[Interview] Grace Potter

Music is at the heart of everything she does

Cincinnati fell in love with Grace Potter early, flocking to the 20th Century Theatre before she broke big with “Grace Potter & the Nocturnals” album that featured “Paris (Ooh La La)” in 2010. I talked to her before two shows at the Oakley club, then when she jumped to the 4,000-seat PNC Pavilion in 2011, and year later when she was on a bill with country superstars Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw at Paul Brown Stadium. The Nocturnals are no longer, but Potter is back with “Daylight,” her first album since 2015. She plays the Taft Theatre Jan. 22.

2012 Pre-Concert Talk

When Grace Potter & the Nocturnals take the stage at Paul Brown Stadium, they will become the first act to go from the 20th Century (capacity 400 or so) to the home of the Bengals (more than 50,000) in less than three years.

“Oh, I love that, that’s a great statistic,” laughs Potter, who is getting some help on the change in venues from country superstars Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw.

“But it’s actually encouraging and exciting to see how much changes and how much doesn’t change about me, the band and the people around us as we grow. Because you’re either true to yourself or a you’re a sellout. I think we’ve found a way to walk that line very carefully and maintain friendships with the people that matter the most to us.”

The people that matter the most include the true believers who were at the theater shows in Oakley over the years, but the success of 2010’s self-titled album that featured “Paris (Ooh La La)” made the band find a bigger boat. They played PNC Pavilion at Riverbend last summer, and after Potter appeared in the video for Chesney’s “You and Tequila,” there was another surge of popularity.

“It’s been pretty overwhelming,” Potter says of the response to the stadium tour. “Our Twitter followers have increased by thousands and thousands and thousands. Every night, we can see people turning their heads, slowly and gradually, and (the fact) we’re doing it on our own terms is really exciting.

“I think that Kenny’s and Tim’s fans … most of them know me as the blond chick from the ‘Tequila’ video.’ The moment of connection is that most of them have seen me in the opening set, but they don’t really realize that I’m the Grace Potter from the video … they just think I’m there. Then later, when I come out to sing ‘You and Tequila,’ you see this collective ‘Ohhhh, that’s why she’s here, got it.’ ”

As word spreads on the Twitterverse that the blond chick from the ‘Tequila’ video has a pretty good band herself, the playing time increases. The official schedule calls for the Nocturnals to have 30 minutes, which could be two or three songs on a good night when they headline.

“It’s really sweet actually, they stretched it to almost 40 minutes for us because the stage manager is a big fan,” Potter says. “It started as a 30-minute set, then went to 35, and now we’re stretching it to a 40-minute land, where we can do about seven songs.

“We always try to make sure that the music is big enough to fill the stadium. It’s been really fun because it’s amazing how many of our favorite songs are also the songs that the audience is reacting to the best. We’re not catering ourselves to the country crowd, we’re just doing what we do, but it’s exciting to see how that reaction has been received because I think more people are understanding that there’s a very simple gray area between country and rock ’n’ roll. And we’re right there in the middle.”

The stadium tour is just part of Potter’s schedule. The Nocturnals are headlining their own shows on days off, and that’s where fans will hear more from “The Lion The Beast The Beat,” the new album that came out June 12.

The group appeared on VH1’s “Storytellers,” which gave Potter – who can be both blunt and charming, often at the same time – the perfect platform to be both. She spoke frankly about the evolution of her stage appearance.

“Nothing that came up on ‘Storytellers’ was really on purpose,” she says. “I did feel like it (image) was up for discussion, I didn’t have a script, I didn’t have anything. I really thought I got all in the moment, I think I got very expressive and the producer told me that I might as well say more than less. Say anything and everything that you want to say, take the time that you need to express your thoughts.

“It was a topic that I’ve never really addressed publicly so it was nice to have a chance to do that.”

For those who follow celebrities obsessively, the transformation of a young woman  bundled up in blue jeans and pea coat on the cover of “Nothing But the Water” in 2006 to one wearing miniskirts and gauzy gowns four years later is big news. To Potter, it’s nonsense and she said so, then repeated it in case the message was misunderstood.

“It (sniping) happens every day, every day,” she says. “I think that the focus really got off topic; not for me (because) the heart of it is the music is what always has directed everything else I’ve ever done, either on stage or in my personal life. But people forget that because they’re not standing here with me … they’re not in the middle of it the way I am, or they don’t see it the way that I see it, or the way the band sees it, which is it is part of growing up, it’s part of changing, it’s part of getting comfortable with your body.

