Grace Potter finds musical inspirations in church choirs and moshpits
Grace Potter will perform at the Park City Institute’s St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights concert series at 6 p.m. on Friday, July 13, at City Park. Tickets are $49 and $89. They can be purchased by visiting http://www.bigstarsbrightnightsconcerts.org.
Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Grace Potter, who will play the next St. Regis Big Stars, Bright Nights summer concert on Friday, July 13, at City Park, knows she drives music publicists crazy because she is fluent in different styles of music.
“It’s very dangerous for an artist to do that because it creates an unwieldy marketing campaign for record companies because there is nothing to pinpoint,” Potter said. “But I’m a very unwieldy artist.”
Whether if it was when Potter rocked out with her guitar and piano with her past band The Nocturnals, or garnered award nominations from the Grammys, the Academy of Country Music, CMT Music or the Country Music Association for her work with Kenny Chesney, the thing that is constant is her voice, she said.
“That means I also won’t sing a song unless I believe what I’m singing,” Potter explained. “Anything I do has to feel truthful to me.”
That includes writing and performing with other artists like she did with Wayne Coyne and the Flaming Lips on the song “My Mechanical Friend.” The tune appeared on “Frankenweenie Unleashed: Music Inspired by the Motion Picture,” which was released as a companion album to Tim Burton’s 2012 gothic stop-motion animated film “Frankenweenie.”
“When I go experimental and go a little country or pop I take care to make sure the songs come from my soul,” Potter said. “That also means my fans can find themselves on the edge of their seats wondering what kind of rabbit I will pull out of my hat next.”
The songwriter doesn’t shift musical genres to torture her fans, either, she said.
“I simply breathe music in all directions,” Potter said. “I don’t have one style that I’m glued to.”
Potter’s love for diverse music came from her parents’ record collection.
“From my childhood I was attracted (to) and imitated everyone from Led Zeppelin, The Band, Neil Young, Derek and the Dominos, Delaney and Bonnie,” she said. “That upbringing made it easy to move freely from one genre to another and create this broad spectrum that I live in.”
Potter also loved the images that adorned their albums.
“I remember seeing the art on King Crimson and Jethro Tull albums, and that was another way these records drew me in,” she said. “I also fell in love with the mysticism that surrounded putting a vinyl album on a turntable and sitting back to listen to side A before flipping the record over to side B. I was very honored my parents trusted me with their record collection.”
Potter also attributes her love of music to hearing her grandmother’s church choir and joining her friends in the mosh pit at a Coalesce concert.
“This all fed my artistry, so when I started playing music around the age of 8, it all came very naturally,” she said.
Potter first started playing music on the piano before she began playing the guitar.
“I did try to take lessons, but every teacher who tried to teach me would, without fail, drop me,” she said with a laugh. “They felt I was unteachable, so I learned a lot a lot by ear and by going to concerts, where I would watch the musicians.”
Potter also experimented with music at home.
“My parents wouldn’t let us watch TV unless we were doing something creative,” she said. “They would put on a movie, and I would sit at the piano and play to them like they were silent movies and make up my own scores.”
When Potter writes songs these days, she finds it normal to shift from one genre to another.
“I can start off with a hard rock drum beat and the song would end up being a heart-wrenching ballad,” she said.
Her style evolved more when she wrote with her former band, The Nocturnals.
“I would write with each musician in mind, and I would think about where the guitar solos, drum fills or bass lines would go,” Potter said. “I created a formula, which was at first exciting but became limiting after a while. That’s why I felt it was time for me to create some solo music so the songs could expand and contract when they needed to.”
Potter is also known for her acting. She appeared in the TV teen drama “One Tree Hill” and voiced the character of Carol in Disney’s animated TV short, “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice.” Both programs featured her songs.
Potter loves working in film and TV because she can take part in the stories the script tells.
“As a songwriter, when you start writing a song from scratch, it can be scary and take time to find the emotional sectors you want to cover,” Potter said. “I feel film and TV creates an incredible tennis court you can play on. You get a chance to collaborate with scriptwriters, costume makers and people like that. I find that easier to emotionally tap into when you have so much input around me. I am always looking for stories; a thread I can pull that can connect people.”
Potter uses that same cinematic philosophy as she puts together a concert setlist.
“I will craft the set like I would make a movie,” she said. “I will have an introductory scene where the audience will learn what the band will be doing and kind of music we’ll be playing, and then we’ll take an unexpected plot twist.”
That surprise could be a stripped-down intimate acoustic segment or a thrashing punk rock moment, Potter said.
“It’s never the same, but it’s not a gimmick,” she said. “It’s just something that I find exciting.”.
Potter will also think about what her fans would want to hear.
“I actually try to put myself in audience members’ shoes when deciding what songs to play,” she said.
Potter also keeps the different venues in mind as well.
“If I play an outdoor garden, which is different than an acoustically perfect indoor venue, I will take into consideration if people will be seated or standing,” she said. “I will also consider if we will be going on late at night or during the afternoon or early evening.”
Lately, Potter and her husband, producer Eric Valentine, have been working on some new songs for a new album.
“At the moment, I’m staring at a snake cable that is running through my living room,” she said. “My husband is setting up some drums, and I’m going to play piano while we track some music. We’re just in a creative process and this is the first time I’m writing music without having a record label.”
In addition to making new music, Potter continues to think of new venues to perform.
“I would love to go to outer space and play music in a place without an atmosphere,” she said. “I never plan on giving up music, but I want to take some time off to learn more about the world, to travel, and if that means leaving the atmosphere, great. If not, I’d still like to reach the top of a few more mountains.”
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