August 31, 2008

Grace Potter interview :: Turn the radio up high, and grab the first guitar you see

Grace Potter can electrify a stage with her fearless and excoriating guitar solos, light up a room with her thousand-megawatt smile, and shoot an arcade-game basket from fifteen feet away. In heels.

In addition to possessing one of the most honest, immense, and soulful wails I’ve heard from a female vocalist since Janis Joplin, Grace is a stellar songwriter and rocks the B3 Hammond organ, among other instruments. At only 25 years old this Burlington, Vermont native leads her band The Nocturnals with some serious rockability, and can beat them at many backstage arcade games. At least that I’ve seen.

I recently had the pleasure of seeing Grace Potter and The Nocturnals live for the second time this summer while I was in San Francisco for the Outside Lands Festival last weekend. Around this time last Sunday I was sitting in a tent with Grace for a few questions before we all loaded up and shipped out. Being that it was the end of a long and festive sunny day for both of us, we started the conversation with Grace confiding in me that I wasn’t the only one that’d been drinkin’ since half past noon. “I have a good liver,” she said to me in a lowered voice as she leaned close and spoke into my hair. “It’ll process it. But we’ll be okay — you and me, we’re gonna throw it down.”


HB: The question I am most interested in asking you stems from my own experiences being a female blogger in this crazy rock world — I’m wondering if you feel that there’s any kind of double standard when it comes to being a woman in the music industry, as opposed to a guy doing the same things that you’re doing?

GP: I personally think that there’s positives to it, and obviously there are negatives. I actually hate girl musicians — for the most part I tend to really dislike them. But I’m not saying that I’m like, the Savior Girl in rock and roll. I make mistakes, we all make mistakes. Still, I’m not gonna throw a fit, I’m not gonna be a diva… I’m never gonna make a big scene if somebody didn’t bring me my fucking champagne. Today they were apologizing for not having a mirror where I was backstage but — who cares?! What’s most important to me is that we’ve got an environment where we can create great music, and I’m more interested in if my amps work or my gear, or if there’s a string broken, or if the setlist isn’t quite right. I would way rather talk about that than what outfit I’m gonna wear. Of course it is fun being a woman, and I’m glad to be a woman. But what I’m most fascinated by is a woman artist who can speak realistically, from her soul, and not be bullshitting.

The music industry is a hard place to live in, but I love my guys in my band, being in a band with guys. They seem to have more of a sense of team and camaraderie that’s ingrained in them that I also feel I’m lucky enough to have. If I didn’t have that, I feel like I would have been Gwen Stefani-d a long time ago. I’ve toured with other women in the band and in the crew and there’s definitely a challenge I have of being “the boss,” so to speak, but not wanting to be the Snow Queen, not wanting to be the bitch. I kinda cater to the Katharine Hepburn mentality, which is “be as wonderful as you possibly can be onscreen, and as edgy and cutthroat as you can be off-screen.”

Do you ever feel like women who front bands are treated as a novelty?

I would SO much rather it go in this order when people walk by our stage — listen: ‘Wow, that music sounds amazing. Look at that bass player, he’s awesome — this band fucking rocks! . . . Oh my god, there’s a girl singing, and she’s pretty good on the guitar, or she’s pretty good on the B3.’ And then maybe, ‘Oh, she’s kinda pretty’ –  instead of the reverse. I mean however you look at it, I feel very lucky to be where we are. I am a 25 year old girl who isn’t afraid to wear a short skirt or to have fun and be myself. Someday I’m going to chill out and be more like Emmylou Harris or Bonnie Raitt or Lucinda Williams and get into a more humble state of mind and a more… subtle state of fashion, but for now this is who I am.

Are those musicians who you mentioned some of the women you admire?

YES. Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and Bonnie Raitt, in that order — my idols. I’ve met all of them, but have never sang with any of them. I almost asked Lucinda on a song, and I almost asked Emmylou, but I just couldn’t work it out at the shows. Bonnie is actually a really good friend of the band, she’s been very supportive, given us quotes and mentioned us from stage . . . one time she was playing in front of 3000 people in my hometown of Burlington, Vermont and she actually talked about me onstage. She was talking about the local music scene and how hard it is for local artists to get off the ground, and bands who have really been able to do something and she said my name. I mean — I lost my shit.

I’d heard that you guys were heading back into the studio later this year. On your last record This Is Somewhere you’d tried to capture more of a live feeling in the studio. Will you continue with that aim this time around?

