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Cover Story: Grace Potter [with added Photo Gallery from Riviera Theatre]

| February 8, 2020

In the DC Comics universe, Superman always had his Fortress of Solitude, a secluded palace on the frozen Arctic tundra where he could go to muse on his complex relationships with villains, the Justice League, and indeed his planetary protectorate, humankind itself. Not bad, as exotic getaways go. Vermont-bred folk-rocker Grace Potter, on the other hand, had her remote Cabin of Contemplation in Topanga Canyon, where she retreated nearly five years ago to consider some unexpectedly serious existential issues she was facing. And it only took one week there to change her life forever, all leading to Daylight, her remarkably confessional new solo outing that succinctly — and passionately — summarizes everything she’s been through in the interim.

“I had an amazing sense of place in Topanga, and I didn’t understand why,” says the singer, now 34, who assembled her backing band The Nocturnals at only 19. “But I went there because it was the only place I felt at home. Being out in L.A., it can be an all-consuming place. So I went there to recalibrate. And I had this revelation that being alone shouldn’t be so comfortable. Why was I really enjoying being alone, especially when being surrounded by other people had been such a huge part of my life until then?” She felt a sense of peace and a new self-reliance wash over her, she recalls. ”But it also meant that a very tumultuous time was coming my way. And I had to make some decisions.”

Listen carefully to the Eric Valentine-produced Daylight  — and telltale tracks like “Release,” “Back to Me,” “On My Way,” and the soulful tour de force “Shout it Out” — and you can put together the jigsaw pieces fairly quickly. And, after everything Potter has been through since 2015’s initial post-Nocturnals foray, the more danceable experiment Midnight (as she outlines below), she emerges almost Wonder Woman-victorious and relieved to see the sun again, with a new significant other (Valentine), a new baby boy named Sagan (she’s an astrophysics nerd), a new home (in Topanga, naturally), a new touring group, a new lone-wolf career (after nearly giving up music for good), and a new lease on life. She’s amazed she made it through.

IE: What conclusions did you come to on your Thoreau-ish trip?

GRACE POTTER: I realized that Midnight was a solo record, which it wasn’t supposed to be.

IE: But your marriage to your drummer, Matt (Burr, whom she married in 2013) was failing at the time, and you were gradually falling for your producer, Eric?

GP: Yeah, but I didn’t know that then. I mean, I missed Eric. We had finished making Midnight, and I missed him. But I hadn’t explained how I felt about him to him, and he certainly wouldn’t have said that about me, because he isn’t that kind of guy. He’s just a record producer who’s always getting ready to go into the next project, like, “Okay, here we go! Next thing!” But there was this weird emptiness, and this feeling that was disconcerting right after the record was done. I had a lot of feelings for Eric, but I didn’t know what they meant. So part of being alone out there was sorting through those feelings, as well. It’s that feeling you get after summer camp when you miss summer camp and all the friends you made, and you miss that intense, immersive experience. So, I needed to check-in and see that that wasn’t what was going on; that I wasn’t just fixating on something. Before diving in and telling Eric that I was falling in love with him, you know?

IE: Because that would flip a pretty big switch.

GP: Yeah. It flipped a LOT of switches. So, realizing that? It came slowly, it wasn’t just this instantaneous movie scene. But Topanga — and that week that I spent there — was all about finding out what wasn’t feeling right, and what was feeling right. And I came out of it knowing that I had to step away from my band; that my relationship with my ex-husband had changed fundamentally, and that just maybe there was something going on with Eric. But it was another couple of months after that when I finally explained how I felt to Eric.

IE: Then you eventually lost your sense of self, even the desire to make music?

GP: Yeah. The Midnight record and the Midnight tour was actually the most successful tour I ever had, which I thought was really interesting. And why I did it — and why it became a solo record (after four with The Nocturnals) felt more like something I didn’t have any control over than something I did. My band just didn’t want to do that; they weren’t as interested as they were before. So I thought, “Okay — maybe my actions and my creativity are speaking louder than my own words and music.” So I think that tour was really another revelation, that I can do this myself. Startup a new band, have an incredible time AND be successful. But by the end of it, I think I’d totally milked my creative juices, and I’d gone into that tour and that album with a very rocky personal life. I’d really lost my footing in so many ways that by the end of that tour, I was really, really ready to step back from music. Not even step back, but just remove myself from the entire conversation.

IE: What was your lowest point?

GP: We called it the downward spiral. And the downward spiral for me was not being able to communicate with my ex, to the point where we weren’t really on speaking terms, and yet we were still touring together. He stayed on board for a part of the Midnight tour, but there was a moment after we played Radio City Music Hall that I knew, and he knew — and everybody in the band and crew knew — that this was not a sustainable way to live. And I was acting out — there was one moment where I was spray painting my clothing a lot. I don’t do any drugs — there’s a ‘No pills, no powders’ rule on my bus, so for me, the downward spiral wasn’t chemical —— it was all about glitter. You can gauge where my anxiety [level] was on that tour based on how much glitter was on me and all over the bus. I turned to crafts and dying clothing and stitching crazy patches onto jackets. I was spending my nights going deep into these art projects when I should have been sleeping. I was being creative, but sort of in this zombie state, where I didn’t really know why I was doing it. But I remember when it turned into the upward spiral, which was after my drummer, Matt, left and our new drummer came in. Suddenly, it felt like I had support, that these guys were all there for me; like a family. It felt like summer camp all over again.

IE: Then you and Eric finally get together, and the universe swatted you again when you had a miscarriage. I am sorry you went through that.

GP: Thanks. But I think you actually have to go through a miscarriage to know that it’s normal, and I didn’t know that at the time. My body was sending me a very strong message that my life was still in an uncertain place. There was court stuff that wasn’t just to do with my divorce — it had to do with an individual who was getting dangerous, and I had to protect myself and go to court. So I think that was a big contributor to my stress level of trying to have a baby and make a new life for myself when things weren’t really resolved. I think my body knew that and sent me this message loud and clear — “Why don’t you wait until the restraining order is done? THEN you can move. forward.”

IE: Then you returned to your first love, painting houses?

GP: Exactly! That’s what I did!

IE:  It took a while, but you finally found the courage to turn your negative experiences into positive, journal-honest songs.

GP: And people can feel that connection there, not only in the intimacy of the lyrics, but the intimacy of my voice, and the way that we recorded it, organically and really “in the moment.” Studio albums tend to get over-polished sometimes. But at a certain point in the process, Eric told me, “This will all be live, so you need to be your real, genuine self .” So I sang everything as if I was sitting next to you in a room, and having a very candid conversation. So it’s inviting that candid conversation with the listener, as well.

IE: And folks looking for an explanation on where you’ve been can find it between the lines in every number on Daylight.

GP: That’s amazing that you say that. I just had that conversation with my mother this morning. She said, “Well, anybody that wasn’t sure what was going on, they know now, don’t they?” And I think that was my intention. I didn’t exactly want to explain myself — I just wanted to explain myself to myself. I just had to hear myself say it, to fully understand what had happened.

Potter appears February 7th at The Riviera Theatre, Chicago.

-Tom Lanham

Grace Potter is back! After a tumultuous few years (see our January 2020 cover story for all the specifics), she’s hitting the road in support of her solo debut Daylight. The tour brought her to the Riviera Theatre in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood this past weekend and, as the gallery suggests, her playing and mood were as ebullient as ever. Gallery by Curt Baran




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Category: Cover Story, Featured, Features, Monthly

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