Between a busy touring schedule and putting the final touches on the July 17 re-release of the 2011 album Driftwood, Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers don’t have much time to watch sports.
Admittedly lead singer Nicki and her bandmate/husband Tim Bluhm aren’t exactly high tech in their Outer Sunset District home in San Francisco.
“We’ve got rabbit ears [for the TV],” but the reception won’t bring in ESPN, Nicki says.
In those respects, the six-piece, Bay Area alt-rock band might be the music act least likely to be associated with the ESPYS, which air tonight at 9 ET on ESPN/ESPNHD from Los Angeles.
But Bluhm and the Gramblers’ cover of the Queen/David Bowie classic Under Pressure will be heard accompanying the “Best Moment” highlights package in the awards show.
How did Bluhm and The Gramblers get this gig?
Maura Mandt, executive producer of the ESPYS, contacted the band’s management after seeing some of the Gramblers’ popular “The Van Sessions” series of YouTube videos.
While riding from venue to venue in the Bluhms’ Ford Cargo Van (since replaced by a 15-passenger van), the band performs and videotapes stripped down covers of popular songs. The 17th video, the Hall and Oates chestnut I Can’t Go For That, has had more than 1.4 million views, said Dan Kasin of Another Planet Management.
When ESPN called in early June, “we were really excited. We aren’t the biggest sports fans, but we’re from San Francisco, we love the Giants, we love going to baseball games,” Bluhm said Wednesday.
Still, the band was forced to take the title of Queen/Bowie song to heart because of circumstance.
The Gramblers were in the middle of a tight touring schedule, were anticipating the re-release of Driftwood — which features their original songs — and they had to learn Under Pressure from scratch.
“As with many popular songs that you think you know, that you think are actually pretty simple, you get inside of them and you realize they are actually pretty complicated,” she said.
The band recorded the song in two days. Before recording, “we probably worked with it for about a week at home and on the road, and I think at that time we were mostly on the road,” Bluhm said.
(The video above gives you a behind-the-scenes look at the rehearsals.)
So when Nicki, who is seen singing while driving in some of the “Van Sessions” videos, is cut off in traffic by another driver, does she sing I Can’t Go For That in response?
“That’s my version of road rage,” she said, chuckling. “No, I don’t do that. But it probably would be a lot better than what could come out of my mouth. It might be good therapy.”
The band has a famous fan in John Oates, one half of the legendary rock duo. He sent an e-mail applauding the cover of his song and invited the band for a beer whenever it visits Aspen, Colo., Bluhm said.
Oates might want to play bartender soon. The four-year-old band begins its Rocky Mountain Tour July 18 in Telluride, Colo.
As for tonight, the band might gather around the Bluhms’ computer to view the ESPYS on WatchESPN.com to see and hear their work mesh with highlights of the best moments in sports.