“And it’s something as a musician, it’s easier to wear what you want to wear. I think that when you don’t have the confidence, that’s when people see through things like ridiculous outfits and over-the-top glam stuff. But if you can put your money where your mouth is and look good doing it, then (screw) everybody.”

Right on, sister. If the music isn’t good, then no amount of glitter can make it sparkle. Potter has always had the substance; the style is her choice.

Watch Grace Potter & the Nocturnals play “Paris (Ooh La La)”

2011 - Pre-Concert Talk

Last year, Grace Potter saw a tiny light, like a flashbulb sparkle in the night.

That tiny light has become a bank of spotlights that stretches from New York to Hollywood and beyond.

Since the release of the eponymous “Grace Potter & the Nocturnals,” with the sexy single “Paris (Ooh La La)” and “Tiny Light,” Potter has recorded the duet “You and Tequila” with country superstar Kenny Chesney and appeared with him on the “Today Show’s” summer music stage,  played at last Sunday’s Global Soul Concert with Stevie Wonder at the Hollywood Bowl, and recorded a mashup of Beyonce’s “Why Don’t You Love Me?” for Billboard.com.

A little more than a year ago, Potter played the intimate 20th Century in Oakley. Tonight, she steps onto the stage of the 4,000-seat PNC Pavilion.

“Little clubs are where we’re still at home,” Potter said before her recent week in California where she appeared on “Chelsea Lately,” sang Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” with Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley on the “Tonight Show,” then shared  a stage with Wonder.

“We’re always going to find time to play smaller venues because that’s where we began. That intimacy is something you don’t want to lose.”

Chances are that most of the people in the pavilion tonight have discovered Potter over the past year (the album was No. 2 on WNKU’s top 89 for 2010). The 27-year-old singer appreciates the support, new or long-standing.

“Everyone has been supportive with what we’ve done with our music and our career,” she said. “My presence on TV and where we wind up is not an accident. The (longtime) fans root for it because they know it’s not just some overnight fluke success, it’s been a long time coming.”

The band has spent much of the past seven years on the road, gaining fans night after night with its blend of raucous guitars (Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco), solid rhythm (Matt Burr on drums and Catherine Popper on bass) and Potter’s soulful voice and skill on keyboards and guitar.

Last year’s album transformed the group of Vermont friends into a national act, as Potter morphed from a blue-jeaned hippie girl into a mini-skirted sex symbol. But the foundation had been laid with “Nothing But the Water” in 2006 and “This Is Somewhere” in 2007.

“So many people miss that (it’s about the songs),” Potter said. “They get blinded by the other stuff, One thing that I find that has been really interesting about the distractions is that even with all the (blathering about her appearance), is that it comes back to the music.

“There is no arguing that fact. You can say anything you want, you can make your own judgments. If you just found out about me yesterday, you might think I’m a country singer. But that’s cool, I like that. I like that no matter which way people come at it, whether they’re new or old fans, it does come back to a great song, a great performance, an honest performer … and something that’s real.”

No matter how bright the lights become, you can count on Potter to give an honest night’s work.

Watch Grace Potter & the Nocturnals play “Hot Summer Night” and “Ah Mary”

2011 - Concert Review

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals turned a hot summer night into a sweaty shindig at PNC Pavilion Friday night

How hot was it? Pretty steamy considering the 90-degree temperature was a distant third behind the band’s pulse-pounding music and Potter’s “Hullabaloo”-inspired sparkly mini-dress.

The ubiquitous Potter, who made a special appearance on the “Tonight Show” and played the Hollywood Bowl with Stevie Wonder in the past week, was firmly in Nocturnal mode Friday, reveling in her day, er night, job.

The set leaned heavily on last year’s self-titled album that featured the breakthrough single “Paris (Ooh La La)” and the oh-so-apt “Hot Summer Night” among others.

The highlight, however, was “Oasis,” which featured a cool lead-in of dueling guitars between Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco. Potter, who could have used the time to take a break to conserve her energy, instead moved behind the amp stack to dance like no one was watching.

She returned to add her Hammond B3 organ to the increasing guitar din, as the group  slipped into its jam-band roots for an Allman Brothers-style finale that featured a scorching solo from Tournet.

Skipping only a single beat at the end of the song, drummer Matt Burr kicked into the intro of “Stop the Bus,” which could have very easily veered into a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused.” But “Bus” was better because Potter threw her Flying V into the mix with Tournet and Yurco for another glimpse of guitar heaven.

