By Antoinette Rahn
Grace Potter, by her own admission, may have been a “late bloomer,” but not when it comes to her awareness of self. That’s been part of her character repertoire since she was a youngster growing up in the Mad River Valley of Vermont. And that authentic self and eagerness to experience as much of life as possible is evident, illustrated and boldly represented in her recently released solo album “Midnight” and current tour.
Goldmine caught up Potter between tour stops this summer to discuss the new album and tour, her evolution as an artist, songwriter and member of The Nocturnals, and her deep-seated love of listening to vinyl and constantly expanding her appreciation of music.
Goldmine:The songs on your new album have a mix of vulnerability and soulful strength. It’s kind of like the human experience. That’s what I thought when I listened to it, anyway. What was the process like for you in making this album?
GRACE POTTER: Oh yeah, you nailed it. No matter what, I was ready for people to be shocked; I was ready for reactions. Everybody comes around eventually when they realize that an artist is doing something that is so true to form, for them. And my character, the person I am, it’s in my nature — and I’ve been the same way since I was 3 f**kin’ years old — to always do the opposite of what people want me to do or think I should do, or tell me that I should do. That’s the little bit of a sh*thead in me. I’ve always been a little bit of a punk.
It’s interesting that within this record, my defiant spirit and the part of me that is so desperate to know more and to learn came out. And what appears to be, for some, is “oh, she went safe – she went pop.” There is nothing, I mean nothing, safe about pop music. I love that. I think that defiant spirit is on full show in this record, but also, the honesty behind it. Really for me, if music isn’t honest, and if an artist is singing a song – whether they wrote it or not — if they can’t relate to it, then nobody will. Our job singularly is to provide people with the human experience, as you said, and I don’t always do that. In the past I’ve tried to experience life through other people’s perspectives. I’ve played a lot of characters, like in the song “Big White Gate.” It’s about an old woman lying on her deathbed and thinking back on her life. But this time around, and with this record, I really wanted to be present.
I really wanted to focus on things in my life that were happening. The lessons, the hard
lessons I was really learning, and the feelings I was having instantaneously over the course of writing the album. You’re definitely hearing a living, breathing piece of life, happening in front of you. And I wanted it to sound that way.
GM:With this album being more of a solo project, how does it impact the future for The Nocturnals?
GP: I always say I am a Nocturnal, and I have that legacy to protect. It’s something I’ve spent 13 years building. I’m not a bridge burner or someone who’s throwing the baby out with the bath water. But knowing who I am, how hard we’ve worked to create that legacy, I came to know that this music is simply not that. It doesn’t necessarily mark an ending of anything. It’s just another extension of me — just like The Nocturnals is an extension of me.
With this record, after I wrote the songs, I brought it to the band, because it was going to be a Nocturnals’ album. Another part of the process that was really interesting to see happening was what my impulses were and my understanding of what this music was, and what the message behind the music was. And it was also kind of being in denial of the fact that “oh, it probably is a solo record,” but then thinking “no, no I don’t want it to be.” That whole experience also happened, to the point where the light needed to be shined for me by my bandmates. They were the ones who were like “Dude, this is definitely a different thing, and you know it, we know it, we all know it; so what do you want to do about it.”
It’s been the most honest time for everybody in the group. We know each other so well, and we’ve all grown up together. We really have. I was 19 when Matty (Matt Burr) and I started the band in college. He’s still on tour with me and so is Benny (Yurko), so really it’s an amalgamation of The Nocturnals and four new players from all walks of life. A lot of New Orleans and groove-oriented influence coming in.
What is really at the heart of this is a gospel, soul and R&B type of plane that I’ve always lived on. As a kid, dancing around the kitchen and cleaning the house with my mom, we always had an element of soul and gospel music playing. I’ve always had a reverence for it. It’s really cool to watch this band come together as an amalgamation of everything I have been, ya know?
