Nicki Bluhm has an affinity for winning fans over on festival stages with her beautiful, soul-inspired vocals that seem to have no range limit. The admiration fans feel for her is similar her own early admiration for her now-husband, Tim Bluhm. She would go see his band The Mother Hips perform live; and, husband and wife share the stage as Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers. Together the couple has taken on the live music circuit, from intimate West Coast clubs to the most important showcases in the world. This weekend the band will notch one of their longtime goals: play the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Nicki took a minute during their drive out from Chicago to update us on the art of collaboration, the band’s plans for the studio, staying sane on the road, and what it means to return to Telluride.
You are featured on Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe newest studio offering New Ammo on a rocking duet titled “My Baby.” He is a Telluride favorite and will also be here this Summer. How did you connect with Karl, and what was the creative process like working with him?
I met Karl on Jam Cruise through a mutual friend that is actually not in the business, but is a huge fan and supporter. That event lends to a collaborative environment, so Karl came out to sit in on one of our tunes and ended up staying for a few more. He is so nice, so peaceful, and excited about what he is doing that we hit it off and became friends. When he was putting out the new record he had a vision for a female vocalist so I agreed to jump on it. We have actually done that song live a few times and the energy of the crowd is always great.
That isn’t the only time a great band has made you the sole feature on their album. The boys of Brothers Comatose, who just played here in Ouray last week, enlisted your expertise on “Morning Time” from their Respect The Van album. Given the different approach of each band’s sound, how are you able to find a way to find a place with both?
I don’t know! With those guys they were at a festival and heard out set and approached me asking to sing on their record. Since then we have become good friends as well, and we brought them out on tour a few times. As for working with these other bands, it might come from hearing a lot of different kinds of music, and listening to everyone from Whitney Houston to Dolly Parton to Grace Slick. I have more than a few female vocalist that I really look up to, and they aren’t all apart of one genre.
You and the band have been posting on social media outlets that you’re putting in work in the studio. When can we expect some singles or a follow up to the self-titled release?
Yes, we just had a day off in Chicago yesterday and we went into the studio and recorded a single that we are super stoked about and will be coming out this Summer. Beyond that, we will be recording the new record in August.
You and the Grambler’s seem to the be the best parts of your influences, can you give hints as to what sonic direction you’re moving in with new material.
Like I mentioned before, we have such a wide set of influences, so for us on this follow up it is about honing in on our sound a little bit more. I think people liked all the different styles of the last record, but will also want something a bit more cohesive, too. We are still figuring out what that is. We have written songs, but haven’t gotten to the meat of it just yet.
Any chance we’ll get another duet or solo album from you?
Tim [Bluhm] and I have definitely thought about it a lot in between being busy touring. With only having one guitar and two vocals to record, we could do it fairly quickly in our studio. We also have a live album coming out with our country band side project that we love to do.
What about that lost concept album you were working on at one point but failed technology robbed you of?
I can’t completely speak on it because it was mostly Tim’s vision, but “Ravenous” from the self-titled album is a way to glean what direction it was going in.
That track “Ravenous” in particular has been a big cause for critics to draw positive comparisons between you and Stevie Nicks? How do you feel about that?
I think people do that pretty quickly, even for something as simple as what I look like. I don’t take that kind of thing too seriously. I know what I sound like, and I know I am not half the vocalist that she is, and that is okay because I am doing what I am doing. I try not to pay too much attention to that, even though it is very flattering and can lead to people listening that might not otherwise.
A busy schedule of sold out shows and playing big festivals across the country have become the norm for you and the band lately. Luckily, your husband is right there with you given his role in the band, but what has been the biggest life transition for you during this much deserved success?
I think it is learning how to back off, especially when working non-stop on tour. This Summer we were able to get a tour bus, which is great because it gives you the day, and today for instance we went on a bike ride around Milwaukee, which isn’t really possible when you’re moving around in a van. It’s trying to find balance, which is challenge when you’re passionate about something. It’s is your life, so you don’t clock in and out, it’s all the time. So I set boundaries, something as simple as not checking emails after a certain time. Which is always tough when Tim sends me an email later in the night and I didn’t check it [laughs].
A large part of your word-of-mouth success has been due in part to the YouTube performance covers in the van and other cool destinations. Any plans on filming something while you’re here in town like on the gondola or on top of the mountain?
Maybe! We are pretty busy playing the festival, a late night set, and I am doing a workshop with some ladies. It’s the last dates of our tour, so it’s not a bad idea. We’ll have to see.
Your slot at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival is between greats Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas both doing special projects. As someone that is familiar with playing Telluride, but new to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, what are your thoughts going into your own set?
Tim and I make a list every year, of what we want and our goals to achieve such as a playing a certain venue or festival. Telluride Bluegrass Festival has been on that list for at least a few years, so we are obviously beyond excited to be invited to come and play. When we found out, we playing a show in Denver, and we celebrated! The festival has a great reputation. On the road we talk to other bands about it and they get excited for us, too. We also know we have to bring our A game and make it worth it for the fans.