I think we’re going to relinquish all desperate attempts to capture a live sound because it’s two very different things. Being in the studio last time we realized that you have to let them be different – you can’t force a live sound from a beautiful studio. I mean, we were in a gorgeous studio in LA and we kinda mistreated it, in that we were constantly trying to force something out of it.

I think this time around, depending on where we record and what kind of songs we’re writing, it’s gonna become whatever it needs to become, and we’re gonna pick the studio accordingly. We are thinking of going back into the studio in February or March to make a new record and who knows when that will come out . . . but hopefully a little bit of a quicker turnaround than last time because it took us like eight months from the time we finished recording it for it to actually be out.

Are you happy with the ultimate result on the last record with that struggle between live and studio sound?

I am proud of it. I would listen to it, I would. But I don’t listen to it. Jeff Tweedy from Wilco told me that one mistake you can make is to overlisten to your own [recorded] music. Just let it be what it is. Just leave it alone — record your record and let it be a moment in time because that’s exactly what you sounded like. Be honest with yourself. I mean, be the best version of yourself –don’t underedit, don’t sell yourself short– but pick the best parts of yourself, put them out there, and then forever from that moment on recognize the fact that that was back when you recorded it, in . . . November of 2006 or whatever, and that that’s not who you are now, and that’s okay.

Yeah . . . Jeff Tweedy gives good advice.




[top image credit Kim Hutchens]

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  • I had the pleasure of meeting Grace after a little show she played in Lebanon, New Hampshire this past June. It turns out that a good friend of mine is family friends with the Potters. I met her mom, dad, and younger brother too…it was incredible. They are all incredibly friendly, genuine, sincere people.

    Soki — September 1, 2008 @ 1:33 am

  • I really hate the fact she said she hates girl muscians. Because it does make her sound like she’s setting herself apart from them. I’m sort of disappointed her in for doing that.

    Anonymous — September 1, 2008 @ 4:34 am

  • I know Grace and I can tell you she doesn’t hate lady musical artists after all her 3 top hero’s are ladies and I can tell you she has several very close lady muscians friends. I think she was talking about the ones that think it’s all about them and think the world evolves around them.

    Vtshome — September 1, 2008 @ 2:49 pm

  • Agree with vtshome that she is thinking of the performances by a number of women whose concerts are more about being a “show” than about making music. Grace, and the guys as well, are very direct, down to earth people and it reflects in their music – one of the things that draws many of us to them.

    AH — September 1, 2008 @ 3:48 pm

  • Quote: “My whole thing is, in terms of female musicians – I’m not so keen on them!” she says, laughing somewhat apologetically. “It’s not from a catty, competitive standpoint. It’s more from a quality standpoint.”

    Anonymous — September 1, 2008 @ 11:20 pm

  • Heather, thanks for posting this. The Red Rocks Video is excellent. And thanks to KCUV for turning me on to GP&N.

    Heather, no comments about the passing of KCUV? It has left a void in my life.


    Anonymous — September 6, 2008 @ 11:41 am

  • Why have a not found about about Grace Potter earlier. And How do I find some of her earlier recordings?? John Paul Smelt

    Anonymous — December 11, 2008 @ 10:52 am

  • You can find what’s available here. There are 2 other old CD’s but neither are available at this time.

    Why you haven’t heard of them I can’t answer. They have been touring constantly since the summer of 2005 all over the country. Maybe a case of you should go see the opener because you never know who they will be.

    I went to see Bob Seager back in the early 80′s and the Fabulous Thunderbirds were opening with both Jimmy and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

    vtshome — December 11, 2008 @ 11:26 am

  • [...] that Grace echoed a similar conversation with Jeff in an interview last year. Are you happy with the ultimate result on the last record with that struggle between live and [...]

    recording: jeff tweedy — Grace Potter and the Nocturnals — March 21, 2009 @ 2:24 pm

  • “Quote: “My whole thing is, in terms of female musicians – I’m not so keen on them!” she says, laughing somewhat apologetically. “It’s not from a catty, competitive standpoint. It’s more from a quality standpoint.”

    So she’s saying female musicians, apart from the ones she grew up idolizing, suck in general. I don’t know if she was directing that comment towards the Britney Spears-types (it seems likely), but it still sounds catty nonetheless. If a male musician said this, we’d all be decrying him as sexist. Terrible musicians come in both sexes, let’s not single out the females for that. And I agree with a previous that it sounds as though she’s trying to set herself apart by putting down her sex. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Grace Potter hater at all, but her “I hate female musicians” comments just don’t sit well with me. At all.

    Green Promises — March 17, 2010 @ 1:19 pm

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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