The Mother Hips

Glide Magazine: The Bass Evolution of The Mother Hips Culimnates With Blazing New LP ‘Glowing Lantern’

For the last twelve months, Glide Magazine has covered the storied but woefully underappreciated thirty-year musical career of The Mother Hips. We have spent that time looking back at a band as it teetered on commercial success, slid into darkness, and then picked itself back up by the bootstraps and forged ahead into what would prove to be an unquestionably bright and creative future. Now we get to discuss the present with the band’s latest album, Glowing Lantern, released Friday, December 3rd, 2021. If you’re a Hips’ fan, you no doubt have been following the bread crumb trail of singles that led up to 12/3’s official release (and if you’re not a Hips’ fan and consider yourself a Rock and Roll kind of person, it’s time to ask yourself why you’re not taking notice of these guys?). There have been interviews by other publications with the band’s guitar players and vocalists Greg Loiacono and Tim Bluhm, discussing the various singles that have dropped and the musings behind that music. While we love time with Tim and Greg, we decided to turn to someone else in the band, the not so “new guy”, bassist Brian Rashap. Rashap’s story is one of ultimate connection with this band, his beautiful, roundabout life journey that led him to his spot playing this music that he has internalized for so long is important. It’s important because it is a story of a love for what every musician and music fan holds dear – the music itself. It is also a story of perseverance and inspirational in the fact that it is proof that sticking to a dream never looking away can, sometimes, get you right where you’ve always wanted to be. So, we’ll talk about the Hips’ new record (spoiler, it’s frickin’ amazing) but we’re going to talk about Rashap too. Glowing Lantern is the most gloriously Rock and Roll record the Hips have put out since 2009’s Pacific Dust. This album has that toothy mad dog snarl that is found in loud, fuzzed-out guitar. It puts an exclamation point on the band’s continuing intrepid advance into the coming years. In true Mother Hips’ fashion, however, the rock is balanced with staggeringly good harmonies and some psychedelic quirk. Fans have no doubt recognized this unbounded rock in the pounding intensity of “Clay Mask Clown,” a tune that could be easily mistaken for one penned by a late ’60s The Who. The song builds to a crescendo that leaves Bluhm’s voice rasped and the structure melting into a musical quagmire. Bluhm’s “Mountain Of Love”, one of my favorites, is beguilingly attractive in its seemingly musical simplicity and honesty of message and emotion not to mention the fact that it could be a springboard for massive jam opportunities from the stage. Loiacono’s offerings are classic Greg – those odd, psychedelic songs snatched from dream space and deftly reinterpreted as music. But Loiacono’s songs: “Nature’s Twisting Heart” and “What Happened To You?” are more than just trippers. Heavy guitar and drums bring weight here too. Making its studio debut on this album is the long-time, until now, live-only “Song In A Can ” which, we can all hear, transfers to wax just fine. This live gem is given wings through Danny Eisenberg’s organ flourishes that drip with funk and are punctuated by John Hofer’s healthy dose cowbell. As a fan of this band, I have to say that this is the first Hips’ record in a while that took me from sitting and critically listening to that first spin to abandoning any capacity for said criticism and finding myself pacing the tiny space of my listening room while shaking my head in beautiful disbelief of their accomplishment. I do not think it a stretch to say that what we have in Glowing Lantern is an instant Mother Hips’ classic that fits squarely into the canon while pushing this band into new and electric growth. This was a record born of frustration. Frustration with the world around it going mad amidst an enduring pandemic that erased two years of gigs and left a question mark, if not a hard pause on the entire live music scene – the bread and butter of a band like The Mother Hips. And that frustration comes through, from the aggressive guitar to the gravelly delivery of Bluhm’s lyrics. In all of that, though, we find hope and even home. And that is what the title means. In a glowing lantern we find warmth, respite, and comfort, we find familiarity in the voices we love but we also find a grittier, dirtier Mother Hips than we have heard in some time. And that’s just how a lot of us like it – the dirtier the better. “When I listen to it I get emotional,” Rashap says as he holds back a tear, “I just hear four friends playing music together and that reminds me of growing up and playing in the garage in high school after class every single day.” Rashap has a right to find himself getting wistful. This moment, the release of the first record that finds him a bonafide member of the band has been a long and meandering journey that has led to this moment and his musical home. Rashap, like so many rockers of his generation, started playing guitar in junior high, but found his love in a borrowed pawnshop bass a couple of years later. Though Southern Californians at the time, he and his buddies were devouring “new” bands that used to play in the now legendary but long gone NYC venue called The Wetlands – bands like The Spin Doctors, Blues Traveler, Phish, and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, that were just starting to tour the west coast. His main musical influence at that time was his buddy Dave Rafalovich. “I had been growing up on music my old British nannies showed me like Thompson Twins, Duran Duran, and The Who. Dave had this different thing going on. Zappa came from Dave, Tom Waits, and The Cherry Poppin Daddies too. He was always on the cool side of ‘what the hell is this? Keep playing it.’’’ A guitar player himself, Rafalovich was one of the first people to show Rashap how to play. And in turn, they helped their buddy, now guitar guru (and that is no stretch) Marty Schwartz, learn how to play guitar. Together these friends had bands with revolving lineups that, at best, made girls take notice. “I noticed jocks getting girls but I also noticed that jocks pretended to play guitar to get chicks,” he says. So it was kind of a natural progression that he took up an instrument and got after it. So when Rafalovich went to Chico State in the fall of ‘93 it didn’t take long for Rashap to get a call about some music thing. And this call was simple. “You gotta get up here and come see this band.” That band was a young, wild and wet behind the ears Mother Hips that was taking the college town by absolute storm. Rashap heeded the advice and drove up to Chico and that first show changed his life. “What was crazy,” he says “was that they broke rules that I don’t think they knew they were breaking. The chord changes and structure were unique and inviting but not the way you were used to hearing it. These very emotional tempo swings that you would work so hard to NOT do, yet that’s what happened in our high school band’s garage all the time! The way they played just bent my mind.” This rawness and the fact that the crowd was packing and pushing toward the stage so feverishly that, as legend has it, the stage was physically pushed back a few feet left Rashap scratching his head but ultimately deeply in love with the sounds he heard. From that moment on the Hips became his “band to come home to”. “I’d be leaving other shows and always find myself listening to The Mother Hips on the way home. More than that, though, I started learning the music off my cassettes – literally listening to a part, then stopping it, rewinding it, and listening again – over and over. I internalized it, it became my music and influenced my playing from the moment I first heard it. It’s was so much fun.” He literally wore out tapes. Admittedly he was a full-on fanboy and enough of one that when a friend of his ran into Greg Loiacono after a distant show, that friend had Greg call Brian, then sick at home, just to say hi but only to have Rashap’s mom pick up the phone and say, “Oh, no honey, Brian can’t come to the phone, he’s sick and it’s waaaay too late.” After a couple of years at a community college near his hometown, Rashap made the move to Sonoma State in the North Bay to chase a degree in music (and perhaps just as important to him, chase The Mother Hips). Now he was seeing the band around the Bay and down south to incredible shows at the old Santa Cruz venue known as Palookaville. As the psychedelia of Back To The Grotto gave way to the grungier Part-Timer Goes Full, Rashap absorbed it all and with each step, the band took forward, Brian was there. But it was the band’s third LP Shootout that was the knockout. There was a shift with Shootout. “Man the way that album starts. This rough and tumble band tried on a new suit of music but what is it? What are these songs? What are these lyrics?” It caused him to question his own ethos, his own style. “How is my music a part of this? How do I incorporate this feeling?” The bass player position in the Hips has been held by some heavy hitters. First, there was the band’s original bassist, Isaac Parsons, an incredible riff-maker and groove player who helped form the backbone of a sound that would endure over a thirty-year period. When Ike left the band following its fifth release, Green Hills Of Earth, he was followed by multi-instrumentalist and musical mastermind Paul Hoaglin. Hoaglin brought added eccentricity to the band musically and physically, sometimes literally laying on his back on the stage and playing a whole set that way. Other times Hoaglin got so stoked he’d literally bite his bass. Eventually, Hoaglin too would take his leave for his own reasons and was followed by Scott Thunes who, among other notable outfits (X, The Waterboys, Fear, and most recently The Zappa Band), had played with none other than Frank fucking Zappa himself. But it was between Hoaglin leaving and Thunes joining that Brian decided to suck it up and put himself out there. At this point, he wasn’t playing music full time, but working for outdoor gear manufacturer Marmot, while gigging in the same circles as The Mother Hips. He made a phone call to Bluhm and offered to at least help out in Hoaglin’s absence. “I called Tim and said that I knew a bunch of the songs and those I didn’t know, I could learn if given a week or so. Basically “I can help if you need it.” But Tim responded that they had found a buddy of Greg’s to take the spot and asked if I’d ever heard of Scott Thunes? “I laughed and offered to just sweep up the stage if they needed me to do that. Yeah, I knew Scott Thunes. That guy is amazingl” Thunes held the bass spot down for a few years and Rashap was actually able to sub for him for a trio of gigs that culminated in a two night run at the old SLO Brew room in San Luis Obispo. And then Thunes left. The Hips enlisted Cake bassist Gabe Nelson and put out 2018’s Chorus (on which their dear friend Jackie Greene actually handled bass duties). Due to some family responsibilities, however, Nelson had to leave after only a few months and Rashap was called to audition. “At this point, we were playing in other bands together and I was in their universe. Tim, Hofe and I had a gig called Par Value Country Band for a while and I played with Greg when he needed a bass player too, so they knew my playing on a personal level.” And then I was asked to play a friend of the band’s wedding, which after ‘learning a bunch of songs’ led to playing at The Big Room at the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico. A few gigs here, there, and all, while he was also the bass tech for Phil Lesh, Rashap was getting busy. “There was a point when Phil had a gig at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, New York over Halloween and I was committed but at the same time my wife and I were going through formal proceedings for her to adopt my two boys and I couldn’t make the gigs because we had a court date. I got a call from Greg to see if