Rounding out the trilogy was a blues-soaked version of “2:22” where Potter channeled her inner Janis Joplin while the guitarists continued their dual attack on the senses and the sweat-soaked hair on the back of people’s necks.

Potter has performed long enough to know that the audience, which hadn’t stopped standing or dancing since the first song, could use a chance to catch its breath. Burr and bass player Hagar Ben Ari, standing in for Catherine Popper, exited, Tournet and Yurco picked up acoustic guitars and Potter had only a microphone as she began her plea to St. Peter in “Big White Gate.”

Turns out the breather was a ruse as the singer soared even higher and the boys made 12 strings sound like a small orchestra. It was a moving performance that moved the audience to a shrieking approval that Potter acknowledged with a curtsy.

After a fairly faithful version of the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” the homestretch featured “Paris,” “Hot Summer Night” and finished with “Medicine,” which wound up with the band’s signature drum circle where everyone grabs sticks and pounds away alongside Burr on his kit.

Potter returned for the encore by herself with only a pair of drumsticks that she used as accompaniment for “Nothing But the Water (I)” before her compadres joined in on “Nothing But the Water (II),” then walked off the stage together clapping along to the song’s coda.

It seemed like a near-perfect end to a night with the Nocturnals.

2010 Pre-Concert Talk

It’s a bit surprising that Grace Potter has poor eyesight because the singer has a clear vision of her career path.

“The plan is to grow, like any other business in the world,” says Potter, the leader of the Nocturnals, who have just released their fourth album. The self-titled record, which is receiving an impressive list of adjectives in reviews, is likely the one that will push the Vermont-based rock and soul band beyond the confines of the 20th Century Theatre where they will play Thursday.

“I’ve set up expectations of our career. I want to be doing this when I’m 60,” says the 26-year-old who sings like she has already lived twice as many years. “I’ve read those crazy music bios of rock stars who didn’t treat people well. I don’t want to be like Keith Moon (of the Who) who threw televisions out of hotel windows.

“I constantly ask ‘How can I leave a better impression of myself?’ ”

Potter, who is a charming mixture of shyness and swagger, is trending toward the latter these days.

“That’s what comes with new things,” she says of the album’s cover photo. “I’m more confident these days.

“When I was growing up I was a musical theater kind of kid, and I thought people wouldn’t take me seriously as a real musician if I wore a miniskirt and high heels.”

Whether she looks like a college coed in her blue jeans and pea coat on 2005’s “Nothing But the Water,” or strikes a soulful, sultry pose on the new CD, it’s what is under the covers that counts. The new album is both a logical extension of the band’s earlier classic rock-based sound and a step away from the jam band label that might have kept some potential fans away.

“I think any time you hear any band, they’re using classic rock as a reference,” Potter says. “But things change. It’s not just about Led Zeppelin, but punk and synthesizers, too.

“People like Jack White, My Morning Jacket, Wilco are making great records that will stand the test of time like some classic rock. I just hope my records are in that pile when people are them 30 years from now.”

To that end, the band replaced original bass player Bryan Dondero with Catherine Popper, who played with Ryan Adams, and added guitar player Benny Yurco, a friend who played in the group’s side project, Blues and Lasers. They join drummer Matt Burr, guitarist Scott Tournet and Potter, who spends much of her time at the keyboards.

“We have a new identity and we’re looking forward to new and fabulous adventures,”  she laughs.

Potter sounds downright adventurous when she described writing “Paris (Ooh La La)” in the notes that accompany the new album:

“I’m just going to say basically ‘I want to have sex right now.’ It’s my favorite song to perform.”

Sounds like the transformation from coed to rock star is complete.

“Living your life to the fullest doesn’t mean being careful,” Potter says when asked about  the quote. “The first record company that we worked with had this image of me as a white wine kind of singer. And I told them that wasn’t me.”

Potter doesn’t have anything against white wine, but the point is clear. This is a woman who says she wants to be James Brown and she wants to be Robert Plant. And she wants to play for people who want to see that.

“Fans aren’t coming to the shows to have brunch with us,” she says. “They’re coming to have their faces blown up.”

Watch Grace Potter & the Nocturnals play “Medicine”

2008 - Pre-Concert Talk

Grace Potter is 25 years old, but she is comfortable with people and music of an older generation.

The singer and her band, the Nocturnals, have created a critical and popular buzz over the past couple of years with their blues-based rock ’n’ roll that sounds eerily familiar to those raised on the classic rock from the late ’60s and early ’70s.

