By Jay Cridlin
Times Staff Writer
On the night of the Grammy Awards, as the rest of the music industry was busy fawning over itself in Los Angeles, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were 2,800 miles away in Canton, N.Y., marking their 10th anniversary at St. Lawrence University, the college where the band got its start.
It seemed like a perfectly planned kiss-off to the industry. But Potter insists it was just a coincidence.
"There's gonna be a time when it's time to invest in that world," said Potter, a former Grammy nominee herself. "Now is not that time. Now is the time to be thankful for the past 10 years."
Besides, she said with a laugh, "There's no Grammy for touring. If there was, we would totally win."
Over the past 10 years, the Vermont-based Nocturnals have evolved from coffeehouse jam band into one of America's slickest original rock 'n' soul dynamos. Potter herself has led the charge: She emerged from behind her treasured Hammond B3, dyed her chestnut locks blond, and traded her sensible denim and flannel for short skirts and sky-high stilettos.
And while the Nocturnals can still crank out a 10-minute hootenanny or two, Potter's bewitching wail and sex appeal have made her something of a modern-day Tina Turner. She has never been in greater demand for TV appearances and A-list collaborations, such as You and Tequila, her smash duet with Kenny Chesney; and new album The Lion the Beast the Beat, which features three songs co-written by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach.
Potter and the Nocturnals will bring their electric stage show to Jannus Live in St. Petersburg on Friday. Potter called us recently to talk about style, sex appeal and selling out. Here are excerpts.
Give me your review of Beyoncé's halftime performance.
I really loved it. A lot of people on Twitter got mad because I was complimenting her, and people were responding like, "Are you crazy? That was awful!" What was awful about it? She's iconic. She's one of the only women out there performing in a way that, to me, is compelling sexually and musically. There's a fearless female energy that you can't deny, but also, I think if she was a man doing exactly what she was doing, I would love it just as much. She transcends gender and genre.
"Compelling sexually" — that's a pretty interesting phrase. Is that a spirit you try to embody onstage?
I don't try to. People think it's this intentional thing, but it's really not. You're kind of genetically given what you're given. You watch videos of me as a kid, and I was doing it when I was 3 — it just wasn't sexy. It's one of the larger issues of my career, is people thinking that I'm intentionally trying to sell it, or make it more commercial, or make it sexy. Sexuality just comes through because that's what the music is begging for. It's not about, "I'm gonna pull all these come-hither looks and blow people's minds." It's more, "I can't help but move this way when the music does what it does." It's a hard thing to explain, especially being a woman who likes to not wear pants and likes to flip her hair around. It almost just seems ridiculous to try to defend it.
On the deluxe version of The Lion the Beast the Beat, two of the bonus tracks, Roulette and All Over You, are really good. It made me wonder why you left them off the album in the first place. And then it struck me that they sound more polished than the other 11 tracks.
All Over You and Roulette represented a direction that I had been going in before turning the album in another direction. It was all feeling very commercial — not that that's not a good thing; we shamelessly enjoy writing pop songs — but it was aiming for something that I didn't want to land on. And there were about 10 more songs just like that. They were very pop-sensitive and very emotional, and at the same time raw and energetic, but polished, certainly — the studio recordings came out very polished and sort of overthought. I couldn't fathom suffering through another 10 tracks like that. I was so miserable. I really hated it. I felt completely disconnected from the songs, and really didn't enjoy performing them or listening to the recordings. And then, obviously, as the project grew and the direction changed, I fell back in love with those songs, and I can see the merit in them, and why they had to make it onto at least the bonus tracks.
There have to be people in your life who said, "Grace, these are possible hit songs. Why would you shy away from doing more of this?"
Oh, yeah. (laughs) The record company was very confused. But it wasn't time for that record. We sometimes refer to it as "fame management." There's a certain kind of famous that I don't want to be. I don't want to be Katy Perry. There's a level of privacy in my life that I hope I'll always be able to enjoy, and what songs you put out into the world can sometimes affect that. I'd rather have a medium-successful record and a happy life than a massively successful record and a bunch of f---ing security guards following me around.