Community, Forgiveness And Grammy Noms: A Conversation With Grace Potter

Grace Potter by Pamela Neal

Since she first burst onto the scene in the early 2000s, Grace Potter has become one of the most respected Americana artists in the game.

First making a name for herself as the mastermind behind Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, when Potter “went solo” in 2015, she embarked on an artistic journey that not only changed her life, but ushered in some of the best records of the past decade. This past November, her most recent record—2019’s Daylight—received the ultimate nod of approval: Grammy nominations. 

While Potter has been nominated in the past for her duet work with Kenny Chesney, this nomination marks the first time Potter’s solo output has received the honor. And it came at a great time too—this year’s Grammy Awards are proving to be a landmark moment in the culture of the music industry. For the first time in the awards’ 63-year history, every nominee for two iconic categories—Best Rock Performance and Best Country Album—is a woman or a group fronted by a woman. Potter was nominated twice: once for Best Rock Performance and once for Best Rock Album.

Considering that Potter almost didn’t release Daylight, the honor of receiving two nominations is a surreal thrill of sorts. Last week, Potter hopped on the phone with American Songwriter to talk about it all. She walked us through the journey Daylight’s gone on since it was released, the realizations she made about her own artistry in that time and the joy of seeing the record get not only such profound critical acclaim, but genuine love from those who connected with it. Plus, she even gave us a sneak peek of new music she’s working on. Read our conversation below: 

American Songwriter: As of the publishing of this article, it’s been 475 days since Daylight came out—what’s happened in that time?

Grace Potter: Oh wow… it’s only been 475 days? It feels like it’s been thousands! It’s been a siege of experiences, most of which—especially at the beginning of Daylight coming out—have been amazing. I got to have my debut at the Grand Ole Opry on stage at the Ryman. There are so many beautiful memories from the really exciting burst that happens when an album comes out. 

And then, there was this “Oh my God… what have I done? I published my personal journal out to the world!” I really had to think about it—and hear about it—from a lot of different angles. Once you put an album out, it’s really not yours anymore, it belongs to everyone. 

Then, came this unfolding of truth from fans, from people in the press, from people I’ve never met who came up to me. There was this outpouring of incredible gratitude and honesty. I couldn’t believe that the thing that I thought was the scariest possible thing for me to do became so meaningful to so many people. That was the tour, really—from when the album came out to when COVID-19 hit in March, that was essentially every day of my life. It was a process of going from the freak-out, panicked “Why did I put this album out? This is a disaster, everybody knows all of my deepest, darkest secrets!” to everybody telling me all of their deepest, darkest secrets to the exhilaration you get when you’re out on stage. That was the high point, the brightest moment in those 475 days. 

Now, on the other end of a pandemic, it was kinda weird. It felt like a very incomplete experience, like the album happened and then just disappeared. All of that feedback is felt personally, in-person, and suddenly, it was very unsafe to be in-person in any capacity. 

Beyond that, the last piece of change in that time period was moving my family from California back to Vermont, which was an unexpected twist. Now, I’ve truly flipped my entire life upside-down… again. And I’m sure it’s going to get a tell-all album… again.

AS: So much has happened in your life and in the world since the record came out—has the meaning of these songs changed for you at all? 

GP: Well, to be totally honest, I haven’t listened to the album all that much since it came out. There are a few exceptions—like when we’re doing a production breakdown for my husband’s YouTube channel. We did these “breakdowns” where we’d sit down with it and go back through the feelings we were having when the songs were created. Every time I’ve done that, it’s been astounding to me how different it feels as opposed to when the album was being made. It’s also astounding how certain lyrics that I thought meant one thing have completely taken on a new meaning for me. And not just because listeners told me what it means to them, but genuinely for myself, just from life and the experiences of the pandemic. So, it’s been very surreal. 

This is the first time in my life that an album of mine has done that for me. Every other album I’ve ever made sends me back immediately to the moment of making that song. This is the first time ever that an album has continued to resonate for me, almost as if it’s somebody else’s music. That’s why I don’t listen to the album very often—I’m almost worried that each time I listen to it, there’ll be a new brain explosion where I go “Oh, that’s what I was saying!” I don’t want to be my own prophet, you know?

AS: Between things like the breakdown videos and the way you describe connecting with your audience, it seems that you’re always fostering a sense of community around your work. Would you say that’s true? 

GP: Absolutely. That’s kinda the only way it can work for me. It’s always been that way, even with the Nocturnals—it needed to feel like a meal I was cooking. I always use food to show my love and I feel like music is a very, very successful version of my cooking, basically. The best way that I can share how I feel and how much I love the people around me is by encompassing them in as many places as I possibly can. Granted, that doesn’t always work out—with a band that fell apart and a lot of other things in my life that didn’t play into the story of… well, I always picture Tina Turner in Switzerland, like, cooking for her 15 grandchildren. That’s my happy ending, that’s what I want to do. I don’t know if she actually does that, but that’s my vision of her. 

