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Posted September 28, 2015 by Jeff in Tunes
 
 

Grace Potter Grows Up

Grace Potter
Grace Potter

Singer Grace Potter leaves her country and rootsy rock impulses behind on Midnight, her first solo effort. Recorded and mixed at Barefoot Recording in Hollywood with producer Eric Valentine (Queens of the Stone Age, Nickel Creek), the album commences with the poppy “Hot to the Touch” and embraces soulful pop (“Alive Tonight”) and futuristic funk (“Your Girl”). The core studio band consists of Potter and Valentine on most of the instruments, with Matthew Burr on drums and percussion. In addition, members of Potter’s longtime band the Nocturnals — guitarists Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco and bassist Michael Libramento — contributed to the sessions. Singer-songwriters Rayland Baxter and Audra Mae, Noelle Skaggs of Fitz & the Tantrums, Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips, and Nick Oliveri of Queens of the Stone Age all have cameos on the album as well.

The last time I interviewed you, you were very outspoken. Have you always spoken your mind?
It’s been that way since I was singing. My mom assures me there were times that I didn’t talk at all. I would just sit quietly until I had something important to say and then I would say it. Apparently, I just started talking and then never stopped.

Talk about the decision to record a solo album.
It wasn’t really a pursuit. It was more of an accident. It was a happy accident. It took a long time to acclimate to the reality of it. While I was writing the songs, I intended them to be for a band record. The band came and played on the record and we spent time exploring different options and ways the record could go when we were in preproduction. It was this thing but it kept coming back to center. It was a different sound and collection of influences. I wasn’t used to playing. It wasn’t a Nocturnals’ sound. At the same time, it was satisfying. It was charging me up. It’s a meditation on what fun is and what fun can and should be. It took a while to recognize that. Just because you’ve been something, doesn’t mean you have to keep being that. It felt like I was going to be in denial if I made it a Nocturnals record. It was very different. It took a long time.

Everybody has to grow up at some point. I had been relying on the band as my safety blanket. I don’t need to lump everybody into that position.

How’d you break the news to the Nocturnals?
They knew already. They knew way before I did. It didn’t come as a surprise to them. It was my own progression. I can’t speak for them, but I know from the reactions that it was a sense of relief. It wasn’t like I was ending anything.

Talk about the experience of working with Eric Valentine.
It was incredible. It’s the first time I enjoyed being in the studio. It can be a very daunting thing. Being in the studio is both fulfilling and deeply frustrating for me. This time around, I really submerged. I really allowed myself to enjoy it. I’m not a patient person. I want things to be done and I want them to sound great. The reality is that it does take time and a lot of experimentation before you can land on something that’s right on. Eric made that fun instead of making it like pulling teeth.

“Alive Tonight” is a great party anthem that shows off your voice. What inspired the song?
It was a rainy day in Vermont. I wasn’t feeling very alive at all. I needed to wake myself up. Sometimes, a song can be a meditation on your life or a slap in the face. That song feels like a slap in your face. It was received by fans with shock and awe and horror. That’s what I wanted. I wanted it to start the conversation and really jostle people. That’s what music is meant to do. There are times when music needs to be compelling and create a dialogue. I was happy to have that song be the catalyst.

You sound a bit like Annie Lennox.
Oh, thank you. I love Annie Lennox. There’s a lot of that influence on this record. I befriended Dave Stewart before I started making the record. He reached out to me on Twitter. That’s how we connected. I didn’t think it was really him. All of a sudden, he was really interested in me. It turned out his daughter was a fan. His son was in a band called Nightmare & the Cat that also made a record with Eric. It would up being this perfect small world situation when I got to L.A. and started meeting with producers. There were many people in the running and a lot of people I was considering but none of them called out to me quite the way that Eric did. When I meet with producers, I have a bunch of songs and a sound in mind. I explore their catalog and approach and see if it’s right for the song. I never ever play the song. That’s my secret. I don’t want to give away my poker hand. As soon as I sat down with Eric, I wanted to play him everything. I don’t know why. I think it was a good sign.  

Is “Your Girl” inspired by ’80s-era Prince?
Totally. I’ll take that. It’s one of my favorite songs on the record. It’s one of the greatest sonic successes that Eric and I had in the studio. That was one that took a long time and a lot of head scratching to get it to sound the way it should sound.

How many people did you get to sing backing vocals on “Empty Heart”?
That was everybody that was there—probably 11 people. A lot of those voices are just me and Eric. I ended up coming in and directing the gospel choir. We were going to hire a gospel choir. I thought there’s something better about shaping it and exploring some sounds that aren’t one specific gospel sound. One of the things I found is that you can’t blend too much. You want the voices to have their own personality. I was worried that we would spend all this money on a gospel choir and have the sound of that specific choir. I wanted it to be more universal. I brought in a lot of the other vocalists. Max, my drummer and Eric and I. People who aren’t even singers. They were like, “F*ck it. I’ll come in and shout and sing.” It was a fun experiment.

I enjoyed being able to direct it and I gave people notes that were wrong. I went very Brian Wilson on that one.

Who is the song “Instigators” about?
It’s a criticism of where the world is. We bury our heads in cell phones and live inside these boxes. I do it every day but it’s frustrating. I feel like if we don’t pull our heads out of our asses, we’ll waste our lives. It’s frustrating. We’re all just going to devolve into these [creatures] hunched over our phones. That’s not what being present and alive is all about. It’s an imaginary landscape we all live in. But it’s fun to live there. I don’t want to get off of my phone.

Have you thought about the next record yet?
I’m definitely not thinking about the next record quite yet. I’m always writing songs and thinking but not with the intention of making a record. It’s been a huge year of massive change, shifting and uprooting everything I thought I knew. I have a lot to write about. I’m not done with the conversation. Having said that, this tour will take us through the New Year. I have an awesome new band. It’s going to get crazier with the schedule for the rest of the year. I don’t know what’s next. For the first time in my life, I have no idea and I’m totally okay with that.

Upcoming 2015 Shows

9/30

10/01

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10/09

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10/13 & 10/14

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10/17

10/21

10/22

10/23

10/24

10/25

10/29

10/30 & 10/31

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Palace Theatre – Albany, NY

Orpheum Theatre – Boston, MA


Jeff

 
Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.