Interview: Grace Potter – The Anti-Diva

“Yeah totally, I’m like the anti-feminist, you know what I mean?” she laughs. “I think the reason they were interested in us was because they had this anti-diva caricature of who I was. They didn’t know I had changed my fashion sense quite a bit in the past few years, so they were looking at the old pictures in the plaid and the boots and kind of wanted that, which is funny, because I haven’t worn that clothing for years, as I’ve slowly been getting more comfortable in my own skin and loving the front-woman role, and even enjoying fashion. All of the sudden, I showed up in this beaded dress and they were kind of shocked. They were expecting the little hippie from Vermont, which I still am, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love to wear a little spangled mini-dress. It was definitely a funny proclamation of the fact that people change and grow up. The word diva still doesn’t fit my character at all, but in that moment, I owned it, and I really enjoyed the role I got to play.”

The Origins of the Flying V

It’s not every guitar player who strolls into the music store and picks up a Gibson Flying V guitar. From the sheer look of the instrument to a famous pedigree that includes Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons and Albert King, the Flying V is an intimidating instrument. It takes chutzpah to play it and even more to own it.

Having quickly become one of the newest faces to become identifiable with the ferocious axe, Grace Potter still remembers the very first time she picked up the iconic guitar.

“I remember the feeling of holding it the first time,” Grace recalls. “We were in Mike’s Music in Cincinnati and I thought, ‘this thing is just too ridiculous for words.’ I didn’t want to try it, but Matt our drummer handed it to me and was like, ‘just give it a whirl.’ I’m telling you, there’s something about the feeling of the action or the way the Flying V feels in my hands, the weight distribution and everything is just perfect for my body. I put it in Open E tuning – being a little Jimmy Page wannabe – and just played it and played it, and I didn’t want to put it down.”

Despite falling in love with the guitar on that first occasion, Grace and the band had to head to a gig opening up for Derek Trucks, so she left it behind on that day. But clearly her bandmates saw something about the way she coveted it, because a few months later, they gave her a big surprise.

“I had to leave it behind and I was so bummed,” she remembers. “Then, a couple of months later it was my birthday, and Matt and the band pooled their money together and gave it to me. I freaked out!”

Cooking with Cabot

Take note, corporations: There’s no better sponsorship than helping out your local bands with tour support. The good folks at Cabot Cheese have been backing Grace Potter and the Nocturnals for years, and the support has really made a difference in their ascent to prominence. Not only does the band get an endless supply of Cabot’s delicious cheddar on the road, but without them, they might not haven been able to tour so exhaustively.

“Cabot has been our greatest friend and companion on the road for the past two years and they continue to support us,” Grace gushes. “If they hadn’t sponsored us for this latest tour, I don’t think we’d be able to be in a bus. Every time we head out on the road, it’s all about number crunching. Even though there are 11 of us and it’s a big crew and production, that doesn’t necessarily mean we can afford a bus. Cabot definitely made that possible for us. We are so lucky to have such a great partner. It’s fun to have food and rock n’ roll right next to each other. And who doesn’t like Cabot Cheddar?”

Often, fans assume that once their favorite bands reach a certain size whereby they are traveling by bus and playing decent-sized rooms, that it’s automatically profit time, but it’s not nearly so cut and dry. In speaking with Grace, it’s clear that the tours are still run on a pretty tight budget and that she spends a lot of time making sure the finances are in check.

“I see bands on tour, and they are out there with the two buses and a tractor trailer, and I don’t know how they do it,” she ponders. “Obviously, they sell more tickets than us, but it surprises me, because I know the expenses and I get like fever nightmares about maxing out the budget and coming back from a 48-date tour without any money left in the bank. I guess that’s a risk people take.”

Strip Clubs, Baby!

Even though she’s clearly the face of the band, Grace Potter makes a concerted effort to maintain a collaborative spirit and camaraderie amongst the band members. While she does most of the press and publicity work, they all play major roles in both the music and personality of the collective. And, they definitely know how to have a good time together on the road. Asked what kind of trouble they get up to on tour, Grace replied without flinching, “Strip clubs, baby!”

“No, we love going out and enjoying the town. Usually, when we come into a city, I like to just get out and walk. It doesn’t matter how far we are from civilization, it’s great to just explore. My favorite thing to do in the summertime is to drag everybody out to the farmer’s market, get some good local produce, and come back to the bus and cook for everybody. That’s more rewarding and cheaper than going out and spending money every night. Plus, that saves us money that we can spend at the strip clubs!” she laughs.

Harnessing the Sexuality

“The whole sort of transformation was triggered by the fact that I’m a 26 year-old woman and when Cat joined the band, I realized that we’ve got some serious sexual power,” Grace explains. “If you hang out with us backstage, we’re all like the flirtiest, most sexually evolved creatures, and yet on-stage for some reason, we were hiding it. So, I just decided when Benny and Cat joined that it was time for a complete overhaul, and to be more unabashed about our sexuality.”

As expected, shopping has become a bigger part of the equation as Grace picks out all of her own outfits for the shows. “For me, it’s a really exciting exploration, going to the stores and finally being able to buy the dresses that I’ve always wanted, and to actually wear them and own them; do the rock star thing right and not hide it behind this veneer of being wholesome and being from Vermont, because honestly, there’s nothing wholesome about me.”

Her favorite haunts for picking up show dresses include BCBG Max Azria and a London-based company called All Saints. Interestingly, a store by the name of Haut Hippie, which sells to large department stores like Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom’s, also recently contacted the band to let them know that a portion of their clothing line was inspired by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals music.

Not a Female Bass Player, A Bass Player

When The Nocturnals put the word out that they were looking for a new bass player back in 2009, the band did not make a point of hiring a female bass player. They simply aimed to get the best bassist they could whose personality fit the group. In the end, the very first person to call, Catherine Popper, got the job.

“Cat’s dynamic and what she brings is something I love to talk about, but at the same time, it’s something not to be misunderstood,” Grace elucidates. “I did not want a female bass player. It was not, ’oh, let’s get another chick in the band.’ She is not a female bass player. She is a bass player! I really loved what she did with Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, so I was excited that we were even on her radar. And then to meet her and realize that she was exactly like me, kind of this naughty crap-mouth girl that has all these exciting quirks about her personality. It felt like a really easy fit.”

Balls to the Wall

So what’s in store for 2011 after such a groundbreaking year in 2010? More of the same: touring like banshees, gearing up for festival season, writing new material and eventually heading back to the studio.

“In the summer, our tour will hopefully take us through all the different cities that we didn’t have a chance to touch on this tour,” Grace highlights. “We’ll probably wind up in the studio at some point doing a little Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed action. And, I’m really devoted to sharing more music with fans, especially live music. So, that’s something we’re just starting to get a grip on. I really just excited for summer to come.”

As Grace puts it, “It’s gonna be balls to the wall.”

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