All these extensions of me that made their way to people’s ears through The Nocturnals, through Kenny Chesney, through the Flaming Lips, through Wayne Coyne, me writing a song for a Disney movie or a TV show, me singing the National Anthem or playing a tribute concert, there are so many different facets of me. This band and this album is an opportunity for me to acknowledge those other sides of me. It doesn’t mean it’s everything; it’s not an all-encompassing message, just the new and most recent snapshot of just how broad these influences and my interests are.
GM:Do you write the majority of your songs, or is it more of a collaborative process?
GP: I write all the songs myself. I’ve never really had a “Lennon and McCartney” vibe with anyone, but there are times when I’ll bring it before others and say, ‘I’m looking for a hook for this song, what do you think – do you have an idea for the chords of the chorus?” That kind of thing happens organically over the years.
GM:What was the first album or CD you bought as a kid?
GP: Oh, oh. God, yeah. Oh man. It was one of those deals where you got a pile of 13 CDs or something all at once. I don’t know if I can remember them all, but there was Jethro Tull “Aqualung,” Queens of the Stone Age, Spacehog, Tripping Daisy, Ace of Base, Nirvana “In Utero,” because I already had the vinyl version of “Nevermind” — I stole it from my sister. Pearl Jam “Ten” was in there, Alanis Morissette “Jagged Little Pill.” UB40, The Flaming Lips, and the CD by the guys who did “Macarena.” Yeah, that was in there. (Laughs)
GM:You and The Nocturnals have participated and supported Record Store Day over the years, including issuing an album on that day. What does Record Store Day mean to you?
GP: My travels the last year or so have been about visiting record stores, especially those that are closing. Throughout this last year I’ve been in and out of my car driving across the country, through many, many different places, going to towns, plazas and little villages where they have well-known record stores that were sadly closing down.
I made a point of trying to visit as many of those stores as possible, so I can lap up the record store experience. Not that they’re all gone. I think that the niche market is going to grow and continue forever, because it’s amazing and undeniable. But it was a bit of a
coming of age moment for me when I realized these record stores maybe aren’t going to be around the next time I come through town. So Record Store Day is close to my heart for that reason. I’ve always been a music consumer, buying physical copies, and will continue to be for the rest of my life, as long as it’s still possible.
GM:If you could tell your 15-year-old self something, what would you say?
GP: You’ve got it all going on, girl. Don’t worry. You’ll grow tits some day (laughs). I was
definitely a late bloomer, and all my friends were getting all the boys and I was like “Hey guys, can I come with you?” I was definitely the wing man. I was not the beauty. I was a 15-year-old with no tits, glasses and a bad haircut. I’m still that exact same person. I still really don’t have very big tits, but that’s OK. (Laughs) But, I have to say, I’ve always had a handle on who I am, even at 15. I visit her (the 15-year-old Grace) every once in a while. Just to see how she’s doing.
GM:How is that 15-year-old version of you doing?
GP: She’s good. She’s living in Spain. (Laughs)
GM:How did you come up with the title of the album (“Midnight”)?
GP: I was born at midnight June 20, 1983. Yep, I was a midnight baby, and so much of what I’ve done in my life has happened after midnight, or during that midnight hour – which is that moment when time is suspended.
Midnight is meant to mean more than time on a clock. For me, it’s a feeling of outer space, that elasticity of time. Where time seems to speed up or slow down. Feeling suspended in time is what midnight and any time after that makes me feel. Those nocturnal hours. That’s also why the name of the band is The Nocturnals. It’s all those introspective moments you have with yourself, when the world stops beeping at you and you can just sit with yourself and really become the person you want to become. For me, it’s always dark when that happens – in the best sense of the word.
Enjoy these photos of Grace Potter? View more taken by photographer Cody Sinkula, during the Green Bay, Wis. July 2015 concert, at www.clsphoto.wix.com/clsphoto. If you're in need of a photographer within the Midwest, you can contact Cody Sinkula at CodyL33photo@gmail.com
Check out Grace Potter and band performing the song "Empty Heart" off the new album "Midnight"....