After Dark Times, Grace Potter Steps Into Daylight

The experience of listening to Grace Potter’s new album, Daylight, is similar to sneaking into her den, throwing every vinyl record and diary page into the air, then letting it all settle at your feet. Dig around and there’s the exhilaration of new love, but also the devastation of acknowledged that you’ve hurt people on the way. There’s righteous rock ‘n’ roll, shades of country, and cool R&B (especially with frequent appearances by the band Lucius), along with confessional folk and pop influences in the way she writes.

“Love Is Love” is particularly poignant because she composed it with her new husband, producer Eric Valentine, along his good friend Mike Busbee, who died suddenly just a month before the album was released. On a happier note, Potter and Valentine welcomed a baby boy, Sagan, in January 2018, and Potter relocated from her longtime home base in Vermont to the artistic community of Topanga Canyon, California.

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During a whirlwind visit to CMT, she discussed this remarkable moment of time in her eclectic career, the influence of Patsy Cline, and her complete indifference to being categorized.

CMT: Let’s start with “Love is Love.” The lyric that jumps out to me is “you can’t explain the things it does,” which is so true. What was on your mind when you were writing it?

GP: I was overwhelmed by the feelings I was going through, experiencing love in a way that I didn’t understand, but I also didn’t want to. I was completely in submission to the experience and it really did come over me like a tidal wave. I didn’t invite it. I wasn’t looking for it. That’s probably the part that was the most surprising about falling in love was that I was not looking for it.

And when it hit, it was highly inconvenient. Like the most destructive thing that could possibly happen. So instead of fighting against that — although I did a lot of fighting — I eventually fell into this sort of…. Eric and I both had this kind of trust fall moment where it was like, we’re doing this and it’s a very cathartic experience.

Pamela Neal

Did you think that song sets the tone for the music that follows?

Absolutely. And it was the first song I wrote with Eric after making Midnight. We took some time because I was touring and promoting Midnight, but as things were happening in our life, it was clear that I wanted to make more music with him. I really just missed him all the time. It was this weird thing that happened. So, our love had been expressed to one another a lot. It was like, if I’m going to [sing about] this, this needs to be the biggest statement with the most soaring chorus ever.

That helped out very much exponentially by the incredible Mike Busbee, who co-wrote it with us. Mike and Eric had known each other for years and Mike actually worked as a studio assistant for Eric up in the Bay area. So Mike knew and had seen every version of Eric, but then there was this new energy of a complete transformation in both of us.

So it’s cool to hear it from the perspective of friends who were witnessing us going through it, because not only did it set the tone for the record, but it set the tone for our lives. It set the tone for how we were going to choose to live and not just choose love, but choose the thing that is scarier. Because when you do enter and walk through those doors, it’s like you’re in a quantum wormhole magic carpet ride — and it still is. It’s been almost five years and it still feels brand new and completely incredible.

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In your new band, you have all the guys singing, too, right?

Yes, all the men and women in my band sing now. Full band vocals — and this is the first time I’ve ever done this. We’ve really focused on it. We do 45 minutes of vocal warm-ups for every show. We rehearse. It’s a very different type of music for me to be making and one that I’ve always wanted. I loved choir when I was in middle school and high school. So bringing in this well-rounded, beautiful, group vocal section was a really important part of hiring this band. Everybody needed to be willing to sing, and sing with their whole heart.

I read a review where your song “Repossession” was compared to Patsy Cline.

Yeah. Well you can’t help it. I mean, I think it was not an intentional direct pull from Patsy. At the time we’d been listening to an AM radio station that was playing down in Arizona that was really pulling out the most incredible music. Most of it was really obscure stuff that I’d never heard. From Loretta Lynn to Hank Williams and Patsy Cline, but then they’d throw in the occasional Townes van Zandt and it was like someone was just going through their whole vinyl collection, you know what I mean?

And I guess it sunk in that I needed this album to feel confessional in the way that Patsy and those songwriters who really pulled you in because of the demolition of their life. Like “Four Walls” and songs that just tear your heart out. I think that’s what really made me feel like I resonated with this music, on a level that makes me feel like someone has been listening. And that I’m not alone in this emotional journey.

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On this record, you’ve also got “On My Way,” which is rock ‘n’ roll. “Back to Me” has the R&B vibe, “Every Heartbeat” feels almost like a power ballad….

Totally power ballad. I call it “mom rock” because it really is. I mean, it’s a song about my life with Eric and Sagan and it was written at a time when I was finally able to enjoy — and not just weed through the trenches of awful destructive stuff and breakups and the heartbreak — and finally celebrate what it feels like to be on the other side of the rainbow right now.

And it really does feel like I have created something here. I stood up for what I believed in. I stood up for love and I stepped out of my comfort zone and it’s this incredible gift I get to wake up to every day. That song is a really important one because it marked the turning point where I wasn’t angry and bitter anymore. I was ready to forget.

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All along you’ve never been just the one thing, musically. From your perspective as an artist, why is that so satisfying to be able to tap into every kind of music?

I can’t help myself. Honestly, I cannot help myself. I’m so easily bored with things. Everything I hear, I get so inspired. I’ve been listening to Paco de Lucía and I’m like, “I’m going to become a Spanish guitar player. I’ve got to.” Which of course, I need a lot more discipline in order to actually learn how to play Spanish guitar the way that he does. But maybe I’ll fake it, you know?

But I think creatively as an artist, I want to go in every direction because that’s what creativity is. It’s a flickering flame that you have to catch and sometimes it pulls left or right, or toward green, toward red. You don’t really know until you’re in it, what your artistry can bring out in you that maybe you didn’t even know you had.

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And so I’m not going to stop experimenting. I’m not going to stop and get comfortable and cozy in one genre because I’ve already ruined my chances of doing that.

I mean, good luck anybody marketing me because I just don’t belong anywhere. You listen to one of those algorithms play, like Grace Potter Radio or Grace Potter & the Nocturnals Radio, it is out-of-control wrong. Weird stuff. It’s just like, why is, “Ooh ooh ooh, I want to be like you-ooh-ooh” [from The Bare Necessities] right next to this drenched-in-reverb psych rock song?!

And the reason is because I don’t care. I just don’t care what people want to belong somewhere. I think it’s a fearful thing to hang too closely to the aisle that you choose, or the lane that you’re in, or whatever. And so it’s not that I refuse to be categorized, it’s that I just don’t understand why we need to be.