By Poppy Tohill
It has been an exceptionally busy year filled with numerous monumental changes for Vermont based rock/pop chick Grace Potter. Amidst a tour of the US in support of her debut solo record ‘Midnight,'a cheerful Potter excitedly squealed "Hello!" as she picked up the phone joining me for a chat all the way from Huntington, New York.
Hey! How is the tour going so far, have you been happy with the reception the new material has been receiving from your crowds so far?
I was sort of hoping for the shock factor in the beginning... I think with any artist, if you've been at it for long enough, people just get used to you being one way and it's really nice to remind everyone that things can change and life is short so you should try as many crazy things as possible. But the tour has been an absolutely amazing experience! I was a little bit concerned about adding to the show and bringing more musicians in as I thought it could get messy and feel like it was a bit too chaotic, but actually it has really focused the concert and allowed the show to have a real flow and pace, almost playing out like a movie.
I was fortunate enough to catch you supporting John Mayer in Auckland early last year and to be completely honest we thought you were even better than John!
Oh my god that is such a sweet thing to hear! Everybody's feelings about music are different and everybody's musical opinions are very objective, but I have to say that for me that crowd in Auckland was unreasonably receptive. I was nobody from nowhere out of the blue. I had never played in New Zealand in my whole life and you all had no reason to like me or my band for anything. I was just absolutely shocked, amazed and blown away by the reception I got that night. I remember not knowing what to think when I heard the crowd cheer after that first song, I was like what's going on... You are crazy and I love it! (laughs).
I do have some family in New Zealand which I think made that show easier for me because I felt that connection right away, but I've always felt this kinship to New Zealand because I'm from Vermont which is another very hilly part of the world which is completely isolated from everything else. But I've always said that it feels like I've either lived in New Zealand in another life, or maybe even a future life that I haven't lived yet, as there's definitely a part of me that feels truly connected to the place. It's like some cosmic interference from another parallel dimension! (laughs).
Well we love you here too and we're very excited that you're heading our way in March to perform at the very first Auckland City Limits Music Festival!
Coming back to New Zealand is the biggest thing I've been talking about all year. It started with my trip to Australia because I knew if I could get there then I could get some cheap flights to New Zealand (which is where I really want to be!) I told my management company that I didn't care if I don't make a single penny going back to NZ because for me it's about connecting with those people and so when I heard about the festival I got very excited.
It's such a great way for the city to stake its claim, because you know Auckland City Limits is going to pull people from all over the world who have always wanted to visit. It's not just about the bands coming in, but the entire city revealing a lot of what makes Auckland so beautiful! So I think the thing I'm looking forward to the most is absorbing more of the city, because I've honestly fallen so crazy in love with New Zealand, I've actually even been looking at real estate over there (laughs), because it definitely feels like it could be my second home. I feel like you guys are my people... you get me!
Having performed numerous times at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, what is your favourite aspect of that festival?
Oh yeah, it's a wonderful festival! It's all about the city being the main character of the show and recognising that music flows through a city just as much as the food, wine and culture. There's so much about a place that tells you who the people are and whenever musicians who travel for a living like me find a city that feels like home in the way that Austin did when I first went there, it's very special.
It's not just because of the music, but the lifestyle and environmental awareness, which I think has a lot to do with the isolation Austin has from the rest of the state of Texas. Austin is like the weird little outsider, which I love, because I've always felt like an outsider myself in some ways, so I feel invited when I hear about a festival like Auckland City Limits, as I think your city will measure up really well and be the perfect second location for a City Limits fest!
You'll be bringing your latest debut solo record ‘Midnight' with you - Let's chat about the album! It's a lot more poppier than your previous work with the Nocturnals, what inspired this new musical direction?
Fans have their own answers for it but I can say very honestly and from my heart that I had no intention of changing or going pop. I didn't have a room full of people sitting at a conference table saying, "Okay now Grace Potter is going to go pop, this is going to be great for her career." In fact I think there was probably a lot of people that probably would have talked me out of it..
But I just love pop music and by saying that I'm not talking about every single thing on the radio. I love the idea of unifying as many people as possible through song and that is my definition of pop music. When I hear people saying, "oh my god you've gone so pop," I'm like, why is that a problem, why is that a bad thing? I think I just wanted to join that conversation and at least engage in the fact that I'm only going to be young once and I've always been considered a very old soul.
