Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have had an amazing year
Ten years ago, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals formed ten years ago in Waitsfield, Vermont and immediately found a following with jam band enthusiasts. The band eventually caught on with the country crowd, too, and Potter’s duet last year with country icon Kenny Chesney only solidified that connection. Their latest album, The Lion The Beast The Beat is a collection of tunes that appeals to both musical camps. We recently interviewed Potter for a feature in an alt-weekly. Here’s more of our conversation.
Talk about the year you’ve had. Playing stadiums all summer long with Kenney Chesney and Tim McGraw couldn’t have been half bad.
That was crazy. That was a really good time. It was the first time we’ve ever been in a stadium setting so really it was trial by fire. I never would have thought we’d be playing a stadium, let alone a stadium in front of a country audience. The way it went down was really organic and really good. Kenny understands our band and knew that enough people would get the gist of what we do so it would be worth it. At the end of the day, we just really wanted to hang out.
Which of those guys is better-looking?
Oh my God. Kenny is like a brother. I can’t think of him like that. He’s the fittest person I’ve ever seen. He’s just amazing. Tim is like a “Transformer” character. He’s like a box. People mold clay models of him. He’s like that statue of David or something.
We heard he’d work out in the parking—shirtless—before the shows.
Yeah, he did that. He did a lot of that working out stuff. We made a Tim McGraw workout video based on the footage that we recorded over the days and weeks that we were on tour with them.
Does he know about it?
No, and please don’t tell him. It’s got an amazing, kick-ass soundtrack. Let’s put it that way.
You played a cover of ZZ Top’s “Tush.” How long has that been in your repertoire?
We picked that song up because I met Billy Gibbons about a year-and-a-half or two years ago when they were just starting to pull together their 40th anniversary album. I didn’t know why he wanted to have lunch with me, but we started hanging out. He had all kinds of questions and was interested in my world and asked me about the chocolate bar that we have. He was interested in young people and how young people present themselves to the world in the ever-changing music industry. At the end of it, we got a call asking if we would we be interested in this dedication album It was a great group of people on the bill and I definitely wanted to do “Tush.” That’s always my number one choice. We pull that song out live all the time.
You also played with Willie Nelson at Farm Aid this year. How was that?
Oh, he’s the best. He’s my hero. He’s the true definition of a legend. He comes out on stage and he knew we were going to do Farm Aid and he loves the song “Ragged Company,” which is why we recorded it with him. He made this cameo like he was on a cloud. He was so calm, so present, so there and so engaging. The strap broke in the middle of the song and he played it anyway.
He probably was coming out of a cloud.
Exactly. He had his own kind of cloud. A very special, heaven-scented cloud.
On your last album you worked with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach at his studio in Nashville. How did that come about?
We started making a record with Jim Scott when Dan called to see if we wanted to fuck around in the studio. When we first got the call, we were not planning on being in Nashville, but I was nominated for a Country Music Award with Kenny and I ended up having to go to Nashville and it worked out perfectly. Everyone came from their respective homes and we went to his studio for three or four days. There was no intention for it to end up on the record. We were thinking crazy side project or maybe do something weird but we had to wait to see what the creative juices would provide. My head was so deep in the album that unbeknownst to me, I was writing songs in that same thematic territory that I had started building on. Your subconscious works in mysterious ways. They did work out and I’m so glad that they meshed with everything.
Does Dan ever talk about growing up in Akron or has he blocked that memory out of his mind?
No, he talks about Akron all the time. He loves Akron. He’s very rooted in his foundation. He knows and respects where he comes from. That’s an important thing for musicians so that they don’t float off to the stratosphere and become completely different people. He and [drummer] Patrick [Carney] both have great heads on their shoulders.
You have your own signature Flying V. Who is your favorite female guitarist of all time?
