Grace Potter brings mature sound to Aspen
It’s easy to fall for the easygoing soul music Grace Potter & the Nocturnals revealed on their latest CD, “Nothing But the Water.” But listeners might not want to get married to that sound.Potter, the quartet’s lead singer, keyboardist and songwriter, had a birthday last week, advancing from 22 to 23. The youth means that Potter and the Nocturnals – drummer Matt Burr, bassist Bryan Dondero and guitarist Scott Tournet – are still developing quickly, trying out different styles and sounds. The band as it was captured on “Nothing But the Water,” which they recorded in 2004, has been left behind to a good extent.”Our direction changes so often,” said Potter as she drove out of Salt Lake City Wednesday, heading toward the band’s gig tonight at the Belly Up. “Being such a young band, we’re open to everything going on around us.”As recently as last week, Potter and company had a band-turning experience. At the High Sierra Music Festival in northern California, they had an on-bus jam session with Kentucky rockers My Morning Jacket, a group they had admired mostly from afar. The encounter got Potter more interested than ever in making full-bore rock ‘n’ roll.
“It’s nice to see another band that wants to make rock ‘n’ roll important again,” she said. “Nothing against soul and R&B and all that, but they’re not going to change the world.”The first music that Potter got hooked on wasn’t exactly the type to change the world either. Almost as a protest against her parents and their classic rock, Potter got into the ’80s sounds of Phil Collins, the Nylons and Rod Stewart. “It never occurred to me that this music was bad, the instruments were inappropriate, the synthesizers were cheesy,” she said.At 11, she began bonding with her father through his stacks of Jethro Tull, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and Who albums. “All those bands were totally there,” said Potter, who began learning piano by watching her mother give lessons in the family’s home in the ski town of Waitsfield, Vt. “But I didn’t like it at first, because it was my parents’ collection.”When Potter got around to making her own music, the sounds that came out were mellow and mature. The influences were Joni Mitchell and Shawn Colvin – not bad influences, but not the appropriate ones for a feisty teenager, and the singers she styled herself after were coming through more than Potter herself.”Unfortunately, it wasn’t my voice. It was other people’s voices coming into my subconscious,” she said. “It was comforting music, and I wanted to be comforted. It was a mature music, and I was kind of a mature kid, hanging out with teachers and principals. I wanted to come across as mature.”
In her first year at St. Lawrence University, Potter met drummer Matt Burr, then Scott Tournet, who was teaching guitar at the school. Burr convinced her that her music needed drums, an idea which seemed offbase at first, but eventually taught Potter something about herself.”I was suppressing the fact that I was a loud obnoxious person who had a lot to say,” she said. “Those songs that made you want to cry – that’s not what I was.”I was into that Sunday morning music, songs that make you want to go back to sleep. I didn’t think about whether it would be fun to play them live. I figured out it would be more fun to play music that you could kick around.””Nothing But the Water” helped put Potter & the Nocturnals on the map. But it is their live shows that landed them such recent dates like the Bonnaroo festival. In their Aspen debut, in March at the Belly Up, where they opened a two-night stand for the North Mississippi Allstars, the band was far more raucous than the album would suggest.On disc, Potter expects the band to show a similar degree of de-maturation. They recently made a three-song demo, and they’re contemplating when and where to record their next CD.
Also on the table is just what kind of music will be made. Potter said the latest batch of 30 songs is darker and more personal. And she is certain they will be given a different treatment than the soul songs of “Nothing But the Water.””Our sound is a lot louder and fuller now,” she said. “So we want to get serious about conveying that pulsating, visceral feeling we get onstage.””Nothing But the Water” was recorded in a “funky, old, historical” barn near Waitsfield. The follow-up will be made elsewhere.”It definitely won’t be in Vermont, that’s for sure,” Potter said. “We’re ready for a different setting.”Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, with Steel Train opening, play the Belly Up, 450 S. Galena St., at 10 p.m. Tickets are $15.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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