Grace Potter On Meeting Robert Plant, Bending Genre Rules and Going to Strip Clubs
In this week's paper, Katie Moulton spoke with Grace Potter, the leader of the currently sizzling Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. Moulton spelled out some of the band's accomplishments in recent times - including opening for the Avett Brothers and smoking on VH1's Divas Salute the Troops special - and discovered that Potter first honed her craft thanks to Beavis & Butt-head. Below, check out some extras from the interview that didn't make it into print -- including going to strip clubs for research, meeting Robert Plant and defying genre rules.
Katie Moulton: You've also worked as a solo artist and recorded a solo album with T Bone Burnett last year. Do you prefer to work with a band?
Grace Potter: There's two sides to everything. With solo work, I can get at the side of myself that's more of an actor, the part that likes to play characters and dive into little versions of myself. Not necessarily the rock & roll Grace Potter, but maybe there's that little girl inside me who just wants to write a really cute Cyndi Lauper pop song, and I wouldn't do that with the band. The Nocturnals have clearly stated that they are this amazing, energized, dark, artistic rock unit that I can dive into. So I need to find an outlet. I wrote a song for this movie Tangled that's doing really well right now, and that was a solo effort.
With a song on Tangled, you're reaching out to a huge new demographic. Who do you think your audience is, and do you see it changing?
I'm going every which way. We've never really laid down and staked our claim on a certain piece of territory. I did a duet with Kenny Chesney last year, which was a pretty genre-bending move. The song's on his new record, and it's called "You and Tequila." It's funny 'cause we really do cross over - the Nocturnals performed "You and Tequila" on stage for our crowd, so there's a lot of cross-mojination going on. I think we're devoted to never nailing down exactly what we are so we can go any which way. So if the Muppet Movie needs a soundtrack, then the Nocturnals might want in on that. So I won't even say that the Nocturnals won't do kids' music - it just has to be the right thing.
You've had a huge year. What was the high point of 2010 for you?
The person I met that was most exciting was Robert Plant. I pretty much died. I met him for like two minutes, and it's like anyone else who meets their idol and it goes by too quickly and then you talk about it forever. That is my biggest vocal influence - from childhood on. I thought he was a woman for most of my life. I thought it was a girl singing and was like, 'I can do that too!' But of course, he was bending minds by singing the way he was singing and changing the history of rock & roll by bringing the falsetto in in a sexy way.
We put out a chocolate bar on the day our record came out, and we played in the streets for our fans at home. It was a big move. We were supposed to play in Los Angeles that night at the Roxy and we canceled the show, and wound up driving from the city to Vermont and just showing up and surprising our fans. There were tens of thousands of people - we put a free concert on in Burlington. We had our little Beatles-on-the-roof moment. We set up in a high school bandstand in the middle of Burlington, and without any real electricity or power or anything, and finally we ran an extension cord and plugged in a sound system and played for all the people for free. It was a lot of good things all at once.
Then the tie has to be the VH1 Divas thing, because that was just huge. Performing for the troops and getting really a fever pitch of exposure for us.
The VH1 special had a line-up full of female pop stars who are doing something quite different than the direction you're heading. How do you relate to a performer like Katy Perry?
We have more in common than I thought we did. Keri Hilson was a real surprise to me, she's just so down-to-earth and so awesome. You hear her song and it's "Don't hate me cause I'm beautiful," and it's this diva-licious performance, but backstage it's a totally different scene. She was really humble. And she gave me tea cause I didn't have any throat-coat. Just a lot of good vibes. I was surprised to find myself feeling like I had a lot in common with these ladies. We're standing there, posing for photos - and we're all a bunch of jackasses!
What kind of mischief do you and the Nocturnals get into on the road?
[Laughs] Oh, that's a good one to end on! We definitely get into mischief. Our downfall as a band has to be strip clubs. I started going to strip clubs as research for the "Paris" video, to see what they dance to and understand the idea of an exotic dancer. And you end up getting their stories -- a lot of these girls are working their way through school, one was an anthropology major - you know, something about Egyptians - they've all got their stories.
We're officially totally into it. Very into novelty strip clubs. Like this place in Atlanta that they say is 'where strippers go to die' and all the dancers are like 60 years old! Cougar clubs. And a place in the city that's more of a burlesque show. It's more artistic, reminds me of Boardwalk Empire. It's just our way of getting our rocks off.