Grace Potter has been known as the guitar-wielding, gravel-and-satin-voiced frontwoman of blues rock group Grace Potter and the Nocturnals for the past 13 years. Though the Vermont band earned its success slowly, Potter has always demonstrated a commanding onstage presence, whether it's alongside the Nocturnals, the Rolling Stones, or country stars like Kenny Chesney. On her debut solo album, Midnight, Potter departs from her previous work to boast a slick, modern sensibility anchored by the psychedelic '80s dance beats she grew up listening to at home.
It's easy to assume that when a band member forays into solo territory, he or she is making a calculated grab for fame. When New Times spoke with Grace Potter via phone, however, her mind galloped spontaneously from one subject to the next, seemingly without filter. It was evident that Potter is no diva.
"At first, I was in self-denial," she says. "I couldn't see it as a solo thing. It was clear to everyone else that I was doing something different, but I was like, 'No! It's a Nocturnals album!'"
She finally acknowledged that her evolution didn't fit within the framework of the Nocturnals' music and began to figure out who she was alone. She tried on all the hats — folk, punk, etc. — before realizing that she didn't need to style herself differently. She just needed to be herself. Potter started making the music she listens to: music you can sing along to while washing the dishes, or turned up loud on the car stereo while barreling down the highway. To do so, she needed to write differently, too.
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"With 'Delirious' and the rest of the songs, we actually started with a drum beat, something I learned with Dan Auerbach," Potter says. "More hip-hop, you know? We started with a beat, and then I wrote lyrics around that. I've never done that before."
The music on Midnight is anthemic pop-rock, with a batch of megawatt songs steeped in the complications of everyday life. Her lyrics cover everything from relationships to homeless people living in Las Vegas' underground tunnels. Just when her songs threaten to enter dour territory, they burst into something glorious.
For example, take the melody on lead single "Alive Tonight," with its arena-size chorus that calls to mind Florence and the Machine. The song is exuberant, bold as light beaming off a disco ball as she proclaims, "It's all gonna end tonight / Well, I got a feeling we're gonna be all right." The lyrics are a testimony to being present in life and to yourself, to admitting the worst could happen but trusting in your instincts anyway. How does this confidence come so easily to Grace Potter?
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"I'm legally blind," she says. "So, you know, I'm kind of oblivious to all that other stuff . . . But really, it's just not caring what other people think."
That means that when people expect her to be the pretty girl singing, she'll be ripping into a huge guitar solo. When her country song goes big and gets nominated for a Grammy, she writes a pop-rock album. And when she's looking at the history of rock music, from the '70s to contemporary music, she claims it all.
"I'd love to have backup dancers," Potter says, when musing on how the album's scale will translate to the live stage. "Tina Turner's backup dancers would be the dream."
They say you've got to go big or go home. Grace Potter chooses to do both.