Grace Potter and the Nocturnals' Blues- and Folk-tinged sound is a wake-up call to the shift in the music quality that is overtaking American Rock music right now. The band continues to promote its 2010 self-titled album, which has given them their biggest spike in popularity, in part due to hit single, “Paris (Ooh La La).” Her current Country collaboration with Kenny Chesney, “You and Tequila,” is also getting heavy radio play right now.
CityBeat spoke with Potter to preview her appearance in Cincinnati Friday at PNC Pavilion.
CityBeat: I know you guys grew up playing festivals and you just got off Bonnaroo where you played to over 40,000 people along with the Dave Matthews Caravan Tour. I was just curious, which do you like better, playing the big festivals or the kind of intimate shows where you are headlining?
Grace Potter: I think it depends. Sometimes the intimate shows can be really special … unexpectedly special. You don’t know what you’re getting into and then all of a sudden it’s happening and it’s wonderful. I think the festivals have a special energy to them. There is an excitement and an energy that really get me going. So it is kind of like a fail-safe for putting on a great show because you know at a festival that there are so many people there; there is a bunch of high expectations. You can ride that energy and enjoy it. It’s very different. I can’t say that I favor one over the other. Every time I say I love a festival the most, then the next night, we have the most life-changing show in front of a 1000 people. It just depends.
CB: Speaking of festivals, I know you guys are starting your own festival coming up. So that will probably become your favorite quickly.
GP: Very exciting. Oh my gosh, yes. It’s going to be great.
CB: When is it going to happen?
GP: August 13 and 14 in our home state of Vermont. I think it is probably the first time that we have ever really created an entire bill of music on a very personal level. We always pick our openers and we are really picky about special shows if we’re playing Central Park or playing a really big venue, we’re really, really choosy. But that is usually one or two bands. In this case it is more like 20 bands. So it’s pretty exciting.
CB: I am sure it is going to be amazing for you guys in your home state, home state advantage. You’ve had a big year. You were on Divas Live with the troops and you have opened for Dave Matthews and you are now touring on your own. You have met so many people. I was curious if you ever got star struck.
GP: Oh totally. I get start struck all the time. I am like a total ass when I meet people. I get really nervous because for the most part I have stories to tell them. But since people tell me stories all the time, I know how annoying they are when someone will sit you down and want to talk to you for three hours about how, “Their Uncle Ned told them about you three and a half years ago, and then they were at college and their roommate was playing us and they decided to go to a concert but they couldn’t get to the concert, so they had to call a mechanic to fix the car and the mechanic was playing us.” It’s just like, “This is such good stuff but I have like 75 people waiting in line to meet me and I can’t sit down and talk about it right now.” So now when I meet people I just try to keep my mouth shut.
CB: You just say, “I love you, can I take a picture”?
GP: Totally, that’s it. Seriously, I just try to keep it short and sweet. To be honest, I was part of those stories, they matter so much to the people telling them, but when you have 75 of those stories to hear every day, it just gets hard. I hate to sound so callous about it but, if anything, I’ll keep listening to other people’s stories, but I’m just not going to tell any.
CB: What’s been the highlight of 2011 so far for you?
GP: I think the big breakthrough for us was playing our own shows and selling them out across the country.
CB: I caught your show a few months back when you were in Covington. I photographed it. I was blown away by it. One of the things that I read when I was doing research was that you studied strip clubs for your “Paris (Ooh La La)” video. I was curious about how that happened.
GP: Our research and development? Yeah, I don’t think we can write those off. I knew what I wanted “Paris (Ooh La La)" to be. I had a concept of what I wanted the video to look like. But we really wanted to see how dancers move and watch these girls dance to our songs. A lot of these clubs would be playing “Paris” in the club which is really crazy to see. We were in New Orleans and that was the first time we ever saw an exotic dancer dancing to our song which was a real inspiration actually. It may sound cheap, but it was a really fulfilling experience to see the string of dancers moving to our music. What we do there, it’s not a degrading experience, and we’re not throwing dollar bills or anything like that. We are the quiet weird band that lurks in the corner.
CB: That’s even worse I think. You are the creepy people in the back.
GP: We are. We are definitely weird. We definitely attract attention but we don’t partake in that.
CB: So you never got up on stage?
GP: No, well, actually, in New Orleans I think I did … wati, I don’t think I did. Me and Catherine, after the girl danced to our song, she invited us up to dance. We were like, “We’re not going to do it.” But there was no one, we were out in this outdoor patio area and it was just the band. So it wasn’t like we were out in public offering our bodies to anybody other than us. It was a private area. So we had to fall on the pole. We couldn’t figure out how to climb it so I had to hold Catherine’s butt while she would climb to the top of the pole and slide down it, and then she would do the same for me. It was a lot of fun.
