Grace Potter and her band of gypsies, the Nocturnals, channel the ’70s like they have a psychic on retainer. And yet they’re not slavish retro revivalists with no sense of identity to accompany their sonic inspiration.
“There’s a difference between being hokey and nostalgic and conjuring the roots of something,” Potter says. “Hokey nostalgia so people can come to your show and feel like they’re back in 1969, that’s not real and it’s not forward motion. So I do believe it’s important to respect that music and tip your hat to it without trying to recreate it.”
The Nocturnals’ first two self-released albums hinted at it’s direction, but last year’s This Is Somewhere (on Hollywood Records, which also reissued the band’s second disc) delivered on that potential with the soulful intensity of a Dylan-and-the-Band/Crazy Horse jam. Keyboardist Potter accepts the vocal comparisons she regularly receives — Lucinda Williams, Sheryl Crow, Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt — with equal measures of astonishment and humility.
“They all baffle me in some way or another, but at the same time I’m honored,” Potter says.
“Lately I’ve been getting a lot of male comparisons, which I love. Robert Plant sang like a woman for years before anyone caught on that he was taking his cues from Janis. Jeff Buckley was one I heard recently because I’ve been doing some bizarre operatic gymnastics when we do this Pink Floyd space-out thing. People talk to me about Jeff Buckley’s record and how it was crazy that it was called Grace, and I sound like him. It doesn’t occur to you until someone hits you with it.”
Perhaps as a consequence of Potter’s relative youth (she’s 26) and boundless energy, being on the road has inspired her muse, resulting in a batch of new songs the band hopes to record next year. Although none are ready for public consumption by her standards, she and the Nocturnals might just haul out a little rarity called “Piss on Your Hand,” which they originally wanted to record with labelmate Hilary Duff for This Is Somewhere.
“It is on some weird B-side in Japan,” Potter says. “It’s a great song, but I realized that Ween had a song called ‘Piss Up a Rope,’ and I didn’t know that when I wrote the song. It appears to be derivative, although it isn’t at all. It’s a foul story, but I’m gonna tell you anyway. Sometimes when you’re late for a show, there’s no time to pull over and everybody’s on a different pee clock so there’s nothing to be done but pee in a cup. The punchline of the song is ‘a little piss on your hand is a small price to pay for relief.’ ”
Potter might be undercutting the song’s potential; it sounds like a chart-topper.
“Yeah, it’s gonna be a hit,” she says with a husky laugh. “Me and Rihanna are gonna do it at the Grammys next year. Timbaland will produce it. It’ll be great."
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