Q&A: Rocker Grace Potter Drops Her Debut Solo Album
Yes, glitter is a part of her act. Potter and her band regularly rock handmade, shimmery threads on stage—but there’s more to her than sparkle. The tell-it-like-it-is artist has been making music for a decade and now has the experience and gumption to refuse to “make the same record over and over,” as she puts it. “Midnight” is her first solo album, so it’s a departure—for some fans, a somewhat controversial one—from her past, when she recorded with the Nocturnals (who rejoin her for this tour). The new songs all rock at their core, but they’re also influenced by funk, hip-hop and other genres: Fans who fell for her duets with Kenny Chesney will find some Southern twang mixed in with the spirited pop sound—all with that healthy dose of irreverence the artist has become known for.
Potter’s playfulness is infectious—it sparks through our conversation—but she’s a serious musician with a long list of collaborators to her credit, from The Flaming Lips to The Rolling Stones. Days before her new album came out in early August (when we spoke with her), she was already on the tour that will bring her to STL, debuting her material with audiences from California to Vermont. And, if the St. Louis fan reaction is anything like what she has been receiving from other cities on the road, it’s going to be a truthful, honest and emotional ride.
ALIVE: You started writing the songs for this record in 2013. Did you know then that it would be a solo album?
Grace Potter: I didn’t know even at the start of this year: The record was done and I was still like, “This is a Grace Potter and the Nocturnals album.” Part of the reason was that I didn’t know any other way to do it or anything else to call it. I was in denial: I think my bandmates knew long before I did that it would be solo—especially Matt [Burr, the Nocturnals’ drummer and Potter’s husband], who has been there by my side all along.
The producer, Eric Valentine, created an environment for me to explore any direction I wanted, but my bandmates also believed in me and created a determination in me that helped move it forward. It did feel like a pretty major crossroads, and I was in total denial about that. It was right around the middle of February when I confronted what it all meant and how I could proceed truthfully and honestly.
ALIVE: You and Matt [Burr] got married around the time you started writing. How did that shape the songs?
GP: We’ve been partners in crime for so many years now. When we got married, we weren’t focusing on it. It didn’t have any direct effect, other than I had a sense of security that I don’t like. In a way, the album may be a response to that. [When I write songs], I try to go against whatever’s happening in my life.
ALIVE: Have you read any critics’ reviews of “Midnight?”
GP: I don’t read any articles about me. I don’t care what people’s impression of me is. The truest part of what I’m writing is that I feel a certain way, and whether that’s good or bad, as long as I’m being compelling—even if people say, “I hate that girl!”—then I have made a contribution.
Music is here so we can all talk and discuss openly the good, the bad and the ugly of the world. This is what makes me the most hopeful and feel good about what I do. I’m lucky I can write and sing about this shit and have people actually listen—let alone be violently compelled in one direction or another. That is the best: to have a conversation and talk. And I knew that would happen with this record.
ALIVE: What’s it like to hit the road again with the Nocturnals?
GP: In many ways, nothing has changed, although there’s definitely this aggressive feeling, like, “Who fucking cares?” … We’re all feeling really free right now. It’s exhilarating. I can’t be the poster child for anything at this point: I’m following my own path. … It’s been really amazing to watch what that’s done for my bandmates. They’re my greatest cheerleaders, and I love them. It’s really satisfying to me to have them here.
ALIVE: How have the fans received your solo album and the tour?
GP: I’ve been astounded by the shift in direction. One fan came up to me after a small show in Vermont, and he said, “I came to curse you out and tell you that I was so disappointed in you, that you don’t know how to treat your friends.” He was crying when he said, “I’m so sorry I came to do that. I saw your heart, and that helped me realize how wrong I was.” It was a very wonderful moment. We ended up hugging for like five minutes. That’s the kind of ex- perience I’ve been having.
ALIVE: Why do you think that is?
GP: They’re seeing me exposed for the first time. They’re seeing me alone in some ways, but more true to myself than ever and on a mission like never before. Even if this doesn’t work—if I don’t have a hit record—it’s me staking a claim to creative impulses. I do write the songs, and I’ve been writing the songs all along.
ALIVE: What do you remember about STL from other tour visits here?
GP: I adore St. Louis. … There’s a vintage shop that I always go to—and of course I don’t remember the name. I’m a big-time fashionista. I love clothes shopping. When I’m going on tour, I don’t pack a lot: I collect clothing. I like the story it tells. Fashion to me is a way of scrapbooking my tour while I’m on the road. St. Louis is also one of those places where I can’t stop eating—I’ve eaten in six restaurants in one day before.
ALIVE: What should fans know before they come out for your show this October?
GP: There’s a really amazing theme running through our live shows: working with prismatic light and the effects on audiences. We’re trying to create moods and feelings at certain points in shows based on what color we’re shining into the audience’s eyes. I’ve done research on certain colors and certain pieces of music and what it can make you feel. It’s not getting too deep into the neuroscience of it, but it’s a joy, something that I love doing. So come prepared to be slightly hypnotized.
This story appeared in the October 2015 issue.