Welcome to Sound Bites, where CityEats meets rock stars on the crossroads between food and music.
Recipe for Success: 1 cup Stevie Nicks, 1 cup jam (the extended kind), ½ cup of The Blues; pinch of Essence of Soul; blend into a fine powder; sprinkle on everything.
Nicki Bluhm is about as close as you can get to the ’60s or ’70s San Francisco Sound, without actually getting into a time machine, strapping on Flower Power garb and joining the throngs of dazed hippies gathered in Golden Gate Park for a love-in.
With her band the Gramblers, Bluhm has quickly become a critical success (especially, on the jam-band circuit) and made some friends in high places — the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson, the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and Phil Lesh, and the Allman Brothers Band/Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes.
Her fame began on the web with her genius YouTube series the “van sessions,” where Bluhm and the Gramblers cover pop songs, while she drives down the highway (she assured CityEats it was a totally safe affair; the camera was affixed to the rearview mirror). And after three solo albums, she’s released her first self-titled, full-length as Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers (out yesterday). CityEats caught up with Bluhm on the eve of her album release party in San Francisco.
We were at the Mountain Jam festival back in June and missed your set. We ran into a couple later who said they’d shown up just to see you. Why do you think your fans keep coming back for more?
I’m just so grateful that people are digging what we do. I think a lot of it is that the music we make is really honest, and I think that feels good to people. It’s music that maybe reminds them of their past; a lot of people say that we have a vintage or retro sound. I’m just stoked that they want to keep coming back.
We caught some of your van sessions… how did you get the idea?
That was really just about being on the road, touring a lot, a lot of downtime, boredom, no radio in our van. Our bass player [Steve Adams] was carrying a ukulele, and we just started messing around. We were like, ‘Let’s record it and put it on YouTube.’ It was so my husband could see it, ’cause he was usually touring with us and wasn’t at the time.
Let’s talk about food. Speaking of touring and vans, what is your favorite gas station snack or truck stop meal to get you the next 100 miles?
I mean, I always look for… if I’m at a truck stop… Gosh [sounds disgusted].
So you’re not a pie and ice cream type of woman?
At a truck stop? No. G-d no. I live in San Francisco, so I’m very spoiled with food and it’s very hard for us to be on the road eating good food. My husband, Jim, calls it a ‘food desert.’ Most of America is a food desert along the major interstates. There’s not a lot of food, and you know, fast-food is just… [again sounds disgusted].
It’s gross, yeah.
Yeah, it’s very difficult to eat that. We try to stop at Whole Foods a lot and stock up on healthy stuff.
Your husband is in the band. Who does the cooking at home when you’re not on tour?
We both do, actually. We love cooking. I don’t have cable, but when I go to my mom’s, Food Network is, like, the only channel I watch. Ina Garten — I love cooking all of her recipes. It’s elegant, easy and foolproof. I love her recipes. Also, Frankies Sputino in New York put out a fantastic cookbook, and we became obsessed with their marinara sauce.
We love the new record and hear a lot of Fleetwood Mac influence on it.
I mean, we all just adore Fleetwood Mac, so I’m not at all surprised to hear you say that. You know, the song on there that hearkens to Fleetwood Mac the most is ‘Ravenous.’
“Ravenous” is a very CityEats-friendly song title. Is it secretly about being super-hungry for barbecue?
[laughs] I mean, I guess it’s up for interpretation. It’s actually a murder ballad, so maybe after the murder they’ll go get barbecue… I don’t know.
Wow, a murder ballad! So it’s like ‘ravenous’ for murder?
No, for revenge. If you listen closely, a story unfolds. It’s about a woman whose lover was murdered, and she knows who [did it], sees the person and is hellbent on getting her revenge.
SLO Brewing Company, Sam’s Burger Joint, Long Meadow Ranch Winery & Farm, Stickyz Chicken Shack… these are all recent venues your band’s played. Do you only choose places that will feed you well before or after a show?
Oh my god, that’s so funny. No, but you know, when we do get a good meal out of a place, we remember it.
Which of the ones we listed was the most memorable?
Definitely Long Meadow Ranch. You’re talking wine country. St. Helena, wine, kale salad, roasted chicken breast — it was top-notch. We know [Executive VP and GM of the winery] Chris Hall, and his family owns Long Meadow Ranch. He was familiar with the music and liked what we were doing. He wanted to start a summer concert series. So we were the first band that was invited to play on the property. It was a nice way to bring food, wine, and music together — all of my favorite things.
Have you had any amazing meals with any of the bands you’ve played with?
No, but I did just get to have dessert with John Oates, which was pretty cool. We were at Outside Lands [music festival] in San Francisco, and he was performing with Hall & Oates. He was kind of the reason why our ‘I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)’ van session went so viral. He invited me down to do an after-party and sing the song with him and this band called Dumpstaphunk. So I met him next door at Nopa for dessert, which was pretty cool.
What’d you guys have?
I believe it was a flourless chocolate cake with sea salt.
What is your favorite song from the new album? Describe it as if it were a dish of food.
Mmm. I love our song ‘Little Too Late.’ I would have to say it’s like jambalaya: Spicy and fun; there’s a lot of flavor; it’s fully animated. And it’s filling and festive.