“Now is a bad time for writing great albums, because it seems like it’s all about having just one big hit song,” she says. “Back when Neil Young and Bob Dylan were plucking away, it was about writing an entire album of great songs. Not that I’m comparing myself to them, but I’d like to try to keep that pattern going.”

Potter, who plays the 20th Century in Oakley Sunday, doesn’t have to compare herself to stars who have stood the test of time: others are doing it for her. The band’s latest album, 2007’s “This Is Somewhere,” popped up on many top 10 lists last year, including WNKU-FM’s which is voted on by listeners.

Told that she shared space with likes of Bruce Springsteen, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Wilco, Patty Griffin and Lyle Lovett with Greater Cincinnati listeners, Potter let out a little yelp before saying, “That’s unbelievable; those are my peeps. If I could build an ark, those are the ones that I’d want to take with me.”

It’s unlikely that her older peers could match her roadwork these days, however. Potter and the band — guitarist Scott Tournet, bass player Bryan Dondero and drummer Matt Burr — have toured relentlessly for the better part of five years. They have played shows during each month since January of 2007. Sunday’s show will be third time in a little more than a year that they have performed here.

It seems like it might be hard to keep cities straight when you travel that much, but Potter doesn’t hesitate when asked what she remembers from her previous visits.

“The 20th Century club was one of the most epic shows we’ve played,” she says about last year’s visit. “There was magic in the air … we crossed some kind of precipice that night. We went from being just a band to a full-on rock band.”

Take a bow, Cincinnati. If local fans are responsible in even a small way for raising the group’s game, it would be wise to take credit. Potter is in this for the long haul, and if the trajectory continues on its present course, we’ll be able to puff out our chests and say we always knew that she would be huge someday.

Somewhere, there are folks who said the same thing about Neil Young and Bob Dylan many years ago.

Watch Grace Potter & the Nocturnals play “Apologies”

2008 - Concert Review

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals played the 20th Century – literally and figuratively – Sunday night.

The Vermont singer and her top-notch band straddled more than 40 years of music at the Oakley venue. A few hundred enthusiasts turned out to hear fine original tunes from the group’s “Nothing But the Water” and “This Is Somewhere” albums, but the highlights came when the musicians strayed from the recorded script.

It’s hard to ponder the thought that the sexy, soulful Potter possibly could be upstaged by the three scruffy Nocturnals. And it’s just a guess, but she would probably agree: the joyful interplay with guitarist Scott Tournet, bass player Bryan Dondero, and – especially – drummer Matt Burr kept smiles on the players’ faces and whoops of appreciation coming from the audience throughout the evening.

The band plays blues-based rock ’n’ roll that lends an air of familiarity to such crowd-pleasers as “Ah Mary” and “Joey.” Without listening too hard, the influence of such ’60s’ stalwarts as the Rolling Stones and the Allman Brothers can be heard in Potter’s own songs.

So it was less than surprising when Tournet and Burr segued into the opening notes of the Stones’ classic “Paint It Black” in the middle of the set. What was surprising, however, was how much energy the band poured into the song that has been covered by every teenage garage band in America since 1966. They played it with a freshness that had younger members of the crowd jumping up and down alongside their older counterparts, who were likely even younger when Mick Jagger sang it the first time.

The response seemed to kick the group into an even higher gear. Before closing with the two-part title track from “Nothing But the Water,” Potter kneeled in front of Burr’s bass drum, and started to keep time while the boys lined up behind the kit. A standard part of rock concerts in the ’60s and ’70s, the drum solo was thought to have outlived its value, but in the hands of this foursome, be on the lookout for a revival.

The encore was a treat in itself. The 25-year-old Potter, who spent most of her time playing keyboards, hit the opening notes to “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” the Led Zeppelin classic that was recorded 14 years before she was born. By the time Page, Jones and Bonham … er, the Nocturnals joined her, the audience, young and old alike, were singing along.

After that, the group was joined by guitarist Benny Yurco and drummer Steve Sharon, who formed opening act Blues and Lasers with Tournet, Dondero and Burr, for a rousing version of “Stop the Bus,” the band’s original ode to life on the road.

The Allmans couldn’t have done it any better back in the 20th century.


Each week, Bob Hust and Bill Thompson feature the best songs – old and new – from artists they have loved for many years and others they have just discovered. The best songs transport people to a time and place. That’s the foundation of BS&B.

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