Back on a good day in 2008, I sat under a hot tent in Golden Gate Park at the Outside Lands festival and talked with burgeoning talent Grace Potter; she was fiery and fascinating and we walked away having articulated that we totally could’ve been friends if we lived in the same place. In that interview she said things like, “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.” Amen.
So, if we want to talk about speaking from her soul and owning her element in the extreme — ho-ly shit, I have rarely been so (oddly) proud of someone I barely met (but really was impressed with) than I was watching this recent concert video.
After a weekend of listening to Grace Potter & The Nocturnals’ newest studio album (out today!) on long stretches of Midwestern highway, feeling my way through the melodies and harmonies so I could sing along, I am extremely pleased to have Fuel/Friends exclusively debut the final debut in her series of acoustic videos of songs from the album. Recorded a few months ago outside San Diego, these videos give you such a sense of the rootsy eclecticism of the album. No one is making music exactly like this right now.
When Grace talks about the new album, she says, “Everything we had was sitting right in front of us, and it just poured out of us.” Don’t you see that here? I see the intuitive interplay of band members who know each other well, and hear it on this album. I also love the subtle counter-weight in these videos in the vocal harmonies of bassist Catherine Popper (formerly of Ryan Adams & The Cardinals).
Grace is nothing short of magnetic when she performs. She throws back her head and wails, she looks like she’s remembering the person the song was written for, she’s okay with being transparent and vulnerable, and asking for the one goodbye kiss. When I interviewed her in 2008 under the San Francisco cypress trees, she said, “What I’m most fascinated by is a woman artist who can speak realistically, from her soul, and not be bullshitting.” Grace does that; I do believe her.
One other video from earlier in the series that has grabbed me tenaciously is this simple rendition of “Things I Never Needed,” the final song on the new album. I made an mp3 because I can’t stop watching the video; the power in her voice here gives me chills, and somehow the song sounds like I’ve already known it for a very long time before.
“…I’m the only one who’s bleeding from things I never needed”
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals is out today on Hollywood Records, and Amazon has it for $7. And – I just noticed she’s playing the superfun Film On The Rocks series at Red Rocks on July 6th, as well as Aspen the night before! That would be a marvelous capper to a Fourth of July weekend. I’ve not yet seen her on that giant rosy rock stage, but I just know she can hold her own. Shall we?
I saw Grace Potter and the Nocturnals rock a bluesy, soulful set last night before a packed Ogden Theater. In addition to a powerful selection of songs from their own catalog, they worked in a ferocious cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It, Black.”
Just listen to Grace wail on the line about, “I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes…”
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.
Sunday dawned even hotter than Saturday at the Mile High Music Festival (we didn’t think it was possible after the sweat and simmer of Saturday). In Colorado we usually get a rocky mountain high of mid 80s, with a rare foray into the 90s. So when the mercury hit 100+, it felt like a wave from an oven to this California girl who has forgotten what it means to perspire like that. The crowds were also more intense on Sunday, with several thousand more hardy souls fortifying themselves in the beer garden, filling up their water bottles, and slathering on the sunscreen.
The musical lineup Sunday was also more consistently solid, other than a lull right in the middle of the afternoon, when I was hard-pressed to find a single band that was worth peeling myself off the lawn for. This was one of the only downfalls of the MHMF — the bands were spaced out so that there was sometimes no choice #2 running simultaneously with the band you had no interest in seeing.
