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Grace Potter: Ready to rock Bangor with a kahBang!

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Some fans were introduced to Grace Potter and The Nocturnals via their reimagined take on Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" in Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland." Others may have come to the band through a festival appearance with Dave Matthews or at Lollapalooza. Local radio listeners can hear Grace Potter daily on Kiss 94.5 where the single "Paris (Ooh La La)" is currently in heavy rotation, or on 104.7 The Bear where her duet with Kenny Chesney, "You and Tequila," racks up frequent spins.

The band's self-titled third album is a musical Nor'easter of blues, rock, soul, funk and pop and has kept them on the road nonstop since it was issued more than a year ago. Grace Potter and The Nocturnals have played nearly 200 dates over the last 12 months and have seen their audience grow exponentially. The upcoming Grand Point North (GPN) festival in Burlington, Vt. finds the group headlining their own weekend of shows in their home state. As a warm-up to GPN, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals will headline the Friday, Aug. 12 lineup of the 2011 Kahbang Music Festival on the Bangor Waterfront.

I spoke with Grace last week shortly before she hit the stage for a sold out show in Apple Valley, Minn.

Dow: Grace Potter and The Nocturnals have been together for nine years, and over the last 18 months, you have achieved more than many artists do over their entire career. How has it changed you?

Potter: "Music is constantly changing. It changes people every single night. You know how you get a massage and you walk out and that knot in your shoulder is suddenly gone? We do that every night for your brain and for your soul in a different way. It's impossible for that not to affect us as well. We're in constant evolution. We're like an amoeba [laughs]."

Dow: When you heard Amy Winehouse had died last Saturday, what was your reaction?

Potter: "I cried in an airport bathroom for like 35 minutes. I was really upset. It's funny, I don't know why it hit me so hard, but it really affected me. I loved [Winehouses's "Back To Black"] from the second I heard it and actually saw her on the street when we played South by Southwest in 2006 or 2007. She was just walking by herself, no entourage, nothing. You couldn't miss her, but at the time, she was just a girl with a crazy hair-do. Subsequently, I fell in love with her music and her voice. The spectacle was unfortunate and it was really a bummer that people enjoyed her sickness as much as they did. She was the butt of a lot of jokes. Now, as we've come to find out, those weren't very funny jokes."

Dow: Sex, drugs and rock and roll. Is that a reality in the business or more of a myth?

Potter: "Well, I don't do drugs - just the occasional acid flashback [laughing]. I don't smoke or pop pills or anything like that. I don't think that's much of a reality anymore, but the sex and rock and roll is right on par, yeah."

Dow: Your duet with Kenny Chesney, "You and Tequila," has become a huge country hit and I know you've been appearing live with him at some of his shows. Has that introduced you to a new audience?

Potter: "Definitely. The Kenny crowd is awesome. They've been showing up at our concerts now and it's so cool. The crossover was so unexpected and completely unintentional that it feels like this great little happy accident that just keeps growing and growing. His fans are fantastic and also very good looking, I've noticed. He's got a lot of hotties in that crowd."

Dow: You'll have some established fans in the crowd at KahBang on Aug. 12, but for someone seeing your band for the first time, what do you want them to prepare for?

Potter: "Dynamics. We don't just do one thing in this band. We do a lot of things. We spread it across the set. I like to write a set like a movie. A lot of dark spots, a lot of psychedelic moments, and then those bright, shining moments where people can feel like they can dance and boogie and have a great time. I really love to elicit as many emotions from people as possible. To bring it back to the massage experience, imagine the coolest massage chair ever - you know how there's always different settings? I like to think we have all those settings in our set list."

Dow: Do you design a different set list for each show?

Potter: "Yeah. Totally different every time. There are those core songs that people just won't let us out without playing. We wind up playing certain songs that I know make people happy over and over again. We can't escape the fact they love it and they're kookoo for Cocoa Puffs. We'll always throw in an interesting cover song, also a beautiful acoustic moment or an a cappella moment. There's a lot of dynamics as I said."

Dow: Do you have shows where you'll look at the set list taped to the stage and you're not feeling it and just decide to do something else?

Potter: "Absolutely. Oh yeah. You've gotta read the crowd. If you thought you were coming into a theatre show and halfway through the show you're like 'Oh my God, these people came to party.' You can't stick to the set list, you've got to f*** it up. So I do."

Dow: How many marriage proposals have you received over the years?

Potter: "Does it sound smug to say I've stopped counting? It's not like they come from realistic suitors, so I'm not too worried about it. It's something people say because they want to be heard. There have been plenty of people who wanted to be heard, let's put it that way."

Dow: Is it tough to maintain a relationship when you're as busy as you are?

