The Next Great Diva: A Q&A With Grace Potter

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We caught up with Grace Potter during her recent sold-out show at Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom. The intrepid rocker has been touring relentlessly  with her crack band in support of their third album, the classic-meets-modern rock opus Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. We asked Potter about life on the road, having her own line of chocolate bars, and the first concert she ever attended. “Literally no one on this bus can get to bed until six in the morning,” says the hard-working songstress. Read on.

As far as your live performance goes, are there any other artists you draw from or channel?

I do, but you can’t have anyone in mind when you’re on stage because then you’re just acting.  But definitely, before the show I like to watch James Brown, Iggy Pop, Led Zeppelin. We’ll turn on VH1 classic, and even if it’s like a Journey documentary…anything that gets me going. I love the new Lemmy documentary. Oh my God, it’s amazing! The whole Motorhead thing. I like listening to music and getting inspired by music that has nothing to do with what we do, because really when you get down to it, all you’re doing is channeling. You can’t intentionally channel. Otherwise, it’s just a performance.

The festival season is coming up. Do you approach a festival any differently than you would a show at The Cannery or any other venue?

Well, sometimes you may have to just because the sets are shorter. At a festival you may only have an hour and fifteen, whereas tonight we could play for four hours if we wanted to. I think there’s probably a piece of me that writes a set with a little bit of intention. And everywhere we go, like if it’s rainy that day, maybe you put a song about the rain into it if it’s at a music festival, to cheer people up. Or if it’s crazy sunny and there’s a lot of kids around, I’ll try and write into the set more of the happy “kid-dancy” music as opposed to the dark, seedy, bluesy shit. So there’s a little bit of tailoring that goes on, but for the most part I make sure that we’re playing the best collection of songs that we possibly can.

You’re playing Bonnaroo and FloydFest. Any others your especially excited about?

We just got confirmed for a huge festival, but I’m not allowed to tell you what it is. But that was very exciting. So, a super secret fabulous festival that we’ve never played before, which is very exciting. I’m really looking forward to playing New York City. There’s all the different street festivals and things that happen, but we’re shooting to do a show in Central Park or something this summer. And a lot of the festivals that come up late in the game, we just jump on last minute. The Hangout is a great festival that we’re gonna be back at this year, playing right before My Morning Jacket.

I heard that they have an issue with “swimmers,” people trying to swim into the beach to hear the show.

Oh yeah! And boats too! ‘Cause you can just float around and not pay for a ticket.

Maybe they should get a shark net?

Or they could just have fake sharks?! Fake sharks swimming around keeping the people from swimming!

I wouldn’t try to swim in.

Apparently, if you go down there and swim at night the dolphins will come swim with you.

You’ve upgraded from touring in a van to a bus, but life on the road is still tough right?

Yeah. And there’s twelve of us in here. So, I think that if we did the math…There was only ever five of us in the van. No, we traveled with eight or nine people in a van at one point. But now, we’ve upgraded because we’ve got the bigger crew. The more we get out there we realize that you either play a fuck-ton of shows and be in a bus, sort of dig your dug out and go for it.

Or you play way less shows, and you fly around or do the van thing. But you physically can’t travel the distances that we need to travel unless you have a driver that can drive through the night for you. So, it’s not easy. I miss the van some days, but other days it’s just like…I remember the days when I would dream of having a tour bus. Really that was it. To me that’s like the be all end all as a touring musician.

So what’s your best and worst thing about the road?

I would say the worst thing about the road is your sleep schedule getting so fucked up that you kinda miss your days. But since we’re The Nocturnals that’s fine. We live at night. Literally no one on this bus can get to bed until six in the morning. I mean, you can start a tour and be like, “I’m gonna get to bed by two in the morning every single night. I’m gonna be up at noon at the very latest.” You can tell yourself that that’s gonna happen, but no matter what, you start to slide like three weeks in. And once you’re on that schedule it’s really hard to get off. But one great solution for that is jet lag. So, if we jump off the tour for a couple of days and fly to L.A. or fly back home to Vermont or wherever, usually the jet lag will kind of reset our clocks. So, that works. Otherwise it’s a total nightmare.

But the best thing about touring by far is that moment between the show and if crowd wants an encore. There’s this feeling of, “You’ve already accomplished all that you can to accomplish.” Then we all stand back stage and we try and decide what the final touch is gonna be. You know, the sugar on top. So my favorite moment is that moment when the whole band gets back stage, and we’re all covered in sweat. We’ve just played the show. We’ve done our work. The day of work is done, and then it becomes pure pleasure. And whatever we do in the encore is just the sugar on top. That’s my favorite thing.

Have you spent a lot of time in Nashville?

I have begun to. In the last year I have.

What do you think about it?

I love Nashville. Not only do I love Nashville because I treasure the songwriting and the history of it, but I feel like right now there’s this sort of insurgent vibe happening here. A lot of my favorite musicians are coming here. And not just to be songwriters and follow the traditional Nashville thing, but people are opening stores and bakeries and amazing restaurants. And there’s just this cultural bang happening right now, and I love it. Really. And every time I come back here, it’s like you know, I’ve got my favorite places. I’m starting to find my way around town. I still haven’t been allowed to drive here because…

All the street names change every five feet right?!

They do! And after the flood it was like, “Well you can’t go this way anymore.” But there’s a part of me that feels like Nashville is definitely…at some point in my life I’m probably gonna live here.

Do you have a restaurant that you especially like?