When I turned 30 I think I turned back into a 15 year old, diverting back to those days of listening to Ace of Base. I remember when *begins singing ‘The Sign* came out and just took over the whole of America. It was a big hit and they were some tiny band from Switzerland and I loved that because I thought it was so cool that a band could come from a place like that and just blow the world away.
But that doesn't take away my rock influence. This record has been really interesting because it has been more of an experiment than a career choice. I think of artists like David Bowie, Debbie Harry from Blondie, Michael Jackson and Madonna and the music they made that changed so many lives because they were just being freaks and stepping outside of the popular social views of that time.
So going solo wasn't something you had ever really actually considered then..?
It definitely happened by accident, but it was a very happy accident! It was very gradual and a lot of it was based on the writing. The music kept growing in this new direction which didn't sound like it should be on the radio now, but more so focused on that sound of something which should have been on the radio back in the late 70s or 80s. It definitely comes from that era where rock and roll was overtaken by disco, similar to when punk transformed into new wave, so I just tried to combine those in a way that felt honest, not as an impostor on my part because I didn't want to alienate people, I just wanted to be truly honest and real.
How did the writing and recording process for ‘Midnight' differ from that of your pervious records with The Nocturnals?
All of the writing for this record started from drum tracks (a method I learnt from people like Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys) which is not typical for me. Usually when I'm writing an album I start with the melody and I'll sit at the piano and cry into my coffee and come up with a very emotional and honest statement which I then build the music around.
Who were some of your musical influences when working on this record?
People like David Bowie, The Talking Heads, Debbie Harry and The Kinks... a lot of them come from that shift from rock and roll to disco then punk to new wave movement of the 80s. It really took over and shocked, scared and pissed people off, I loved that because that's powerful! It has been a slow and beautiful process recognising that you don't have to choose your own influences, they choose you.
Talking about emotion, all of your songs are deeply personal linked in with your own experiences of love and heartbreak. Was there any particular song on the record that was perhaps the easiest or hardest to write?
I would say ‘The Miner' was one that really came from a place of wanting to express not just the way that I was feeling love or the way my life was going but the way humans love or the things we take advantage of and that humanity as a species is a collective that is capable of such incredible feats of brilliance but also such incredible self destruction.
There was certainly a lot of tears in the process of writing this record but my main goal was that I still wanted the whole album to sound fun and then as you listen to the lyrics you also realise there is a lot of depth and emotions being expressed. I just seem to have found a way to position that message so it didn't feel too hyper emotional or destructive. It's not about poor me or I'm so sad, it's more like we're all in this together and we need to make the most of our time here and be good to each other.
Looking at your touring schedule, you've got a busy start to 2016. Following Auckland City Limits and Byron Bay Festival, what else does the rest of the year have in store for you musically?
I think there will definitely be more touring in the summer because that is always a big time for us and for all of music because there's a lot of great big festivals on in the US, so we'll spend some time here doing that before I can hopefully head overseas again. I love the international stuff and hope to make more of an international impact in the coming months, but I'm always writing and I've always got music flowing through me. I don't have any set plans to get back in the studio just yet, but there will probably be a bit of movie soundtrack stuff and potentially some kind of collaboration.
It has been a massive transformation year for me with huge changes. It's unbelievable how many things have changed in my life and I want to tell that story and write about it while it's still fresh, so there will probably be some of that while slowly and surely finding a way to become a resident of New Zealand! (laughs).
Grace Potter will be performing at the Auckland City Limits Music Festival on Saturday March 19th at Western Springs Stadium.
Auckland City Limits Music Festival 2016
Saturday March 19th: Western Springs Stadium, Auckland
Kendrick Lamar, The National, Action Bronson, The Naked & Famous, Sturgill Simpson, Cold War Kids, Grace Potter, Lord Huron, The Phoenix Foundation, St. Paul & the Broken Bones, Houndmouth, Che Fu & the Kratez, Tami Neilson, Shakey Graves, MAALA, Kinetic
Tickets via Ticketmaster