Grace Potter plays Innsbrook After Hours Wednesday, Sept. 30. (Photo courtesy Williams & Hirakawa)
Grace Potter’s tour in support of her Midnight solo recording, released Aug. 14, comes to Innsbrook Pavilion on Sept. 30. Talking by phone from Los Angeles, she answers some questions about her new album and band, life on the road, and how she broke a martini diet after stopping at a Richmond eatery.
Richmond magazine: How did your band, the Nocturnals, happen? I’ve read that you met in college.
Potter: I was playing out at cafés [and] bars and trying to make a living as a solo performer with just me and a piano and a guitar. In the second semester of my freshman year [at St. Lawrence University in New York], this guy came up to me at this amazing barn, the Java Barn, where the sort of artsy kids hung out, and he said, “You are really talented, I really like your songs. I feel you really shouldn’t be doing the Joni-Mitchell-sitting-down-at-the-piano stuff. I would like to be in a band with you.” That was Matt Burr, my drummer. The first time when he offered that, I said no: I have a cool thing on my own; I am fine. Then later, a couple weeks, I got a phone call from a friend who was transferring from one college to another. He was a bass player I went to high school with and he was really good. And I though this might be an opportunity to take that guy up on the thing and try something out of the box.
RM: The name, itself, Nocturnals?
Potter: We started out as the “little kid band” on campus; there were a bunch of other bands that were way cooler and got all the good gigs at the bars. We couldn’t actually get a space to rehearse until really late at night. Usually, our rehearsals started at 2 a.m. So we would just play all night, and then go straight to class from rehearsal.
RM: You learned to play the piano from your mother.
Potter: Yes. She was a piano teacher, not my piano teacher. I would listen to how the other kids were doing it and then I’d sit down after they all left and I’d try to learn what they had learned, just by ear. I never really wrapped my head around music.
RM: I also see you play a Fender Rhodes [electric piano], a bit of a throwback instrument. Did you start playing that because of a musical influence, or do you just really dig the sound?
Potter: Both. I think mainly my issue with the piano as just an instrument by itself is that the era of the dynamic pianoforte was the 1700s, you know, the Renaissance. That is what a piano was built for, was to sit in a living room and to play music that is acoustically perfect for a group of people who are seated and listening to an acoustic instrument. That is long gone (laughs). If my concerts were happening in living rooms, I would only play piano. But because we do rock concerts and I like to get loud, the instruments had to follow my voice and it was suggested to me by bandmates, “why don’t you find a keyboard that is as loud as you are?” I definitely fell in love with the sounds of electric pianos. Starting with the Fender Rhodes, it is [a sound] that brings me to an era of music, Ray Charles, and the sound of soul and moving into the ’70s and ’80s, and even Gary Wright, the song “Dream Weaver.”
RM: That song has a great Rhodes part at the beginning, just incredible.
Potter: I love that. As a kid, my mom’s music became my music, so you know, the Eurythmics, and the Bangles and all that, Tina Turner … It was only later that bands like David Bowie and the Talking Heads and Tears For Fears, Electric Light Orchestra, hit my ears. And really that’s what [Midnight] is, what it became for me was an opportunity to salute every era of my influence.
RM: Will the album predominantly be “road-tested” or will it be tracks we haven’t heard?
Potter: Oh, yeah, we’ve been road-testing a little bit of it. I’ve got a whole great new lineup. I’ve got a new band that’s incredible, so we’ve been rehearsing all of the new songs, playing a few out. … Our first public gig was opening for the Rolling Stones.
RM: I was just about to ask you about how surreal that had to be.
Potter: It was insane. It was. The way that the tour came together so quickly was just the shock of my life — mostly good, but also terrifying. You know, you have a new band, you have a new whole album, a solo record — first time I have done a solo record since I was in my teens, yet it just came all at once, like the Thunderdome-style. It was just nuts.
RM: Whatever became of the tracks you were working on with T-Bone Burnett?
Potter: It’s a really good question, I can’t say much about it. The record company decided to put it on the back burner. So I don’t know when or where those things are gonna surface, but I can say that there have been rumblings about it from the inside — what ever happened with those? Let's listen to that again.
RM: You played at Lockn, you were at Floyd Fest. I am going to say you like Virginia. In Richmond, you have played Friday Cheers , the Hat Factory — do you remember anything about the city?
Potter: Richmond! I was just there! Edo’s Squid. That place is insane. And the day I ate there was the day my friend and I had decided we were going to only have a martini diet, we were only going to drink martinis, so we got up to Edo’s and we were like “Nope, game off, we are definitely 100 percent eating food right now.”
Here's a little preview: