Grace Potter and the Nocturnals Throw a Musical Curveball
"Obvious is not my forté," Grace Potter tells The Boot with a laugh, when asked about her sonically diverse album with the Nocturnals, The Lion The Beast The Beat. "I take a left turn right when everybody thinks I'm going to go straight."
Or in this case, when everybody thought she was going to go country. Six albums in to her career, the self-proclaimed "hippie from Vermont" grew a whole new fanbase with her CMA award-winning Kenny Chesney duet, "You and Tequila." The immense success of the collaboration, coupled with a spot on Kenny's Brothers of the Sun tour, had a lot of people assuming that Grace -- who'd already dabbled in rock, pop, alternative and a hodgepodge of other genres -- would next try her hand at the new format that welcomed her with open arms, country music. But the 28-year-old singer-songwriter likens that idea to a "low hanging fruit" of which she was not tempted to take a bite.
The unexpected result is Grace Potter and the Nocturnals' critically-acclaimed new album that covers not only a range of musical influences but also a wide array of emotions -- track by track and within each song. The first single, "Never Go Back," which Grace co-wrote with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, is one of several on the project that can be interpreted many ways.
"I was gonna make it about a breakup and keep it a lovelorn, post-relationship kind of thing. But then Dan made the point that the broader you are, the more everybody is going to want to put it on a mixtape," Grace explains. "My neighbor pointed out that for him, it was about getting sober. It was a good mantra for him for not drinking and not taking pills. Then a divorced woman came up to me and said, 'This song isn't about my ex-husband, it's about the lawyer that I was using who screwed me over.' Everyone has their own take on it."
The bewitching "Never Go Back" video presents yet another take on the song. The Nocturnals' frontwoman, who is brimming with confidence, explains that she wasn't always that way. Her idea for the clip came from the bad memories she has of summer camp when she was a kid.
"The day you get dropped off, it's that terrifying feeling of, 'Am I ever going to see my parents again?'" Grace recalls. "That panic and that fear that a kid gets, whether they're going to the dentist or to summer camp ... As adults, the fear is still there but there are different coping mechanisms. I wanted to peel it all back again with the video. Then the director took it even further out of the box and made it this like 'Lord of the Flies,' 'Alice in Wonderland' thing. It's spooky."
"Runaway" is another musical rumination on Grace's life, and the track she calls the most personal on the album. "I ain't coming back / I cut you / Cut you deep," she defiantly sings, but later admits, "Maybe I should pray / Lord give me the strength to stay."
"Everywhere I go, the second I get there I'm leaving," the musician laments. "I wanted to treat my lifestyle and my job, which is touring, as an addiction and a weakness that I can't control. It's a compulsion to run away from something, even if it's a good thing. You want to stay, you want to make it last, but you can't."
The tone of Grace's voice turns a bit somber as she talks about "Stars," a song she recorded twice for The Lion The Beast The Beat -- once on the regular album and again as a duet with Kenny Chesney, which is a bonus track.
"I wrote it about a dear friend who passed away who was chemically not balanced," she says. "Sadly, everyone knew this was going to happen. They found her in a river, which was an affirmation of our deepest fears. But at the same time, people who are so imbalanced that way have this charisma that is stirring. Somebody like this person draws you in and loves the fact that they take things a little too far."
Grace wrote "Stars" as a tribute to her late friend, but also constructed its lyrics as a means of comfort for anyone in a grief-stricken moment, whether that be over the loss of life or loss of a relationship.
While the lyrics on The Lion The Beast The Beat certainly run deep, the tone of the record is, for the most part, extremely upbeat. Instead of focusing on genre lines, Grace went into the making of this set of tunes with the goal of reflecting the cohesiveness of her band.
"The Nocturnals are such a huge part of what's gotten me to this point in my career. Every song I've written on this record, I was thinking about the band and what kind of music we would want to make night after night," she explains. "I wanted the songs to be fun to perform. That's why the record is all over the place. I wanted to ruffle feathers and to shake the preconceived notion people might have of the band."
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals will end their run on the Brothers of the Sun tour this weekend (Aug. 24-25) in Foxboro, Mass. The band's next big gig is their own Grand Point North Festival, Sept. 14-15 in Burlington, Vt. Grace and her bandmates handpick their fellow artists for the bill, which this year will include the Avett Brothers, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Dr. Dog, Galactic, Sam Roberts Band and more. See a full lineup, along with ticket information, here.
As for that Grace Potter and the Nocturnals country album everyone predicted, Grace says it "probably will" happen someday. And though that will mean a 180 degree turn in musical style, she herself already fits right in.
"I'm from Vermont, where to be stylish and cool is to have a dirty pair of hiking boots and know how to change a tire, hang drywall and bail hay," the blond stunner says with a laugh. "Those people are my home and every time I come home, it reminds me that there's something to be said for being in the spotlight but it can never be a whole part of me. So much of myself is consumed with earning my way, doing it myself and never feeling like things are being handed to you. Growing up that way was humbling."
Grace talks about the Brothers of the Sun tour and those pesky Kenny Chesney romance rumors in Part 1 of The Boot's exclusive interview with the sultry singer. Read it here, and come back to The Boot next week for Part 3!