Mmmm. No. I don’t think about musicians in those terms. I don’t genre-define because of their sex. I have favorite guitarists but they happen to be men. I just listen and what I usually hear happens to be a man. Roy Buchanan, for example is one of the most underrated and underappreciated guitar players of all time. I can’t name you a female guitar player. I know girls who play guitar and sing along. I don’t know one who that’s what she does and she’s ape-shit amazing at it. There’s some girl who’s really hot and played with Michael Jackson for a minute. People confuse me and her, which is weird. All the time, people are like, “I have you in my chick rocker section in my record collection.” I’m like, “What is that?” So we have our own section in your record collection? We wouldn’t just go into classic rock or pop? I think it’s dangerous to compartmentalize like that and I don’t support that way of thinking.
You started out playing the indie rock and jam band circuit. How’d you end up on the country circuit?
I think at the heart of it, that’s what we’ll always be. If you come see our show, there’s always going to be a moment that we stretch out. It’s more in line with a Neil Young Crazy Horse jam. The jam band scene embraced us and that provided us with most of our early fan base. Country was a happy accident. I never intended to move in that direction. When I first went to Nashville, I was surprised how many people were hip to us down there. Our record called This is Somewhere just hit big with country singers. I’ve been approached by people like Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban and Taylor Swift, all these folks who were listening to our records.
Your success has come from hard work and having a killer live show. Does it piss you off to see someone like Taylor Swift, whose live show pales in comparison, selling truckloads of albums and winning award after award?
I can’t say whether I’m fan because I don’t know any of her songs. The one time I ever heard any of her music was when we were doing the awards show and she was performing. She was ballsy and sat with her guitar and it was just her and her voice. I thought that was pretty cool. I don’t know anything about her but she was a sweet, sweet girl who paid me a nice compliment. That age group is too young. I’m still in my twenties but I don’t listen to any of that genre of music.
What do you listen to?
I take myself out of my element. I’m a huge Dean Martin fan. I love Ry Cooder. When he did the Buena Vista Social Club, I love a lot of that. I like Os Mutantes from Brazil. I like the experimental music from Turkey and Istanbul. That music was happening at the same time that British Invasion was coming to the states. Rock and roll was invading everywhere. Some of my favorite music ever is a crazy Pakistani version of a Jimi Hendrix song. They don’t have the right gear, and they’re all playing through one amplifier. That’s cool. I like that.
Has that influenced your music?
When I’m in the studio and trying to dial in a good bass tone, I call up this psychedelic rock band from Turkey. The bass player is playing through a Leslie cabinet or something weird. All those tones they created were super cool. When I hear garage rock and the idea of creating sounds from the ground up, there’s a musical arrogance to that that I think is so cool.
After such an amazing year, what do you have planned for 2013?
I’ve been thinking about it a bit. I ‘m going to start writing. I have been starting to dream up where I want to go next. In terms of thinking about where we’re going to travel to, we’re going to Europe, which is exciting, and Australia, which is bad ass. Then, we’ll take a few months off and wail it home next summer.
11/30 Boston, MA
12/1 Boston, MA
12/2 Northampton, MA
12/5 Cleveland, OH
12/6 Washington, DC
12/7 Washington, DC
12/8 Washington, DC
12/9 Washington, DC
1/10 St. Louis, MO
1/11 Cincinnati, OH
1/12 Indianapolis, IN
1/13 Kalamazoo, MI
1/16 Louisville, KY
1/17 Royal Oak, MI
1/18 Chicago, IL
1/20 Milwaukee, WI
1/22 Green Bay, WI
1/25 Minneapolis, MN
2/8 Providence, RI
2/10 Canton, NY
2/14 Charleston, SC
2/15 St. Petersburg, FL
2/16 Miami Beach, FL
2/17 Lake Buena Vista, FL
House of Blues
House of Blues
House of Blues
W.L. Lyones Brown Theatre
Royal Oak Music Theatre
Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel
St. Lawrence University
Fillmore Miami Beach
House of Blues