After regrettably missing The Whigs and Ingrid Michaelson (who I hear both turned in excellent performances), the first act I saw was the gypsy-flamenco sounds of former thrash-metal bandmates from Mexico City, Rodrigo y Gabriela. I was mightily impressed by this pair and the pulsing, ebbing, wildly romantic sounds that they coaxed from their pair of guitars. Through a combination of finger-picking, fierce strumming, and thumping a variety of beats on the wooden guitar bodies, this duo wove a rich set of moving music. They were also statuesque to photograph, especially the truly lovely Gabriela who evinced strength and grace like a piece of (really talented) artwork.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals knocked the crowd (and all the photographers) flat with her soulful wails and gorgeous confidence that reminded me of Janis Joplin. After starting her set with two songs seated behind a keyboard, writhing on the seat and tossing her head back in near-orgasmic ecstasy, Grace stood up, grabbed a flying-V guitar and rocked out with her bespectacled guitarist to the sounds of the turbulent “Stop The Bus” from her latest album. I was singing that song all the rest of the day (and on the long drive home to keep myself awake).
Is it Grace Potter or is it a Vidal Sassoon commercial?
I got sidetracked by a wild concert promoter on my way to catch Denver’s own Flobots, and then couldn’t fight my way into the photographers pit (but Julio did). After watching their genre-melding set of politically-charged rap, alt-rock, and string instruments, I decided to hoof it over and find out how long John Mayer will, in fact, wait for the world to change.
Next up was a funk-laden, wild set from Philadelphia’s The Roots. The seven members were all over the stage, strutting and writhing their way through lengthy improvisations and a cover of Dylan’s “Masters of War” that clocked in at over ten minutes. The guitarist jumped out of his shoes at one point, and if I had to blow breath like that tuba player for an hour I think I’d pass out. They were absolutely awesome (?uestloooove!) and one of the clear highlights of the festival. The tent was packed to bursting, with the crowds spilling out dozens of feet onto the surrounding lawn.
I had to go all Prefontaine to hustle it over to see The Black Crowes strut, swagger, and wail their Southern rock. Through the haze of what obviously must have been incense, Chris and Rich Robinson + band (including a pair of gospel-singing ladies) wove a tight web of tunes for an enthusiastic crowd. The field erupted in a wave of hippie dances to the sound of gems like “Remedy” and “Soul Singing,” with plenty of guitar noodling and swinging hips on stage.
Dave Matthews Band turned in the most visually impressive set of the fest as the closer, with a curtain of lights obscuring the stage that slowly raised during the first song (the slow build and crest of “Don’t Drink The Water”), as a montage of images flashed between circus-bright bulbs. I had many interesting conversations throughout the weekend with friends, trying to guess who liked DMB at one time. A lot of us actually did (some refused to admit it, or claimed to like them for “about one minute” or “back in 1992 when they were so unknown”). I’ll admit to liking quite a few of the tunes off their first records — okay and by that I mean knowing them by heart. I’ll cop to it. DMB is nothing if not enthusiastic performers, and I pleased with their extended version of “Two Step” and loved #41 (now how about “Lie In Our Graves” or “Pay For What You Get”?). They were joined on stage by friend of the band Tim Reynolds, and played long into the night (closing with a Sly Stone cover) for the satisfied and damn sweaty attendees.
Finally, a few other parting shots: Great t-shirts…
…public art, lit on fire at sunset…
…and the enthusiastic crowds glowing the twilight.
I always love a juicy story of a misappropriated song. It’s terrible when someone else co-opts your writing and makes it their own, and it seems like back in the day there used to be more of it with less complainin’.
So I listened with great interest over on the excellent Grace Potter blog This Is Somewhere when they unearthed a forgotten tune by one Irma Thomas, a soul singer from New Orleans:
He called it a “re-interpretation,” and to be sure, his undeniable soul-drenched stamp is all over that. But sounds to me like Irma laid down those original foundations (along with songwriter Allen Toussaint) and may be due a little more credit than just a footnote.