Well the most recent place I went to was Flyte, which was great. And I’m going to The Station Inn tonight because I haven’t been there in a while. For Valentine’s Day we were here. Surprise surprise! So we went out to The Hermitage and did the fancy schmancy dinner. So all of us rock-band rabble without our boyfriends and girlfriends are all just hanging out in the lobby waiting for our table, and I don’t think the hotel knew what to do with us. You know, it’s The Hermitage! It’s very fancy. We all just camped out on the floor in front of the fire, and waited for our table for like two and a half hours. It was hilarious! I started feeling guilty so I went to the gift shop to buy something so they knew we were patrons and not just loiterers.

Have you been to Burger Up?

I have not been to Burger Up. What’s the name of the two joints that are right next to Gillian and David’s studio, the Woodlands studio? Matche?

Oh, Marché and Margot?

Yeah! That’s my joint! And Bloody Mary’s any time of day?! It’s like constantly brunch there. And everyone’s having their like Blood Orange Mimosas and their Spicy Bloody Marys, and it just makes me really happy.

As a band, do you feel a connection to country music in any way?

Positively. I mean, Waylon [points to a copy of Waylon: An Autobiography sitting next to her]. You can’t walk ten feet without having somebody humming a Waylon song in this bus. You know, and Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark. There’s a lot of those sort of songwriters in the Outlaw Country/Willie style that not only influenced us, but became a part of our upbringing as a band. Our manager is actually good family friends with Willie. So, we wound up on Willie’s bus a couple times, and Willie kind of doles out his Willie-advice whenever possible. He’s fantastic, and it kind of turned me on to that world in a way.

I didn’t really think I understood a lot about country music, but it turns out I completely do. I live for it. And now, Loretta Lynn is my hero. And actually, we all dressed up as Nashville singers for our Halloween show at Exit/In. So, I was Dolly Parton, Cath was Patsy Cline, Scott was Waylon Jennings, Benny was Willie Nelson, and Matt was Billy Ray Cyrus.

Mullet and all?

He had the mullet. There was a lot of mayhem that night. We each learned a song by our artist and performed it. So, it was great. We love country music.

It’s refreshing to see a band as good as you are that doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

We’re a bunch of knuckle-heads, dude. I love it. Taking yourself too seriously is the worst thing you can do in rock and roll. Cause if you do, it’s not fun anymore. Why did we get into this business? So we can all be a bunch of jack asses. Earlier today we were playing “Mr. Slappy”, which is where Scott gets completely naked and everybody slaps him until her turns pink…it’s awesome.

Nice. Tell us about the Salute to the Troops that you did.

It was amazing. Not only to do it and to be with the Divas and experience things from the perspective of me being a Diva, which of course I’m not. But just the idea that we would even be counted in that company in any way. And the fact that it was on the base where they filmed Top Gun, my favorite movie of all time. So, before we kick into the song “Paris”, we tease the Top Gun anthem. And they aired that! So, the troops went bananas. And Kathy Griffin was great. Snooki and The Situation introduced us, which was bizarre. Then, we were on Leno a couple weeks ago, and The Situation showed up again! It’s like everywhere we go we can’t get away from Jersey Shore.

Did he bring his abs?

Oh, he brought em. It’s all he’s got dude. That’s all he’s got.

What’s your favorite Grace Potter chocolate bar?

I was just eating the red pepper-flake pistachio. We’ll give you one on your way out. It’ll make your day. It’s funny because whenever we get the new shipments of boxes in they seem to miraculously disappear within like three days. We just got a box yesterday, so we’re very much enjoying it. Last night I handed out pieces to the audience. It’s just fun. Food has always been one of my big passions.

Where did the idea for a chocolate bar come from?

Matt, our drummer, is a connoisseur of bizarre collaborations. He’s spearheaded a lot of the collaborative things that we’ve done with Ben & Jerry’s, Cabot Creamery, Magic Hat Beer, and now Lake Champlain Chocolates-always really great Vermont businesses. It’s a way for us to hat-tip our Vermonters.

Where can folks buy the it? is the only place we sell it. We can hand it out for free on the road, but we can’t sell it. And the thing is, it’s $5 for gourmet chocolate bar that is an aphrodisiac, has antioxidants, all that stuff, and enough nutrition for the whole day! You could eat a chocolate bar and be set for the day. It’s like Winona Ryder in Reality Bites when she just drinks the Big Gulp and she’s good to go.

What songs of yours most get you all going as a band?

We still love doing “Paris”. I just think it’s so much fun because the crowd just feels it. It’s like watching a TV show of ourselves. Whenever we play that song, I somehow transform into this really inappropriate sexual creature. And we get to watch the crowd go [demonstrates a look of shock], “What’s happening?!” But then they sing along too. So, it’s this really amazing version of the song because everyone has their own idea about what the lyrics mean. So, I love to watch the audience dealing with it. I love that one, and I love performing “Medicine”. But also, I like performing songs like “Nothing But the Water”, which is from our first record. It’s this gospel a capella song that really breaks down the show to the bare bones of what we do and then turns into this James Brown/Ray Charles sort of anthem. It’s just fun.

That’s great. One last question. What’s the first concert you ever went to?

This is embarrassing. It was a New Age band in the ’80s that played world music. My parents loved them for some reason. So, they took me to the Burlington Unitarian Church in Vermont. All I remember about the whole show was that there were a lot of people on stage. Then somewhere in the middle of the show I fell asleep under one of the pews, and my parents couldn’t find me.

Was it during a pan flute solo?

It was a pan flute solo! That’s the part where I fell asleep. That’s exactly right. I think the lead guy plays the fucking pan flute. So, you can imagine why I fell asleep. I think that sculpted my entire musical career because it made me know what not to do.

No pan flutes?

Nope. No world music parts, unless it’s just a little afro-beat guitar lick or something. Of course, keep in mind that the second I say no pan flute, there’s gonna be pan flute.

Yeah, the band’s probably listening in.

Yeah our next record is actually called “Pan Flute.” It’s gonna be great!


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