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Grace Potter & The Nocturnals - The IndieLondon interview

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

Interview by Rob Carnevale

GRACE Potter, of Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, talks exclusively to IndieLondon about her forthcoming debut album, the inspirations behind single Tiny Light and why making Rolling Stone magazine’s Best New Bands list was pretty f**king fantastic!

She also talks to us about some of her own musical inspirations, some of her favourite touring memories, her experiences of the UK so far and why Stevie Nicks comparisons are good and bad.

Q. We’re loving the new single, Tiny Light… and can’t wait for the album. The single was inspired by the worldwide financial crisis but offers some hope, or a tiny light… What prompted you to want to write a song about this current economic situation?
Grace Potter: I was living in Vermont during the onset of the economic crisis, Vermont is the kind of place that doesn’t visibly change a lot, regardless of the economy. So, when I flew out to LA to start making the record, I was immediately struck by how much had changed in the city; entire plazas were boarded up where they used to be brimming with life, the streets downtown were lined with tents, the scene was unprecedented. I just wanted to write a song that captured that fear, and in the end, the hope.

Q. What can we expect from the new album? What themes drive it and how long did it take to write and put together?
Grace Potter: First and foremost, I wanted this record to feel up-tempo. I’m so tired of making albums that have more ballads than rockers! They’re pretty in the studio, but they suck to play live. Having said that, I think this record has a lot of stories running through it. Lots of narratives that all intersect kinda like Pulp Fiction… I started writing this record three years ago so I’ve had a lot of time to accrue life experiences.

Q. How did you hook up with The Nocturnals? *Grace Potter:*I met Matt Burr as a freshman at St. Lawrence University. He saw me playing in a little coffee house and asked if I would join a band with him. I resisted at first, but finally I agreed to try it out and we started rehearsing in a student run barn on campus.

Scott Tournet was teaching guitar lessons and playing in another band that Matt was in called ‘Soul Patch’. We all got together and would play and go to record stores and eat spaghetti and drink shitty boxed wine and plot our world domination.

After six years out on the road, and a couple of line-up changes, Cat and Benny joined us in 2009. They really helped us fill out the sound that we’d been gunning for. We’re like a big, loud Italian family!

Q. What did it feel to make the Rolling Stone Best New Bands list? How much did that help to raise your profile?
Grace Potter: It was a really exciting moment for us, especially after working for almost 8 years to get there. Building up a band slowly really allows you to step back and enjoy it. It’s not easy to get into Rolling Stone. It certainly raised our profile, especially when newscasters present you to the world as “Rolling Stone’s Best New Band of 2010”. Feels pretty fucking fantastic.

Q. You’ve been touring the US almost constantly over the past couple of years, so do you have favourite memories of that time? And what has that taught you about yourselves as a band?
Grace Potter: My favorite memories of the band out on the road are obviously the shows! Music is why we’re out here living this crazy life and it’s the ultimate high for us. But the group activities that we do away from music: Lazer Tag, Medieval Times, Baseball games, helicopter rides up to glaciers, gondola rides into the rocky mountains… our tour of London was one for the books as well! That’s the stuff that keeps us young.

Q. How was your recent experience of the UK? And how do UK live audiences compare/differ with the US?
Grace Potter: We haven’t actually played a show for a public audience in the UK yet so it’s hard to say how it differs, but the shows we have played have been really interesting; press only with lots of silent, subtle appreciation. There has been a politeness and a ‘getting to know you’ kinda vibe so far, but I imagine that will change when we start melting faces at festivals and rock clubs!

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

Q. Which acts inspire you musically – both past and present?
Grace Potter: I took a lot from the late ’60’s and early ’70’s the festivals that happened at that time and of course, the British Invasion. I feel like that era was like a long, rivalrous conversation across an ocean. From The Beatles to Blind Faith to The Who to Zeppelin, there was so much talent coming out of the UK, there was an expectation that whatever bands from the States were gonna do, it had better measure up! You know? So that’s where my roots were laid, (I also loved The Pentangle and Steeleye Span, and my parents rocked a lot of Jethro Tull and Spooky Tooth as a child).

But nowadays, I’ve really been enjoying the new renaissance in rock & roll. I’m inspired by bands that push the basic perimeter with crazy sounds, lyrics, or vocal inflections while still writing good songs. Bands like The Black Keys, Wilco, Steve Malkimus, Dr. Dog, Spoon, Alberta Cross, Karen Elson, Vampire Weekend, Kings of Leon…

Q. What was it like working with producer Mark Batson? What did he bring to the album?
Grace Potter: Batson is an inspiration. He worked so well with us as a band. He was all about the family vibe. All about the love. I think he brought us closer together. Before I started writing with him, I was pretty resistant to co-writing at all. I liked writing my own songs and I liked being able to say that I had written the whole record, blah blah… but that was all ego. Once I let go of that and actually met the dude, I was like: “Oh shit why haven’t I tried this before?” He was really just there to feed the fire. And he did.

Q. How would you describe the journey towards this point (releasing your album)? And what advice would you give to bands seeking to following in your footsteps?
Grace Potter: There’s a lot that needs to happen before an album’s release. More than you can imagine. For the first few years, when we were recording our own records independently in Vermont, we would track it one week and put it out the next month. We spent way more time touring than we did in the studio. Nowadays, it seems like that ratio has flipped.

We finished this album in December 2009 and it’s just now hitting the streets! It’s easy to get antsy and frustrated in the studio and just settle on something cause you’re too tweaked out to give it another try, but sometimes it’s just about NOT thinking so much. Once we stopped thinking and just started DOING, the songs played themselves. It’s been quite a journey, but I think we’ve all come out the other side as better, more evolved people.

Q. You’ve been compared vocally to the likes of Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin… what do you think about those type of comparisons?
Grace Potter: Flattered at first, then a little miffed. I think both those women were innovators and brought about the “Female Rock Star” persona which is super cool and I love that aesthetic. But I don’t like walking a trail that someone else blazed. You know? I’d prefer not to be compared to anyone, but if comparisons must be made, I’d say those are pretty good ones.

Q. Finally, what are the 10 tracks that are never far from your iPod player at the moment?
Grace Potter: “All Things Must Pass” – George Harrison
“Angelika” Devandra Banhardt
“In Trouble With the Lord” – Karen Elson
“Into the Great Wide Open” – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
“Judy Is A Punk” – The Ramones
“Optimistic” – Radiohead
“Piano Trio in D Major , Hob XV:24: III. Allegro, Ma Non Dolce” -Haydn
“Play With Fire” – The Rolling Stones
“20th Century Man” – The Kinks
“Will It Go Round In Circles” – Billy Preston

View photos of Grace Potter or read our review of the album