Depending on whom you ask, Grace Potter is either trying to get by selling sex, or oozes so much sex appeal from every pore that she can’t help but sell. No matter which train of thought one may have, Grace’s charisma is undeniable.
With the recent release of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and subsequent media push from their Disney-owned label, Hollywood Records, Grace and her band mates are taking their music to bigger audiences than ever before.
In May of last year, the band announced that T-Bone Burnett would be producing their next record, Medicine, which was set to be released in late 2009. While Grace was working with Burnett and an all star cast of studio musicians including bassist Dennis Grace and drummer Jim Keltner, the Nocturnals’ original bassist, Bryan Dondero, left the band, and suddenly the T-Bone project appeared destined to become a Grace solo record.
With the band scrambling to find a replacement bassist to fill in for their scheduled Woodstock: Now & Then performance, Grace’s received a call from bassist Catherine Popper, who had just finished a stint performing with Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, and was looking for a gig.
“I am a huge Ryan Adams fan,” Grace says, “because I love his songwriting, but I was always mystified by his behavior. Watching Cat play with him, I was always a little jealous, thinking ‘Why does Ryan get the incredible bass players that can sing and have such incredible stage presence?’ She was always so prominent and beautiful, but I knew that there was something deeper about her.
“Cat defies gravity and expectations on every level, so it was really exciting to have her join us. I really just hired her for the one gig because we needed someone with her talent and ability to learn really quickly. But, the second we played together, it was clear that we were kindred spirits and that she would be around for more than just one gig.”
At the same time, lead guitarist Scott Tournet invited his old friend Benny Yurco, who performs with Scott in a side project dubbed Blues and Lasers, to sit in as a second guitarist. The chemistry the two new players had with the band’s remaining members (Grace, Scott, and drummer Matt Burr) was undeniable, instantly altering the Nocturnals’ path.
As Grace recalls, “The second that we played together it was clear that we were kindred spirits and that Cat had an interest in more then just the one gig. I didn’t know for sure whether she would take the gig, but Benny came into the studio the same day and the first time I heard the five of us play, it just immediately clicked and I knew we had exactly what I have been looking for – the search was over.”
Scott adds, “Benny is such a great player that it really did free me up to do a lot more personally. On the first two records, when we would track the tunes I would have to trade playing rhythm guitar with my leads, and had to cover a lot more ground. When I went back to over dub a solo, sometimes they didn’t have that same kind of feel live as they did on the record. This time I could just like kind of go crazy because the path is already laid down between Catherine and Benny and Matt and Grace. I could just sit up on top and add the icing on the cake that was already there.”
And what wonderful icing it is. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals is hands down the band’s most guitar-driven effort to date. From the opening notes of “Paris (Ooh La La),” Scott, Grace and the rest of the band come out firing on all cylinders. Though “Paris” is far from a new, having been written in the summer of 2007 and performed many times since, the new Nocturnals breathe fire as they charge through the song.
Gace sums it up by saying, “I am not going to try to tell a story, and I’m not going to try to communicate an emotion. I am just going to say, basically, ‘I want to have sex right now.’”
Given the fact that Grace admits “Paris” is her favorite song to perform, perhaps those saying she is getting by selling sex could be on to something. But then again, if a woman as beautiful as Grace is singing from her soul, and telling you she wants it right now, who in their right mind would argue?
When the record label got wind of the change in sound the band was experiencing with their new lineup, the T-Bone project was quickly set aside, in favor of capturing the new Nocturnals before the energy and electricity of the new band buzz went away. Suddenly, the band found themselves in the studio with Mark Batson, a producer best known for his work with Eminem, 50 Cent, Alicia Keys, Beyonce, and the Dave Matthews Band. While Grace calls the T-Bone sessions “the most incredible project I’ve ever been involved with, really magical,” the need to focus on the Nocturnals new lineup was obvious, as “it really changed the essence of what the future held.”
Scott concurs. “We were going through a phase in the band where we had some time off, we were going through a line up change and we were all really just trying something different. Grace had always kind of written by herself and she was going through a phase and was trying to be open. Matt and I co-wrote one of the new tunes, and Grace had written a song with David Poe before writing a couple songs with this guy Mark.
“She basically said, ‘Screw it. Why not just give it a whirl; kind of step out of my comfort zone?’ I thought that was cool of her and it just clicked, even though they are from two totally different backgrounds. Music is a great communicator, and it was interesting to have him bring his thing to the table and then have Grace do her thing over the top to see what happened. It pushed her out of her comfort zone. I thought was a great approach to just let things happen naturally. That’s really the essence of the whole record.”
“Hot Summer Night,” one of the songs co-written with Mark, is a stellar example of the essence of the new record.
“Mark came up with the line ‘Hot Summer Night,’” Grace recalls. “I was hesitant to use the line, as there are a million songs called ‘Hot Summer Night,’ and I would never write a song about that. Mark had a vision of the song being written from the perspective of it being the middle of the winter, and called me out on the fact that it’s okay to write a song that’s already been written, as long as it’s all works.
“I needed another good rocker that felt like a really crisp slap in the face, a winter song because I live in Vermont and the weather here is a little more often then not, pretty soggy," she continues. "I’m personally not a skier or a winter sport lover, but I really love the idea of talking about a relationship like it’s weather, and love the idea of a Vanna White weather forecaster standing there talking about the weather. I thought about that and set the song up almost like a porno where there’s a weather woman giving the weather and then a guy is there and he’s up, and the weather goes from being awful and frozen to a tropical beach. I really love that idea and it came out in this song.”
