Grace Potter hates pine trees.
“I live in Vermont so I’m asking for trouble here,” she said during a phone interview. “(But) they have no respect for the seasons. I like a tree that’s constantly in transition, and (expletive) pine trees just stay the same all the time.”
Unlike the pine tree, the gorgeous 24-year-old and her band The Nocturnals have been budding of late, drawing rave reviews for their most recent album, “This Is Somewhere” (Hollywood Records).
The title is a play on the Neil Young & Crazy Horse album “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere,” the influence of which is found in the politically charged nature of several songs on the album. More powerful, however, seems to be the influence of a Los Angeles recording studio, compared to the barns where Grace and the Nocturnals recorded their first two, self-produced albums, “Original Soul” (2004) and “Nothing but the Water” (2006).
“We co-produced (This Is Somewhere) with Mike Daly (from Whiskeytown Records), and he’s a really formulaic, song-oriented producer,” Potter said in an interview with The Hatchet. “So I think what he saw in us … is that we’re a really talented band, with some potentially awesome songs that we haven’t developed to their fullest.”
Indeed, the album is very carefully constructed, with professional attention paid to all the fades and layers. Unfortunately, the joyous aggression inherent in The Nocturnals’ sound becomes a bit neutered, at times feeling more akin to the adult contemporary scene than the undeniably dirty rock blues they exude on stage.
“We’ve so often been categorized as a jam-band, or really only a live band persona, we thought it would be cool to take it out of that,” she said. “We obviously wanted to push it and be a little bit more crazy…more like our live shows – but sometimes, when you get talked out of something, it’s not a bad idea.”
It is certainly possible that many have been convinced to see Potter shows based on her looks – (she also plays the organ and occasionally the guitar.)
“(T)here might be a few fans who come to the show just to look up my skirt but…it’s all good … You roll with it, and it either feeds you with anger, which makes you rock harder. Or, it is a compliment, and you get flattered, and…no matter which way it happens, it doesn’t distract from the sole focus, which is to (expletive) rock!”
Some of you might remember Grace from her appearance at GW’s Spring Fling 2006. She and The Nocturnals played a raucous set to a seated collection of students, most of whom were only there only to save a spot near the stage for rapper Talib Kweli. Grace remembers the experience at GW fondly, however, for the connection she made with West Indian Girl, the band that played a largely unnoticed yet soulful set right before the hers.
Invoking her politician’s tone, she insists, “We had a great time, that was a really great experience for us, and it stuck with us, because we met such a great band.”
Potter is amazingly open and easy to talk to. Conversation meanders from scars and potential tattoos, to her new puppy named Kick, to self-serving people who insist on telling two-hour long stories, “so they can tell you that they’re an actor, and they’re gonna’ be a movie, and that they’re really famous and so you have to pay attention to them. The thing is, I’m impressed really easily by most people…I’m quick to judge when somebody is really really irrational with me, but if you’re a moderately reasonable human being, I’m probably gonna’ like you.”
Giving mention to The Black Keys and The Kings of Leon as recent indulgences, Grace ruminates on the state of American music for a moment.
“I try not to get too into the pop music of America, because it all happens in such short spurts that, there’s no point in really following all these new indie bands because they’re gonna’ be gone tomorrow, some of ’em,” she said. “I don’t wanna’ hear the story, I just wanna’ hear good music.”
Potter and the Nocturnals make plenty of beautiful music on their own. Grace’s voice has been compared to the likes of Janis Joplin and Bonnie Raitt. What is most evident on “This Is Somewhere” is the increased maturity with which they are operating these days. They seem to have found a balance between the sweet, soulful instrument that is Grace, and the heavy boogie blues at the heart of the band. Grace’s always explosive energy on stage is supported by Scott Tournet’s clean genius on lead guitar. The rhythm section is comprised of bassist Bryan Dondero and drummer Matt Burr. It is really easy to like this band. There’s a spunk in their funk that only a girl like Grace can infuse in a group.
“We’re pretty headstrong,” she said. “We kinda’ know what we wanna’ do and we tend to do it no matter what.”
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals will be at 9:30 Club (815 V St. N.W.) on Saturday. Tickets are $15 – for more information visit www.930.com.
This article appeared in the February 14, 2008 issue of the Hatchet.