‘Later Days’ by Mother Hips (Vinyl)

A mid-career slump delivered one of the band’s best albums

Photo by S.W. Lauden

50/50

If you asked me in 1993 which two Indie bands would one day top the charts, I would have said Green Day and Mother Hips. Although the two groups have little in common—aside from their Northern California roots—it just so happened that both were on my radar at the time.

My friends and I were big fans of Green Day’s first two albums for Lookout Records, 39/Smooth and Kerplunk. The band later rocketed into the stratosphere with their major label debut, Dookie. That was followed by a string of hit releases like Insomniac and American Idiot.

Green Day became superstars. Mother Hips did not.

Back to the Grotto

The Chico, California-based Mother Hips self-released their debut album, Back to the Grotto, in 1993. Unlike the snotty pop punk of Green Day, Mother Hips played a style of jam band-influenced Americana rock that would later be known as “California Soul.” I was originally drawn to tracks like “Hey Emilie,” “Run Around Me” and “Two Young Queens.”

This was the mid-90s, when roots bands like the Black Crowes and Blues Traveler shared the alternative rock airwaves with grunge and pop punk acts. So, it was no surprise when major labels started sniffing around Mother Hips. They eventually signed with American Recordings and released two albums, Part-Timer Goes Full (1995) and Shootout (1996).

Green Day was already huge by then and now Mother Hips seemed to be on a similar trajectory—so it felt like I’d picked a couple of winners. But there’s a reason that this might be the first time you’ve heard of them.

Later Days

By 1998, Mother Hips had been dropped by American Recordings. Despite a significant West Coast following and constant touring, they failed to gain mainstream momentum. Listening back now, it’s easy to see how they defied easy genre definition, a bad sign for even the most talented acts in the 90s.

But unlike most bands who get dropped—and much to the relief of loyal fans—Mother Hips soldiered on. The immediate result was a self-released, mid-career stunner called Later Days (1998). The line up for that one included Tim Bluhm (guitar/vocals), Greg Loiacono (guitar/vocals), Issac Parsons (bass) and new drummer, John Hofer.

Here’s what Hofer wrote in the liner notes for the recent vinyl re-issue of that album from Blue Rose Music:

“It was sobering. After three albums and endless touring the record label fell apart. Management quit. The band was older. Geez, Tim and Greg were now twenty-six! We felt old. This was serious. No more kid stuff. The band had new material but no place or money to record.

“Jason Hiller offered up his little studio in a converted pool house in Los Angeles. The meters on the board were broken so he ran everything hot, pushing it until he heard it crackle. We were down and out in Beverly Hills. It felt as though we had snuck in and had to finish quickly before anyone noticed.

“We were paranoid. We sat poolside between takes. Sweating. Sober. Smoking. Miserable. The songs we recorded were different. A reflection of the moment we found ourselves in. We all had mustaches. The party was over. It was the new era of the Later Days.”

This was a much more stripped-down collection than their three previous releases, with tightly-crafted, country-tinged songs. Gone were most of the jam band trappings and longer arrangements, replaced with shorter songs and more pronounced musical and lyrical hooks.

The opening track, “Gold Plated,” is an autobiographical exploration of Mother Hips’ experience up to that point as viewed through a sober lens. It serves as the band’s reckoning, one that saw them back on the self-directed career path they still travel to this day.

There’s some boys I know
Who play that rock and roll
They’ve slept on a lot of floors
To get that California Soul
They’ve got that California Soul

All my problems are gold plated
All my bottoms exaggerated
My connections incarcerated
And I don’t know when but my genius faded

Other Later Days songs that have a similar classic country vibe include “Stunt Double,” “Esmerelda” and the title track. Meanwhile, the album also includes the excellent ballad, “Motor Home,” and the should’ve-been-a-stadium-rock hit, “October Teen.” Did I mention the dreamy 70s vibe of “Tired Wings”?

Seriously, this album is fantastic. And the Blue Rose vinyl re-issue sounds amazing. Well worth the four month wait between when I pre-ordered it and the day it arrived on my door step last week.

California Soul

I once turned a co-worker onto Mother Hips after he confessed his love for Wilco. In my mind, they are kindred spirits in their adventurous exploration of Americana/roots music. Both have their own ever-evolving sound, but push the boundaries of what non-commercial album rock can be these days.

The co-worker/Wilco fan told me a couple of days later that he liked Mother Hips because they “sound like the best local band from somebody’s hometown.” (I laughed since Tim did grow up near me in LA, but they are most definitely a Chico/San Francisco band.)

Beyond that, I loved his description because it gets to the heart of what I enjoy most about Mother Hips — their DIY charm. The style of music they play might be the opposite of punk rock, but the band’s no boundaries approach shares a similar outlaw spirit.

So, I’ve remained a Mother Hips fan over the years, keeping up with each new release (including solo efforts by Tim and Greg). Later Days is still my favorite album, with Kiss the Crystal Flake (2007) and Back to the Grotto (1993) rounding out my top three.

Green Hills of Earth (2001) is a pretty incredible album too. “Life in the City” should have been a smash at college radio. Listen for yourself…

If you’re new to Mother Hips and truly want to dive in, I recommend starting at the beginning and tracing their unique career over the last three decades. Or, to get a good overview (including lots of live video), you can check out the Mother Hips YouTube page or visit their website.

No matter where you start, you’re in for some true California Soul.

LA-based writer and drummer. I publish crime novels, and non-fiction essay collections about music. Medium focus: Music, Books, Culture. Twitter: @swlauden

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