Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are at that delicate moment in the trajectory of fame, when hard work and word of mouth begin to translate into major fame. Hailing from Burlington, Vt., the band started in the jam-band circuit and played more than 200 shows a year as lead singer and frontwoman Grace Potter earned praise and comparison to Janis Joplin and blues great Koko Taylor. But the band has proven versatile, tackling country music and arena rock. Their music evokes the best of early ’70s hard rock, and Potter has a soulful command of blues and rock. The music is muscular, but doesn’t sound forced. With their latest album, The Lion the Beast the Beat, the group is poised for major stardom.
Potter managed to answer a few questions via e-mail during her busy tour.
I understand you had to put The Lion the Beast the Beat on hold because of writer’s block. What happened?
I put the brakes on the project after almost two months in the studio. I mean, that’s crazy. It was a very uncomfortable thing for me to do. Especially because the band was playing great and everyone was really happy with the sounds and tunes. I think at the heart of it I was uninspired. We jumped right into the studio after almost two full years of touring. There was a large pile of great music—30 songs or so—but I was keeping my cards really tight to my chest because I wasn’t sure which ones to play, and at the end of the day, I didn’t really wanna play any of them. It didn’t feel cohesive. But there were themes that had been running through a lot of the existing material. I needed to explore those recurring topics and find a way to weave them all together into something that could really resonate.
As you get more famous, do you find it harder to write?
I love writing songs. I don’t think songwriting has much to do with fame or lack of fame—I think it’s all about inspiration. Now, I don’t have any kids, so maybe this is a f--ked-up analogy, but I always say that a song is like a baby crying in the middle of the night. You can’t just roll over and go back to sleep. It’s part of you. Whenever a song creeps into my head, it’s my responsibility to tend to it. I usually sing into a voicemail so I don’t forget it. But on a good night, I’ll just sit down and finish the whole thing right there.
Is there one genre that you feel most comfortable writing and performing?
When the band first formed, we were all over the place! We played jazz brunches at a local bistro, and then we’d run across town to the local watering hole and play Talking Heads and Little Feat till the sun came up. Our influences run so deep. We all are inspired by different sounds, then we bring our different influences together and it gets even broader. I mean, there’s an endless well of good music to be heard. You just gotta dig, which we do. I’m working on becoming fluent in Spanish—I’m not comfortable with it yet—but I think it would be beautiful to sing a whole album in Spanish.
You’ve embraced new media like Twitter. Does this make it easier to connect with your fans? Can you control your image better?
I enjoy the Twitter experience because it’s a primarily positive platform. It’s completely trivial and silly, but I love sharing photos, quotes, and shenanigans from the road. We have so much damn fun and I like to make fans feel like they have a window into our real world. It’s easy to lose the plot with things moving so fast nowadays—I can’t say that I’m totally on the New Media wagon, but I like to hitch a ride every once in a while.
You’ve done a lot of songwriting collaborations (including with Kenny Chesney). How is it working with other artists and is there anyone who you’ve learned a lot from as a songwriter or performer? What did you learn?
I love the process of collaborating because it takes a songwriter out of their comfort zone. It can also be a mind-bending and frustrating experience. There’s always that getting-to-know-you period, which I hate. I’m more interested in getting right to work and figuring out what our real goal is. So as long as I’m working with someone who feels the same way, I’m good.
Your career has been on an upward trajectory for a few years, and the band is becoming really huge. At what point did you realize, I’m going to be famous and this is going to be my career? What was that like?
I think I always thought this band was a big deal. I always took it just as seriously as I do today. I remember the feeling I had getting out onstage in front of 10 people at a bar in Burlington, Vt., and I still get that same feeling getting onstage in front of 50,000 people in a stadium. People probably thought I was delusional, but honestly, I don’t think I’d be where I am today if it weren’t for those pipe dreams.