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.”
GRACE POTTER INTERVIEW
SAN FRANCISCO, AUGUST 24, 2008
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.
VIDEO: “STOP THE BUS”
OUTSIDE LANDS, SAN FRANCISCO – AUGUST 24, 2008
VIDEO: “PUT YOUR HEAD DOWN”
RED ROCKS, MORRISON, COLORADO – JUNE 10, 2006
[top image credit Kim Hutchens]