I mean, Tim and I do everything together: We live together, we’re married, we work together, we travel together, and we vacation together. It’s definitely important to find time apart from each other, and sometimes that can be hard on the road. We’ve been touring for almost a year straight, so there are definitely challenges to it. But each day is new, and we learn every day and adjust. We’re figuring it out.
Did you take pretty easily to touring? I did. It’s kind of tough because we’re in a 15-passenger van and there are eight of us — and we’re not small people. [Laughs.] But we make it work, and the morale is so good. And everyone gets along really well, so while it is a little bit grueling at times overall, it’s such a positive experience. Everyone is sacrificing so much to do this, and we all realize that about each other, and what an opportunity it is to be doing what we’re doing.
How would you describe the new record? Some of the songs were written on tour, and some of them are fact and fiction of stories that we have from the road, and others are more personal, introspective songs that were written alone.
Do you want to talk a bit about the new songs? Yeah, we just put out two new singles — “Little Too Late” and “Ravenous.” “Little Too Late” is the most anthem-y song for us; we all love to play it, and it reflects the live show really well. It’s got a lot of energy and some rawness, and it’s gritty. It’s the most us. And “Ravenous” is really different from anything we’ve done; it’s kind of dark and spooky, and there’s a lot of repeating melody within the song. It’s definitely more of a story song. It was actually part of a conceptual album that Tim wanted to do about the unraveling of this woman. He had a bunch of songs written for it, but modern technology failed, and he lost them. This was the one song that survived, so it’s pretty special.
Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers play SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) with the Dave Mulligan Band on Friday, May 3, at 9 p.m. Doors at 7 p.m. Call (805) 962-7776 or visit sohosb.com for tickets and info.