But, you know, that’s what I’m trying to do every single time I step into a rehearsal or book a tour or start writing an album and plan out who I want to be part of the project. It’s like “Who do I love the most and want to surround myself with?” And then, if they’re not good musicians, Eric will let me know. He’s like “Actually, that’s a bad idea… you’re not going to let your son play the pots and pans on this song.” 

AS: What was it like when you found out that you had been nominated for two Grammys? 

GP: It was an instant dance party in our house! I didn’t know that it was happening that day—I somehow lost track of time and space (which happens a lot). I was sitting with my son and, usually, I never have my phone on when I’m with him. But, I was sitting with him and my phone was accidentally not on “Do Not Disturb” and it started blinking all those little notifications you can preview on your lockscreen. The people who were texting me were people who I hadn’t heard from in, like, 12 years. It was really random people, a very unexpected list. At first, I was like “Oh no, was there a new global meltdown? What’s going on?” I had no idea what was happening that day. Then, I came around the corner with this weird look on my face and Eric was just smiling ear-to-ear. He said “Two nominations, baby!” and the dance party ensued. 

AS: This year’s Grammys is seeing a record number of women receive their long-overdue recognition. In fact, one of the categories you’re nominated for—Best Rock Performance—has all-female nominees. How does it feel to be a part of this? 

GP: It’s amazing. It’s been a long time coming, but at the same time, the road had been paved for so long that it was really just a matter of time before the right collection of musicians—who have made amazing, breathtaking work—got these nominations. I tend to not over-politicize my existence in the world of music, but in this moment, I can’t help but feel like I’m part of something special.

My friend, Jessica Meir, who is an astronaut that was up on the International Space Station, participated in the first all-women spacewalk. It was the first time that it was just women out on the International Space Station, fixing and repairing a million different things that needed repair. When she was congratulated and lauded for how cool it was that she did that—like, “Look at what you’ve done!”—she was like “No, no, no—look at what we’ve done. This is a long time coming and so many people participated in this being possible.” 

Of course, the Grammys and outer space are two very different things, but I’m taking a page from her book in how she acknowledged everybody who has put themselves out there over the year and how cool it is that this is finally happening. But, also asking “Why did it take so long?” You know? 

AS: Considering that you said that Daylight wasn’t supposed to see the light of day,” what was it like to see it receive something as coveted as these Grammy nominations? In a way, was it surreal? 

GP: It is surreal. Artists very rarely know what’s going to hit and what is going to miss. It takes perspective and I didn’t have that perspective. I had no idea if it was a good idea or not to put this record out. But, it’s not my job to know what’s going to hit or miss. It’s not my job to make music that I think people are going to appreciate or feel good about. What is my job—at least in this case, with the album Daylight—is: to heal, to get my head out of my ass. That’s really why it wasn’t in service to the music industry or the world-at-large or to my fans or to anybody; it was a service to myself. That’s why it didn’t cross my mind to adhere to whatever a critic might want or think or need from me. I’ve heard it all, I know what people want, I know what people expect. This particular album was one where I really didn’t care. It wasn’t like I was specifically going against what anybody was expecting, I just did it because it was for me. I needed these songs to be recorded, but I didn’t necessarily need them to be released. That’s where other people who are really good at their jobs came into play. They were like “Okay… well, we’re just going to take these songs and shop around and see if, maybe, there’s a record label that might want to help us get them out into the world.” They all kinda quietly tip-toed around me as I processed what it meant to really create an album so much from the inside of my soul.

AS: So, you changed up your typical process in order to write this album and you got amazing results from it—do you think you’ll try to keep that energy going in the future?

GP: Yes, I do think that I’m going to try to carry it forward. Although, it’s really hard in a new capacity to write music for myself because the world is hurting. Like I said before, when I’m going out on tour or getting rehearsals together or creating an album, I want to envelop everybody and include everybody and have it be this really positive, nurturing, wonderful experience. So, it is in my natural state when I’m not having a personal crisis—like I was during Daylight—to acknowledge the crisis of the world and try to do my part to help heal. That’s really where that song “Eachother” came from. It was a song that did still come out of me very organically, but it was in service to a greater good, a greater cause than just myself. So, it’s hard for me right now as I’ve been kinda torturing myself over that exact question of “When I do this, am I just going to take the same approach and pretend that this is all my own personal journal?” I don’t know if you can put the genie back into the bottle, I’m not totally sure. But, I’m definitely exploring it—I’ve been writing a lot.

AS: Do you feel like sharing anything new that you’re writing? 

GP: Ah! Well, this is interesting—I don’t really remember writing this particular part, but I have a lyric here that I started, which is:

This is based on a true story
But when has that ever stopped me?

