Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Article by: Blake Boldt | Photos courtesy of GPTN | Posted: 07/06/2012
Vermont native and Nashville favorite Grace Potter, a grounded young star with an intense personality, inhabits the stage with her own gypsy style---cocksure and elegant, feisty and smoldering. Her songs outline the hard realities of lovestruck and volatile souls yearning for redemption from their hormonal woes.
The words and melodies abide in the memory, but so do the images of Potter wooing her audience with a powerful vulnerability. No matter how great these heart strains, she puts the listener at ease with a spunky attitude that oozes sensuality.
It should be no surprise then, that when asked for a short list of her long-term ambitions, Potter answers with a mischievously seductive laugh: "World domination." The confidence is evident in her voice. It wasn’t always this way, though, for the ascendant rock goddess.
"I'm more of myself on stage now than in the beginning of my career," Potter says. "When we were first starting out, my influences were Uncle Tupelo and Sonic Youth, real shoe-gazers. I thought that nobody would take us seriously if I didn't just stand there and sing. I figured I could just perform my heart out and that would be enough.”
As Potter continued to perform with her band The Nocturnals, she came to realize that her on-stage demeanor stood in direct opposition to her extroverted nature. She decided to do what felt right in spite of her reservations.
“I'm a wild person and I'm an energetic person," she says. "I love to shake and move. I'm a terrible dancer, but I love dancing. There's really no choreography involved in my act. As they say, it's all about when the spirit moves you. You look at Beyonce, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and they represent that same feeling on stage. I just really cherish and really relish those opportunities to perform."
Given the rapid pace at which she’s racked up accomplishments, it would appear more opportunities are in her future. Following a series of well-received albums that won a steady audience, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals have expanded their musical palette and experienced their second Top 20 debut (#17) with their fourth studio album, The Lion the Beast the Beat. The tuneful, diverse arrangements, coupled with Potter's charming yet coy delivery, combine to form an excellent document of experimental rock.
Potter, who worked with Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach on a handful of songs, avoids the extended wailing favored by a whole host of pop divas, instead offering more subtle, thoughtful performances. The mood was much different, she says, when first entering the studio. She admits to being overanxious in the beginning weeks of the recording process. Then, a sudden revelation: after months of all-consuming touring, she needed a break.
"I had a lot of drive when we first went in to make the album,” Potter says. “We had many songs that were good, but none of them were fitting together. It was a scary place to be. For me, an album is a photograph of a moment in time. I was just uninspired and burned out, so I had to reassess my goals."
These extended sessions proved to be a test of endurance for Potter, but what developed was an album that felt “powerful and important without any pretension.” It plays to the strengths that many first discovered through her 2010 duet with Kenny Chesney, "You & Tequila," a sparkling Matraca Berg - Deana Carter composition that portrays the addictive rush of a toxic love affair.
The resulting slew of accolades -- she won a Country Music Association award and was nominated for a Grammy -- surpassed Potter's expectations. She expresses an endearing fondness for Nashville's tight-knit artistic community and their enduring support.
"I'm just so grateful and humbled to be included and invited into that world," she says. "Artists like Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town and Jake Owen would come up to me and tell me that they were fans even back in '07 and '08 when I was playing at [Nashville's] Cannery Ballroom. It struck me to be accepted so warmly."
That positive feedback from her fellow artists has also led to a number of unlikely collaborations. Potter will appear on this summer's Brothers of the Sun tour starring Chesney and Tim McGraw, as well as headlining at a number of outdoor festivals. Furthermore, the deluxe version of The Lion features duets with Chesney ("Stars") and Willie Nelson ("Ragged Company").
Despite her newly-made Music Row connections, Potter insists that she's not interested in becoming a country singer.
"I want to take the love I received [from Nashville] and move forward with that," she says. "I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I didn't think it was fair to come in with all these other artists to just sweep in. Country is not the direction that I'm going in. This album has a lot of different styles. Nobody can put a finger on it, and we can't either."
Long known as a good-old-boy circuit, rock 'n' roll has always been a dicey career path for even the most ambitious of women. Potter, though, feels no additional burden in this male-dominated industry. In fact, emboldened by her newfound fame, she's cutting loose and sounds more committed than ever now that she’s begun to reveal herself as never before.
"I think women end up suffering more by belittling ourselves," she says. "I think it's partly our fault that we ruin our own lives by doing it, and I'm guilty of it myself. As a kid and even into my teen years, I loved to play dress up and wear jewelry and heels. Lately I've really made it a goal of owning my femininity and being comfortable with myself."
Years removed from traveling the highways and by-ways of New England in between gigs, Potter believes things have changed little since her band's humble beginnings.
"I think we've grown so slowly and gradually and at such a comfortable clip," she says. "It's nothing that's been too overwhelming, even from playing in bars with just 10 or 15 people. What we're doing now is an amplified experience, but it feels very much the same. It's a time for us to have fun and just really appreciate all that's happening."
Grace Potter - "The Lion The Beast The Beat (Live at Jazzfest)"