CB: Those girls are in excellent shape.
GP: I know. Kate Hudson was going on and on about it recently, her pole dancing classes.
CB: I’m not even going to attempt but I am impressed by it. You were in the Cincinnati area pretty recently, actually on the spring tour. Is there anything you like to do when you go out in Cincinnati? You probably don’t get a lot of time in any of these cities.
GP: I love it. We go to Mike’s Music (in Corryville). That’s like our big stop anytime we are there because it has the most amazing instruments. I bought my first “Flying V” at Mike’s Music, right next to Bogart's. There is really good shopping and walking. I like to walk around. Any city I go to, I try to find the old part of the town where there is more brick buildings and cafes and stuff like that. But Cincinnati is huge; there are so many different pockets in the city that you can get to. By cab, it’s pretty easy getting from place to place. So we’ve done that I think the last five times we’ve been there. We’ll go for a walk and the walk will end at Bogart’s. Then we’ll go over to Mike’s Music and dig around for some fun toys.
CB: I know you play the guitar and the keyboard in the show. Do you play any other obscure instruments?
GP: I have an accordion that I play at home when I am writing songs. I have different variations of the keyboard. There are a lot of strange instruments like mellotron keyboards; they are basically keyboards that make really weird noises. I also played the bagpipes as a kid. I took bagpipe lessons. I never quite got to the full throttle “VRRRRRRAHHHHH” noise but I tried.
CB: I was taking photographs of you during the show. There was a huge stuffed animal behind you, like a cat, up on the piano. It’s in every one of my shots. I was wondering, what is that thing?
GP: The tiger? He is our new mascot. We had, for a long time, the owls. But we got in a rift the My Morning Jacket guys, and they said the owls were theirs. So I was like, “Fine guys.” No, they are good friends of ours and there’s no fighting but we really thought about it and everybody uses the owl, even though we are the Nocturnals. The owl was our thing for a while and we were like, “Let’s think about it. What is a new idea? How have we changed in the last few years? What is it about the band that feels fierce and wonderful, that seems like it shifted?” We kept thinking about what animal reflects that, and the tiger kept coming up. They are also really easy to find. You could be at a Walgreens and there will be one sitting at the cash register. So we’ll just buy them whenever we see them. The tiger, I think embodies what we do. We are very mean when we get out there. At certain points in the show, we scare people and so do tigers. Tigers can be beautiful and elegant to watch as well. They have a lot of sides to them. Sometimes they’ll be ripping at a fucking carcass and sometimes they’ll be licking their young. You just never know what kind of tiger we are going to be that night.
CB: Well it answers my question. Which brings me to one of my last questions; you’ve been described as a badass. I want to know your biggest badass moment this year so far.
GP: I always feel like the most badass version of myself is when I am fixing something whether it is a car engine or my Leslie Motor or two days ago, it was the sink leaking in our new tour bus and all the big fancy boys couldn’t figure how to work the caulking gun so I busted open the caulk gun and totally caulked the shit out of that thing. That’s when I feel the most badass is when I am fixing something and I know more than the guys do. Sometimes they know more than me, I am not very good with cars but I am a gear and construction and tech wiz. I can run a drill bit into the wall, I can find a stud in the wall and all that shit. So that is when I am the most badass. But if there was a moment like a Jean-Claude Van Damme walking away from an explosion putting the cigarette out, I think if I had one of those it was probably Vegas when we won a lot of money and left. The casino didn’t want us to leave and we walked out of there taking our chips with us.
CB: You have been doing a lot of collaborating with artists like Kenny Chesney and others. You are going to be out on tour with him this summer. Do you have any other new music in the works?
GP: A little bit. We are just starting to introduce new songs to the audience, very rare. I am constantly writing but I do not have a particular shape of a record in mind yet. I am definitely banging out new songs. I have been thinking about playing them for the audience so we can road test them a little bit. Last time, we didn’t road test anything. We kept it super-duper secret and that was fun because when the record came out it was a real smash over the head for people. But I think this time around, I don’t know what kind of record I want to make but I want the band to be really comfortable with the songs before we get into the studio. I don’t want to do the Bob Dylan thing where everybody is learning on the fly and figuring out their part when we are in the studio. That can be a waste of time. I think we’ll just keep banging out new songs on the road until we have enough to make a record.