Skipping To The Beat Of Grace Potter

GRAMMY-nominated artist talks Brothers of the Sun tour with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw and what's behind her latest album, The Lion The Beast The Beat
  • Grace Potter
July 23, 2012 -- 2:18 pm PDT
By Brent Burns /

It's perhaps appropriate that the East Coast-bred Grace Potter & The Nocturnals derived the latter part of their name from their late-night practice sessions as a band. Fronted by the Vermont-born namesake and frontwoman, Grace Potter, the collective is in the midst of playing dates on the Brothers of the Sun tour with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw. The group self-released two albums, 2004's Original Soul and 2005's Nothing But The Water, before catching the interest of Hollywood Records. Subsequently, they released 2007's This Is Somewhere and 2010's Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, which peaked at No. 19 on the Billboard 200 on the strength of songs such as "Paris (Ooh La La)" and "Medicine." In 2011 Potter earned her first GRAMMY nomination for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for "You And Tequila" with Chesney.

The group's latest album, The Lion The Beast The Beat, was co-produced by Potter, GRAMMY winner Jim Scott and the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach. Of the album's 11 tracks, three were co-written with Auerbach, including the single "Never Go Back," and seven were written exclusively by Potter, including the title track and the introspective "Stars." The album peaked at No. 17 on the Billboard 200.

In an exclusive interview, Potter discussed her participation in the Brothers of the Sun tour, influences behind The Lion The Beast The Beat and future plans for the Nocturnals, among other topics.

This past February you were nominated for your first career GRAMMY. What was your reaction to being nominated for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for "You And Tequila" with Kenny Chesney?
It was crazy. I mean, I didn't expect it. It was my first foray into country music so to get nominated for a GRAMMY was a shock. It was not at all what I was expecting. My mind flashed back to the day I said yes to do the song and how never in a gazillion years did it occur to me that I would be nominated for a GRAMMY.

You're currently on the Brothers of the Sun tour with Tim McGraw, Kenny Chesney and Jake Owen. How has the reception been given that you're from more of a traditional rock background as opposed to country? 
It's been interesting, to say the least. These fans are obviously there to see Tim and Kenny, and a lot of them know Jake Owen's music because he has some major hits on the radio. We don't have hits. We're not a hits band, at least yet. So aside from "You And Tequila," I think people's reception has been a funny combination of stupefied, fascinated and maybe horrified. I know what it takes to gain a fan…and Kenny took a risk [with his fans] inviting us on this tour and I really applaud him for that. I also commend his fans for their open-mindedness towards us because overall the reception has been amazing.

Your new album, The Lion The Beast The Beat, was released in June. Can you talk about some of the tracks you're most proud of?
With our new record, the experience was very in-depth. And the process of making a record was long and arduous — it was certainly, as we say, a labor of love. I think if I was going to focus in on one track I would talk about the title track, "The Lion The Beast The Beat." It's actually two songs that I blended together into one. The first song is sort of a drumbeat battle cry intro that is, in a lot of ways, the thesis of the whole record. "I found the heart of a lion/In the belly of the beast/And I held it in my hand/And I could feel the beat…." You have to go down a dark, dark tunnel sometimes to find the light, and you have to explore the dangerous sides of yourself and your impulses and your urges in order to find the good in yourself and actually find the value in your own life. But, sometimes, that journey takes you into scary places and that's really what the album is rooted in.

I understand you were recently in Los Angeles shooting a music video for your next single, "Stars." What we can expect to see?
The video was directed by Philip Andelman [director of Beyoncé's "Halo"]. There were a lot of music videos I saw him do that compelled me towards him, one being "Safe & Sound" by Taylor Swift featuring the Civil Wars. One of the things I was most excited about in this video was to really show me from my core, just expressing myself in a beautiful way where it's more stark and simple. We stripped me down to barely any makeup at all and let my hair dry naturally, leaving everything very natural.

The video gives a sense of being suspended in air when something bad happens, or when you lose someone [and] you're just floating in the middle of nowhere — you're not grounded and you just don't know where you are. I love that suspended imagery and I wanted it to be in the video, so I wrote up my own treatment. And then Phil wrote his treatment, and it turned out to be the one closest to mine. He took it many notches further with his concepts, where at the very end of the video the entire sky lights up and bursts into this crazy cosmos universe, almost what you would see looking through a telescope. I'm really proud of it.

Are there any plans for a Grace Potter & The Nocturnals headlining tour this fall?
Yes, we are headlining through the fall, and we're going be hitting up most of the cities that we stuck in there with Kenny and Tim. We're going to be returning as the headliner in a variety of theaters, and some smaller amphitheaters, sheds and clubs. We're definitely going to be hitting up all the major markets and a bunch of smaller ones that we haven't had a chance to go back to.

How do you go about selecting opening acts for your tour?
We love to think about the complete experience for our fans so we try to find a band that has similarities and taps into some of the things we do musically. It's also important they have some depth and a little more of an acoustic vibe so that it kind of warms peoples ears up. Other times, we'll bring in a band that's a little more thrash than us if it's in a town where we know people love to party. We have not locked our final billing for the fall tour but I do know that RayLand Baxter is going to come out with us again. He's an unbelievable singer/songwriter from Nashville who we've toured with before. We're taking him out for a few dates in the fall, but we've also talked about the Lumineers [and] the Heartless Bastards. Right now we've got ZZ Ward out on tour with us for a couple of dates and she's phenomenal. It's really exciting to help nurture some younger acts and take them out to a larger platform. 

What message would you give to new fans wanting to learn more about Grace Potter offstage?
Oh my. Well, it's nothing like what you think. I'm quite a nurturing person and I'm more a mom than a crazy, partying rock star. I don't have any kids of my own but I love my band and I love the people I'm around and taking care of them. I love cooking…I'm quite domestic. I love walking around the bus [and] making sure all the pillows are fluffy and making sure all the blankets are folded. I just decorated the bathroom of our bus last night with magazine clippings. I just love making a life for our home-on-the-go and it's a big piece of the puzzle when you're out on the road as much as we are. The most important thing is to enjoy living a full life even when you are in what feels like a permanent purgatory traveling around. That's the core of who I am.

(Brent Burns is the dance/electronica Community Blogger.)

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