Potter: "Yeah, but I think that everything about what we do nurtures a relationship too. If you think about all of the great love songs, they're usually about 'one person is here, the other person is there.' We have this outlet to be able to write songs and perform music where we're talking about those things and are inspiring other people who know how it feels to be away from someone. Everyone in the band has those moments where they become homesick. But then they get home and they get antsy and want to get right back out on the tour bus. It's a good situation right now. We've got the best of every world."

Dow: You've been compared with many legends - Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt - if you must be compared to someone, who would you like that to be?

Potter: "Mick Jagger, please. That would be awesome."

Dow: What's your favorite Rolling Stones album?

Potter: "'Exile On Main Street,' but I also love 'Let It Bleed' and we still do 'No Expectations' from 'Beggars Banquet.' That era is untouchable."

Dow: I'd love to hear Grace Potter and the Nocturnals cover "Monkey Man" some night.

Potter: "That's a good one! We used to 'Ventilator Blues' and a bunch of the weird, obscure ones for a little while. Cover songs are tricky because we've made an art of covering songs, but we also don't want people to think we're a cover band. We fall in love with our versions of those songs and our fans come to expect them and then we're like, 'Wait a second! This is our fifth cover tonight. Are we at a wedding? We gotta tone it down!'" [laughing]

Dow: Do people you've known for years treat you differently because of your fame?

Potter: "Some people. They don't know how to behave, though. It's not so much that they're treating me different or that they even mean to, it's just that some people don't understand that I'm still ... me. I really am still me. I go back to Vermont and there's a real sense that I won't change. I'm almost stubbornly the same person especially when I'm in Vermont because it's such a grounding place. I'm raking leaves, I'm scrubbing the floors, shoveling, dumping compost like any other normal human being. I'm a whole person. I don't have a switch that I turn on when I'm on the road and suddenly become charming and bubbly and then turn into a brooding, diva mess when I'm home. I was raised to be a whole person at all times."

Dow: What were you like as a child?

Potter: "My uncle Morgan said I was a 'flatliner.' He said I didn't respond to anything from the exterior world. He said I was brewing like a coffee pot for many years - just kind of watching things happen around me. I didn't engage very often."

Dow: What brought you out of that, music?

Potter: "Absolutely. You've got it. Music and performing was my opportunity to find a voice. I have a very outgoing older sister who was the social butterfly and knew how to contain and control the whole situation so I was sort of a spectator at her party. As I came into my own as young adult and started writing songs, that was my opportunity to finally have a voice and hopefully get people to listen to it."

Dow: If I took a look at your CD collection or iPod, who would I find there?

Potter: "You'd be surprised. I listen to a lot of Mozart. Sometimes I can't overcook myself with rock and roll and pop music because it gets me bat-s*** crazy. I start to think about all of the things I want to write or something someone else did really well. My collection is extensive because it builds on top off my parent's incredible record collection. I love bizarre music. All the Rat Pack stuff and a lot of the classics - especially Billie Holiday. I have playlists that are based on my moods and some of them are throwbacks. Sometimes I just want to listen to James Brown or Ella Fitzgerald singing Christmas songs or Chuck Berry. If you look at my iTunes, I listen to Mozart more than anything. I put it on in the morning and at night. I feel like it's brain food. There are studies that say that people who listen to Mozart while cramming for an exam did up to 90 percent better than people who didn't listen to Mozart. I just bought the new Beyonce CD at Starbucks. I had to do it. I was curious. I haven't made it all the way through. Didn't love what I heard, it was just a moment. An impulse buy. The Black Keys can basically do no wrong, if you ask me. Have you heard of Dawes? An amazing band. They're really phenomenal. They're on tour with Alison Krauss and Union Station right now. They backed Robbie Robertson on a tour and they're going to back Jackson Browne this fall on a tour. They're just the best - I love them. They're good boys, too. I also love My Morning Jacket. They will obviously be at the Kahbang Festival. We loved, loved them deeply. After a few years of being fans we wound up getting to know them and now I joke with them that they're following us around because we've done so many festivals together." (laughing)

Dow: I just glanced at your tour schedule and almost became dizzy from looking at the dates and cities. How do you cope with playing 200 to 250 nights a year?

Potter: "I'm still young enough that it's not phasing me at all. I'm unflinchingly going into this thing. It's my name and my likeness. I have a responsibility more than anyone I'm dragging with me to keep it positive and be excited about it. Obviously I am or I wouldn't be doing it. I do have those moments where I think 'Wow.' I look back on some of the things I've done - just this summer - and it does get dizzying but I take it as it comes and try not to look at the schedule too far ahead."

Tickets for KahBang are available at www.KahBang.com.

Mike Dow is part of The Mike and Mike Show airing each morning on Kiss 94.5. Check him out at www.facebook.com/mikeandmike and www.mikedow.net.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 December 2011 15:37

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