I had a movie weekend — being inside to escape the heat of the day and the monsoon thunderstorms of the evenings. First up, despite the film being about music, I found Dreamgirls to be schmaltzy, poorly constructed, and pretty much unbearable. My friends who recommended it to me owe me a ticket to a show containing at least 97% fewer full-length, improbably placed songs in the middle of normal scenes. I also saw Bourne Ultimatum as a date with my Dad for his 60th birthday this weekend and it was absolutely fantastic. Bourne is my kind of man right there. He is practically omniscient (“In ten meters, turn left and bend down to tie your shoe! TIE YOUR SHOE!“), unbreakable, unbeatable, and he kills people with his bare hands even if there are, like, nine of them. It was a roller-coaster ride of a film that ended with a remix of the explosive Moby theme “Extreme Ways” that I had forgotten about but remembered the words to within the first 20 seconds (I would stand in line for this), a feat which impressed my dad greatly. He is always one of my biggest fans.
I am more excited than usual about the new music I found this week:
Electricity + Drums
Okay, click that play arrow immediately.
Every once in a while out of the dozens of songs I seem to listen to in a week, something stands out in a big way — the kind of song that makes me stop everything I am doing and say, “What the heck IS that?!” This fantastic song from The Apparitions [from Lexington, Kentucky and Washington D.C.] has been absolutely at the tip-top of my playlists for the week. I think if you just listen, you will agree with me, and we can handclap around together and try to figure out all the words. As This Is Futuristic came out in January on Machine Records, and it is terrific.
Scar That Never Heals Jeremy Fisher Dude, hand me a tambourine. The song that I heard raves about off this album from Canadian Jeremy Fisher is track 3, “Cigarette,” which boasts one of the best choruses of the summer. But this song is the opening track, and is just so filled with infectious ’60s/’70s pop goodness — think Monkees meet Neil Diamond’s “Cherry” in a modern and non-cheesy way that absolutely makes you want to sing along. Goodbye Blue Monday is a refreshing album from start to finish, and finally gained U.S. release two weeks ago (on Aquarius Records). Check it out.
Deadstring Brothers The obvious vocal comparison as soon as you hear anything by Detroit’s Deadstring Brothers has to be the bendy-voiced swagger of Mick Jagger, but they also experiment with strong female harmonies (and she occasionally takes the lead) and have a wonderful rollicking sound all their own. I loved their Starving Winter Report (2005) and have listened to “Sacred Heart” off that album 86 times, according to my iTunes. This is more sloppy fabulousness from “the new high priests of soulful rock ‘n’ roll.” Special thanks to Songs:Illinois for this first preview off their newest rootsy-country romp, Silver Mountain (October 8, Bloodshot Records).
Theologians (Wilco cover) Donavon Frankenreiter I do like Donavon Frankenreiter‘s echoey-folksy voice, like he’s a troubadour transplant from a few decades past. I enjoyed the Venice-Beach-meets-Stax Records-funk sound of 2005′s Move By Yourself, and he’s done some nice collaborations and soundtrack contributions in recent years. But it is a fraught-ridden endeavor to release an EP of covers of well-known and well-loved songs (his new Recycled Recipes, on Lost Highway) unless you radically rework the tunes like, say, Cat Power or Mark Ronson. This Wilco cover is servicable, but I think that’s more due to the quality of the original song than anything he necessarily adds to it. Hate to say it, but stick with originals.
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals Grace Potter is 24 year-old firecracker, a consummate performer & band frontwoman who has a voice that sounds much bigger and surer than her years should allow. Reminiscent of bold rockers from years past like Janis Joplin with inflections of Bonnie Raitt (who makes Ryan Adams cry), this is an album custom-built for playing loud with the car windows down. It’s been a while since I spent time with an album like that, and I only wish it had been released earlier in the summer. This Is Somewhere is her third release, it came out last week on Hollywood Records, and my friend says he wants to convert to that sect of Mormonism that allows polygamy so he can make Grace Potter his second wife. Good luck with that.
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.
I AM FUEL, YOU ARE FRIENDS is brought to you by Fuel/Friends LLC. Ownership of all audio and visual material displayed here remains with their creators and/or owners and is cited accordingly.. Illustrations by Luke Flowers. Design & Layout by Dayjob.