According to Grace, three tracks helped set the course for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. “I had these three core songs, ‘Paris,’ ‘Goodbye Kiss,’ and ‘Colors.’ They are very different songs, so I wanted to capture their complete multiple personality disorder on an album that encompasses all three personalities. I started with those songs as my barometer for building the rest of the tracks. I felt like the up tempo stuff was really important to this record, because I really wanted to have a bunch of rockers, a bunch of dancers, bouncy songs. If I was going to have these ballads, they needed to hold a lot of weight and needed to be really special. I love the light, airy love songs like ‘Goodbye Kiss,’ but if you listen to the lyrics it’s devastatingly horrible. There are a couple of songs like that on the record where I wanted to touch on all of those points and get the big picture. The entire record was based on the three songs; they were the key tracks that guided me. A lot of the other tracks on the record sprung from those three as inspiration.
“‘Oasis’ is great example because it’s such departure for us. When I arranged the track order, I really wanted a big contrast early on, so I knew the one-two punch from ‘Paris’ to ‘Oasis’ would be the beginning of the record, a ‘Hey, meet the new Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.’ It was actually really exciting to be able to know that the album was going to start like that and then build the rest of the track order around it. Those songs are really very different and very shocking. A lot of people who have heard the record so far have been a bit taken back at that, but hopefully that’s a good thing.”
“Oasis” is followed by “Medicine,” another guitar-driven track, written by Scott and Matt.
“’Medicine’ is special to me,” Scott says, “because Matt and I wrote the skeleton of the tune in his parents basement in New Jersey as the band was kind of going through line up changes. It was not the easiest time, so we thought ‘the heck with it let’s just try to write and be creative.’
“We came up with the guitar groove together. Then Matt came up with all the rhythm and I came up with the chords. Grace ended up taking the song and turning it from a major key song to a minor key, and then she wrote the lyrics."
"Recording the song was just a freaking blast," he explains. "We had been playing it all summer and then we it in two or three tracks. It was just really easy. It was also the tune that we would pump up in the studio and all the girls would come in and it would be party time.”
While much of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals is indeed good cause to party, Grace’s ballads, especially those heard later on the record, offer a glimpse at her inner Dolly Parton, a song writer excellence singing autobiographical tales that are part gospel and part country. This is never truer than on “Low Road,” a song written about a late night in Austin, compliments of a Tylenol PM buzz.
“’Low Road’ has a real interesting story,” Grace recalls. “My boyfriend (drummer, Matt, who recently announced their engagement) and I got into a fight and he left the room, which he never does. We don’t have the crazy fights, but that night for some reason was a particular dramatic fight, so he left. I decided to go after him because I figured he was probably down in the lobby.
"I had taken two Tylenol PM because I was having a terrible time sleeping. So, I’m all doped out on Tylenol PM, which I never take because I hate pills, but it was a very weird night. I wound up wandering around the streets of Austin looking for him and I got farther and farther away from the hotel. He was no where to be found.
‘I called the cab company to see if anybody had picked him up and they tipped me off to a place that he might be. I went there and there was nobody at this random address that this cab supposedly dropped him off at so I sort of just sat there overwhelmed and just started wailing. I was crying so loud, I was just one of those crazy people on the street. It was a very dramatic moment for me.
"Suddenly, this old black man came up to me wearing a priest collar and a rosary. I was completely out of my head, mad and sad and crying, and he just walked slowly up and he just sat down next to me very softly and talked me through it. He was so giving and thoughtful. It wasn’t a complicated moment at all; it was just one human being sitting next to another human being that came from two completely different worlds," she says. "It was amazing how he sat and patiently listened to me, and I just wanted to capture that night in a song. I’m not that kind of person, I don’t have many crazy nights like that, so it just felt worth writing about because I thought it was a really special thing. The one line that he told me that I kept hearing was he kept saying you’re on the low road right now, on the low road sometimes you take the high road, sometimes you take the low road, and your on the low road right now.
“It didn’t dawn on me until daylight the next day, when I finally got back to the hotel and my boyfriend was sitting in the lobby saying, ‘Where have you been?’ I had gone on an eight mile journey with a Tylenol PM buzz and a wet pair of cowboy boots on, trying to find him and it turned out he was sitting there in the lobby all along.”
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals closes with “Things I Never Needed,” a song that Grace says is very important because, “I’m a super shopaholic and very materialistic. You know, I’m a material girl and I love to shop. I don’t always end up with terrible spending habits, but it’s more of the guilt that I felt in looking at people lives around me who have less and I realizing how ridiculous it is to be upset that the woman who waited on me at Barney’s was rude.
"So many people complain about their car or their drain pipe not working properly, or that they have to pay the cable bill; just normal little day to day stuff in life. It helped me realize that some things are self-superficial and so unnecessary, and have nothing to do with who you really are. There’s so much in that song that I need to remind myself of
"Every time I sing it, I’m always reminding myself because it’s just not things that matter, its actions; the choices that we make in life," Grace explains. "It is important to address them head-on and make sure that they’re worth bothering with. It’s important to make sure that you look yourself in the mirror and make sure the sacrifices you make are valuable and not just about buying something new.”
With their new album already reaching #6 on iTunes Top 100 Albums, and #2 on iTunes Rock Albums chart, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have become a serious force in the rock world; a band that is making their big expectations a reality. Grace’s superior song writing skills, combined with her indisputable sex appeal and top-notch band, are a winning combination that will no doubt be making chart topping music for many years to come.