Grace Potter & The Nocturnals Talks "Jackie Brown", Influences, and VH1 Divas Salute the Troops
Mon, 06 Dec 2010 18:23:03
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Grace Potter & The Nocturnals aren't afraid to let loose.
On their third self-titled album, Potter and her band resound with a rock 'n' roll roar and a sweet, sultry dose of soul. Songs like "Paris (Ooh La La)" and "Medicine" become bona fide anthems driven by Potter's heartfelt and hypnotic vocals. She delivers each note with a poetic passion that careens in tandem with the hearty guitar and bass blues. If Led Zeppelin came out today and were fronted by Dusty Springfield, they'd sound something like Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. This is soul rock for the ages...
The zeitgeist formally embraced Potter in a big way after her rapturous performance on VH1 DIVAS Salute the Troops, an incendiary TV at the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Miramar in San Diego. Potter's fiery display alongside Heart's Ann Wilson and Nancy Wilson turned a lot of heads—along with that silver shimmery dress number Potter donned!
Grace Potter speaks to ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino about the band's self-titled album, her breakout performance on VH1 Divas Salute the Troops, influences and what she shares in common with "Jackie Brown."
Did you have one vision in mind for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals from the album's inception, or did it all come together song by song?
It didn't come together piece by piece. It was definitely pre-meditated, but we weren't sure what songs were going to make it. There were two types of a record there. We had one piece of a record that was spacey, artistic and beautiful renderings of melodic songs. They were more like ballads. On the other side, we had a full-on rock album. At the end, it was really about the Rubik's Cube of track order and what songs were going to make it versus what songs weren't going to make it. Obviously, we went more rock, which is something I've been dying to do for a really long time. That's the kind of music that inspires me. That's the stuff that really fires me up. On stage, if you have a record full of ballads, the audience wants to hear your album live but they don't want to hear you playing ballads all night. We treated the record like a live show, and we wrote it out almost like a set list.
You pull in a lot of different styles from rock and pop to country, but you maintain a singular identity.
It's a cool thing to be able to play any type of music in any genre and have it make sense to people. We had a really cool moment earlier this year. I did that duet with Kenny Chesney—"You and Tequila." He's a straight-up country artist. However, the way the song worked and the way I manipulated the approach, it didn't have to sound like I was going country or he was going folk or singer-songwriter. We just do what we do, and that's what makes sense. I think a good musician can shape shift from one genre to another.
That's what makes for an interesting record and ride...
Absolutely! The band got to shine on this record. It was really exciting for me to watch each member grow and get comfortable in the studio for the first time. It was like maximum expression in the studio at all times!
Is storytelling important to you?
Great question! Every songwriter should care about the story. You want to have a beginning, middle and an end, and you want to feel like the story being conveyed is believable. This isn't a soap opera. I'm writing about real life as well as the genuine feelings, emotions and ups and downs that go into it. One of my big goals is not to be overly sentimental. With every really gushy feeling, there should be a little jab at the end. That's my way of balancing out a great song. Let the gush flow but, every once in awhile, put a little pinprick in it [Laughs].
That keeps it real.
Exactly! If you were breaking up with someone or having a really intense conversation, a lot of it is obviously serious, but there has to be that moment where it's not serious. Maybe there's a moment where you pause and let your emotions breath for a second. I like to think about what would really be happening. That's my motto.
That comes across in the music and the lyrics.
You got it! Lyrics come later. I'm going to reference a really lame movie, but remember that Hugh Grant movie with Drew Barrymore, Music and Lyrics? I know it's a tough reference, but go with it [Laughs]. Drew Barrymore says a melody is like the first thing you see. When you listen to a song, the music is the first thing that you hear. It's similar to seeing a woman for the first time. As you get to know her, that's the lyrics. I hate using that movie as a reference, but it is so true [Laughs]. The lyrics only sink in after the fact, and you go, "Oh, that's what she was saying!" Then you really get it.
That's quite the analogy.
Damn you, Hugh Grant!
"Things I Never Needed" stands out. What's the story behind that?
