Mother Hips co-founder Greg Loiacono talks “Golden Dream,” upcoming shows
Guitarist, singer and songwriter Greg Loiacono is best known for being part of the much-loved rock band the Mother Hips, which he co-founded with Tim Bluhm while they were students at Chico State in the early 90s. While the Mother Hips is still going strong, Loiacono now also steps out as a solo musician and bandleader. He released his first full-length solo album “Songs From a Golden Dream” last year.
Greg Loiacono Band is currently touring California, starting with two dates this weekend. San Francisco-based band Lee Bob + The Truth will open at The Palms Playhouse in Winters and the Crepe Place in Santa Cruz.
Loiacono explained why the time was right to do this album. “I finally had a collection of songs that I thought fit very well together,” he said. “And they were not on or going to be on a Mother Hips record for a variety of reasons. Some of these songs were brand new and some go back a few years. But they all fit well together and I feel they represent my current musicality nicely.
“I also had more time than usual to finish it up because of the lack playing The Hips had been doing due to Tim’s injury” in an accident a couple years ago.
“In general, I knew these songs would be a part of my solo project. I had very specific arrangements for each of them. When recording with a band there is more of a democratic process happening. With this project… not so much.”
Loiacono explained how being in a band and being a bandleader are different experiences.
“Playing with the Hips is a blast. Having guys like Tim and John (Hofer) with whom I connect with on a musical and personal level is so great,” Loiacono said. But he’s also found a lot to like in his new role.
“I really enjoy being a bandleader. I’m usually pretty clear on how I want things to sound and to be performed. So, it has been really fun taking a show on the road that is coming from my specific musical viewpoint.”
That specific viewpoint comes through on “Songs From a Golden Dream.” While there’s a rough-and-tumble energy powering some of the Hips’ music, “Golden Dream” gets a punch from Loiacono’s considered, purposeful arrangements.
For example, there’s coiled energy in the tension between the coolness of the soaring vocals and the driving guitar and drums in the verses of “The Gloaming” that’s resolved in a burst in the muscular choruses. Dynamics like that don’t happen by accident.
From a listener’s perspective, the album is rich in subtle paradoxes, adding to the energy of the project. Was this by design?
“I think it was intentional on a few moments throughout the record,” said Loiacono. “‘Ship of Fear’ has a mix of darkness and sweetness that I was hoping to capture. ‘Please Let Us Be Friends’ has a very wild, free-form vibe in the playing and music but the content is pretty deep and contemplative.”
Loiacono explained the motivation behind having “The Red Thread” in titles of songs at the beginning, middle and end of the album. “I learned about the red thread mythology through one of my children’s schoolbooks,” he said. “I believe it was the Chinese mythology of the red thread of destiny. A lyric in ‘The Day’s Long Wind’ is inspired by that. But I used it to connect the real world with the dream world in that song.
“When I first started working on (opening song) ‘The Gloaming,’ I had a whole other set of lyrics and melody to the song. It wasn’t working out, though. I was listening to a lot of Deerhoof at the time and something in one of their songs inspired me to write the song as an invitation. Once the new lyrics started happening I saw an opportunity to use the red thread again. I thought it would be clever to have the album be bookended like that. I told my son that there would be a Red Thread Part I and II and he insisted that there had to be a III. And the interlude was the perfect candidate.”
Evan Drath, who is both the Hips’ longtime sound engineer and The Palms’ lead house sound engineer, spoke of the differences between Loiacono’s music in the Hips and on his own.
“In the Hips, Greg’s harmonies are otherworldly sometimes. I don’t even know how he finds those notes. When he’s solo you get to really hear the depth of his vocal instrument. He’s also an amazing guitarist in that he’s precise but he never lets the precision get in the way of some big dumb fun rock and roll.”
Loiacono’s band is a roster of top Northern California players and includes Gabe Nelson (leader of Bellygunner and alum of Cake) on bass and vocals, Todd Roper (also a Cake alum) on drums and vocals, and Dave Zirbel (Phil Lesh, Sammy Hagar, Commander Cody) on pedal steel and Alex Koford (Phil Lesh) on guitar and vocals.
Lee Bob Watson, formerly of the Sacramento band Jackpot, recently released the third album in a trilogy and will open the August 25 and 26 shows with his current band The Truth.
“I love Lee Bob,” said Loiacono. “I have known him for many years and have always been a fan of his singing, playing and writing. I think it’s a great pairing.”
Watson said he and Jackpot played more than 100 shows with the Mother Hips.
“I have tremendous respect for Greg and the Mother Hips as performers, writers and people,” he said. “I love playing with Greg and/or the Hips any chance I can get. And Greg’s solo material is very personal and distinct, too. It’s really nice to hear him develop that in its own direction.”
Loiacono added that Friday’s show at The Palms is of note for an additional reason. “It is also our good friend (and sound engineer) Evan Drath’s birthday that night. So that will make it extra special.”
“I’ve been mixing the Hips for over 20 years now, all over,” said Drath. “It’s great to have Greg and his band in my ‘house.'”
Twenty-five years into his career, Loiacono still finds joy in the music. “I have really been enjoying playing music with different players with different styles than mine or what I am ‘used to,'” he said. “I have gotten to do a lot of experimentation lately and that has been very inspiring.”
Upcoming Greg Loiacono Band shows:
August 25: The Palms Playhouse, Winters, Calif. Lee Bob + The Truth opens
August 26: The Crepe Place, Santa Cruz, Calif. Lee Bob + The Truth opens
October 21: Cafe Du Nord, San Francisco, Calif.
November 17: Chico Women’s Club, Chico, Calif.