I was available to play a two night run the Hips were playing for Halloween at The Sweetwater in Mill Valley and since I couldn’t leave the area I jumped in. That was the turning point, that was when I said, ‘Okay, fellas, what are we doing here? If you want me to play, I’ll play but I need a little more commitment, I need the flowers, for you to tell me I look nice, and I need you to hold my hand in public,’” he said jokingly. “What are we doing?” He asked Greg. “We’re l doing it.” Responded Loiacono. And that was it. He was in the band. Since that time, Brian has taken on way more than just bass duties. He tour manages, acts as the band’s production manager and handles the merch. “I’m putting in elbow grease. It’s the least I can do. I mean these guys have spent 25 years in a ‘van’, I can spend a few hours on a computer every day.” Then, Covid. What was shaping up to be a truly epic 2020 in which his long-time dream was about to find itself truly manifested, everything ground to a halt and it got dark. He had been gigging with the Hips while also working with Lesh, and averaging over twenty nights a month playing at Terrapin Crossroads in nearby San Rafael. But it all disappeared in an instant. “I was teching for a bass God and playing in one of the greatest rock and roll bands of all time and then it was just . . . gone.” But in February 2021 the band decided to go into the studio at 25th Street Recording in Oakland and start on a new album. Rashap was decidedly uncomfortable. “I was doing everything to protect my family from this virus. I had put up this wall around me to protect me mentally and the family physically, and against my will, my mind kept that wall intact as we went to the studio. I was stressed. I didn’t want to breathe other people’s air. I didn’t want anyone to touch anything. I didn’t know their [Hips] recording process either and I felt so exposed. This should have been the most awesome experience but it just wasn’t. At one point while working out a tune, I almost told them I was the wrong guy. I didn’t know how to do this. It was that bad. I just felt like shit.” Then there was a little light. “As we laid down the rough tracks, I started feeling myself opening up. With a new band, you ask permission for things like, ‘maybe there should be a little break here’ and the band tries it out. ‘What do you think about some fuzz on my bass for this track?’ and they were like, ‘It’s your bassline, just do that. If it works great, if not, you’ll hear it.’’’ He started taking some ownership and opened up as the pieces came together. Once the roughs for Glowing Lantern were down, the band retreated back to their homes where they got to work on overdubs. Now there were no time or financial constraints, no one was paying for studio time and they could relax. Rashap had time to develop tone and develop pride in his parts. His rhythm buddy, drummer John Hofer, reminded him, “We’re not in a cover band, we play our way on this record. Forget everything you’ve heard in the past, think ‘How are you and I going to play this together?’” Suddenly he was given permission to do his own thing – “Now I could play in a way that honors past players but was mine. I’m in my home. My protective walls are not needed, I can be exposed. I can take 24 hours to record one part” he laughs. When asked what his own thoughts on Glowing Lantern are, Rashap has an interesting answer, “I feel good, no, great about the album but I can’t listen to it because I’m too critical of myself. I’m stoked and it is just so surreal how very real it all is now. I dig the tunes. At the demo stages, the Greg tunes were very Greg and the Tim tunes were very Tim. Then these guys get together and start finishing each other’s ideas. Hofe and I added this and that, little sidebars of ‘put the kick here and the bass with it,” after all is worked through and tones brought to tape, they’re just killer Mother Hips tunes! The way these guys write together, the respect they give Hofe, and the way they let him lead the charge, it’s a true partnership. A good record needs to flow. Not tune to tune, but as a whole. They have companion pieces, tunes that compliment one another that add aural consistency, and when you have those you have an album. Glowing Lantern has those. It’s going to be a classic Hips’ album, it’s very relaxed. I got to play fuzz bass all over the fucker and I love it. Even the sensitive songs – fuzz bass. Sometimes it’s buried in the mix but it’s still fuzzy, still chafing skin. It’s Rock.” “This is a crazy culmination point. I’ve played music with wonderful people, I still do – people I love, respect, and cherish deeply and greatly but musically I haven’t connected with a group of people like I do with these guys and I think it’s a weird thing of always having had a desire to be a part of this music. Like, I’m stoked to see my face on it and my name as a Mother Hip.” And that connection is pushed forward. “We have another album in the can too. That’s two albums recorded in nine months. This band never does that. The loss of touring ended up making us turn to create and the fact that we have the support of an amazing ‘non-traditional record label’ like Blue Rose Music is so great. The label’s president, Joe Poletto loves what we do and wants us to put out content and ‘just go write songs’. This idea of “When you’re ready, go back in, even if it’s before the next one comes out, is just awesome and so supportive. And that’s where we can leave this 30th Anniversary, looking at a band climbing to new creative space, and backed by a label committed to seeing the new work released and properly distributed. It might be the best position in which the band has ever found itself and with a lineup of players that get each other while being fully supported by an ever-growing fanbase. Nothing is ever written in stone but at least, for now, The Mother Hips are out there at the top of their game building on past accomplishments and making relevant, rocking, and beautiful California Soul.
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