It's my take on John Lennon's "Imagine." Imagine no possessions. The feeling of "Things I Never Needed" was to basically take everything material or physical in your life that you think matters to you and strip it down to what makes you a good person or what makes you a bad person. That's the most important thing. Material possessions aside, what do you see? All of that other stuff is gone. All of the other illusions that you can put in front of yourself disappear. In the song, there's a battle with the character who is feeling like he or she hasn't been his or her best or fullest self. Take all of the objects away, and what's left needs to be improved. It's a harsh reality, but it's a good reality to be faced with. That overly sentimental vibe can't permeate and be stronger at the end of the song than that feeling of reluctance and regret. I want the song to end and have you wondering, "What's going to happen next? What does this mean for the person who's saying it? What does this mean for the person who's feeling this way? What's the next move?" Hopefully, it will be a good one.
It leaves things open for the next album too.
Hell yeah it does, baby! That's why we closed the album with it [Laughs]. You're reading my mind.
What's your take on the VH1 DIVAS Salute the Troops show that you played? Was it really planned out or did a lot of it happen on the fly?
More of it was on the fly than I would've liked, but that was just because we've been so busy that I didn't have a chance to learn the keyboard part in detail until I got there. That was pretty interesting! VH1 was looking for the hip young rock band that could complement the pop country. You had your pop princesses. You had your R&B artists. You had your rapper. I think they were looking for that rock 'n' roll edge, and we slid into home base just in time. It was a real thrill! We got out there, and a majority of the audience had no idea who we were and I love that. Whenever possible, I like earning over new fans and surprising people. There are no high expectations or low expectations. It is what it is. You either mess it up or you get it right. I think we got it right. I was really proud of how the band played and how everybody pulled it together. Those TV collaborations are more on the fly than you would think. Now, I understand when I see these performances of bands who collaborate together and mistakes get made in a live performance award show or any high pressure televised event. I understand why so many of them don't go right [Laughs].
Well, you certainly nailed it.
We had that artillery of being comfortable playing live. We are a live band, and that's not to be underestimated. If we can't get it right, no one can. We spend our days and nights out on the road and keeping our chops hot. We really had the advantage. It was really fun. Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson are such pros, and I love the way they worked and the way they moved. They were so earnest, sweet and lovely to us.
That must have been quite the honor to play alongside them.
I couldn't deal [Laughs]. It was so amazing! I was trying to keep myself together so I didn't come off as a buffoon, but I was so out of my skin to be working with them. Obviously, as a female in the rock 'n' roll world, I don't like to acknowledge too many women as true influences on me because there really aren't that many that hit home like some of the great male rockers of yesteryear. However, I would say Ann and Nancy have to be in my top ten for inspiration and that classic rock sound you go for. We got a lot of that from them. They tapped into all of the greatest music of their time, they manipulated it and they turned it into what they wanted it to be without losing their great musicianship. It wasn't over sexualized, of course I say that when I was wearing a t-shirt dress [Laughs]. They understand that balance between sexuality and rock 'n' roll. I think they really nail it. I absolutely love what they do.
Which other artists shaped you?
I always go back to Bob Dylan and Neil Young as songwriters. I always go back to The Band, Led Zeppelin and The Who as performers. Then there's The Kinks. I was going through a big a Kinks period on the last record. I was born in 1983, and I grew up through the '80s with some of the worst pop music ever. However, The Talking Heads were the great band that emerged and made me think, "Okay, not everybody is a total dickhead!"
If your new album were a movie or a combination of movies what would it be?
That's a great question! I think this one has got a lot of Quentin Tarantino attitude to it. There's not quite so much of the surf guitar, but there's dramatic sassy stuff going on. I'm going to say it's got a lot of Jackie Brown. You know how Jackie listens to The Delfonics the whole movie? The Delfonics was on repeat while we were writing the record. There's so much more soul on this record than you would realize because we mask it with this with these dual guitars and the '70s rock vibe. Deep down, this is pretty much a soul record undercover.
Have you heard Grace Potter & The Nocturnals yet?