I don’t remember writing it, but I love it! I think it’s an amazing beginning to an album, so I’ve been exploring that. It’s, like, a truth-telling, tell-all type of thing, but at the same time “When has that ever stopped me?” is like “Well, I’m never going to let the truth get in the way of a good story.” So, I have this kinda wild concept album brewing. It’s mostly actual things that have happened, but maybe from the perspective of a pair of boots in the mudroom instead of a human. Kinda like seeing the world from the perspective of a fly on the wall. Even if that doesn’t end up becoming the album, it’s a case study that I’m exploring right now. I need to not recreate the album Daylight, so, yeah: 

It’s the story of a pair of boots sitting in the mudroom
Covered in the same mud, dripping on the same floor every day
But one day, one of them boots done up and vanished
Gone like a hot cherry pie on a window
Gone like a race car at the starting gun
And it wasn’t easy for the other boot
So, that boot sat, undaunted, but also unworn 
Who’s going to want to wear only one boot?
“I need my other boot, you see
I need her, and she needs me” 

AS: Something new that you just put out is the gorgeous video for “Release”—what can you tell us about this video? How did it come to be? 

GP: It was a very tumultuous time because our dear friend, Mike Busbee, had just passed away. The album had just come out and we had very few blocks of time—it was a very busy time. So, we had some difficulty even making the time to shoot this video. The second I read the treatment from Catherine Fordham, I felt driven to make an opening in my schedule, to do whatever I had to do to make this video happen. It was so stunning and I got total shivers when I was reading it—the kind of feeling you get when you know that something is going to be an incredible experience before it even happens. The way it came to be was so true-to-form from the piece of paper to the end result, I’ve never seen anything happen so seamlessly and beautifully. 

It was really, really cold. It was a two-day shoot and we were grieving the loss of our friend who had written several songs from the album with me—including the song “Release.” So, shooting that video really doubled down the impact of that experience. The video was grueling—we had to be on this big fishing boat before sunrise (I think it was a 2 a.m. call time). We went out to the middle of the ocean and put me on a little dingy boat with basically no clothing on whatsoever. Then, I was floating around in very choppy, very dangerous, black, cold water. We needed it to look black, which is why we had to go so early in the morning. One thing after another in this video put real physical strain on me. I actually had to train for quite a bit of time before I was able to drag that boat across the beach—which I was actually doing. The following day, we shot the beach stuff where I’m being covered in water. It was like 44° outside, freezing cold, not super easy to stay warm.

But, what I really felt when making that video was the ‘release.’ I felt it. I felt the farewell. I felt an incredible, warm feeling that Busbee was with me. I felt that forgiveness is the most beautiful feeling you can have; to really go through the cathartic, angry and overwhelming emotions that grief or loss can bring on. Even before Busbee was going to be a part of the song—back when I first wrote a piece of the chorus—I didn’t really know what forgiveness would feel like because I wasn’t there yet. The filming of that music video—and now finally having it released—is really the cherry on top of this whole album. That video is really a reflection of the entire album Daylight. It’s not just “Release,” it really touches on the entire terrain of my life in such a profound way. 

AS: Yeah, when I was watching the video I was struck by how visceral it is.

GP: Absolutely. The team that Catherine built brought so much care and love to the project. It wasn’t like everybody was dealing with this delicate egg that couldn’t be broken—it was more substantial than that. It was a real sense of purpose, fortitude and vision. Because the song had carried so much weight for people just as a song, this video needed to be in service to nothing but that experience of catharsis.

That’s why we stripped away so much—you can tell that I’m not really wearing makeup, it’s not a “Look at how hot I am” type of video. But, in a weird way, I think it’s the hottest I’ve ever looked or felt because it’s so bare. It’s so naked. It makes me love myself. I see it and I think “Wow, I am a strong motherfucker.” I never expected something like that from this song or from making this album, but, like I said, that video is really the best reflection of the entire process of Daylight. It covers so many things beyond what just happens in the song itself.

But, yeah, it’s an empowering statement piece and it came out at the right time. I was worried that it was never going to come out because COVID-19 put everything on hold, but thank goodness that Fantasy Records has been so devoted to this album and to making sure that artists are being represented and cared for. Thanks to them, this album not only got to see the light of day, but now people are shining a light on it in a new way. It’s really meaningful to me. 

AS: That’s such a beautiful way to cap off the 475-day experience this album cycle has been so far. Does it feel full-circle? 

GP: It does, it really does. Nothing about this record was anything like anything that’s happened before, but I think that’s true to form with the album itself. It had its own plan, it had its own life that I took on, especially after I couldn’t tour on it and do the thing that I normally do. I’ve done that dance a million times—well, not a million times, more like 7 times because that’s how many albums I’ve put out. Nothing about this process was normal, but I think that’s the way it needed to be. 

On Sunday, February 14 at 8 p.m. EST, Grace Potter will be livestreaming a special Valentine’s Day full-band performance—for information and tickets, visit here. Watch the music video for “Release” from Grace Potter’s Grammy-nominated album Daylight below:

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