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Grace Potter & the Nocturnals ready for the next 10 years

For Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Wednesday, January 16, 2013

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By the standards of, oh, the Rolling Stones or the Beach Boys -- both of which celebrated 50th anniversaries in 2012 -- 10 years is not much of a landmark.

But Grace Potter & the Nocturnals think that reaching the first decade mark is indeed a big deal.

"It means I'm getting old!" Potter, 29, says with a laugh. "For a band that thought we were going to just play farmer's markets and nightclubs and be like a good-time party band, to get to the place we've gotten is exciting.

"It feels like a well-earned milestone in the career that we've put so much time and energy into. To still be doing it and be loving it more now than I think we did then, that's pretty rare. It's pretty exciting."

And these are certainly exciting days for Potter and company, who formed in Vermont and played their first show together during February of 2003 at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., where Potter was studying.

Since then she and the Nocturnals have released four studio albums -- including last year's "The Lion The Beast The Beat," an eclectic set that debuted at a career-high No. 17 on the Billboard 200. Potter, both with the band and on her own, has also contributed songs to the soundtracks of "Tangled" and "One Tree Hill," as well as to the film companion albums "Almost Alice" and "Frankenweenie Unleashed!" (the latter a collaboration with the Flaming Lips).

The Nocturnals' early success came within the jam band community; the group won the Jammy Award for Best New Groove in 2006, played the Bonnaroo Music Festival and toured with kindred spirits such as the Black Crowes and Gov't Mule. But its following has expanded in recent years thanks to Potter's duet with Kenny Chesney on his platinum 2011 hit "You and Tequila," which brought new fans from both the country and pop worlds into the Nocturnals' orbit.

"It's funny, 'cause I joke about this all the time, but this career is a delicate balance," Potter explains. "What we're doing as a band...We're not here to make hits. I don't think we ever will be. Maybe accidentally we'll stumble onto one, but wile idea of being a major, hit-making band sort of defeats the purpose of what we got into this for, which is to play two-, two-and-a-half hour shows and leave our brains out there at the end of the night.

"It's important not to forget that. We're one of the few bands that hasn't forgotten that. In an industry of growing singles and single songs, we're about full concepts and full ideas of doing an album. It's nice to be among the bands that still do that."

"The Lion..." is, in fact, the quintet's most daring and wide-reaching to date. Potter likes to call it "a psychedelic, dark rock album," and on top of the galloping title track and garagey rockers such as "Keepsake" and "Turntable" are three avant rock collaborations with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, which Potter says "was a good shock to the system."

"It was like having cold water poured on your head," she recalls. "He was super respectful. He didn't know much about where we came from musically, and we didn't come in with any preconceived notions about him. We started with a blank canvas and opened it up to page one and just started to work together.

"Collaboration is an exciting thing, for fans and musicians. It breaks you out of your own box a little bit. Working with Dan shook us up a little. It showed us that whatever you think you are, you can morph and change -- in a good way, and still be true to yourself."

Potter and company's challenge on its latest tour, meanwhile, is the shows' setlist. This time out she opened it up to online suggestions from fans, which she says has turned into a no-holds-barred exercise that's been both entertaining and enlightening.

"Some of the requests are really bizarre -- and I love that," Potter says. "It gives us so material, and it's exciting to dredge up these old songs the fans pull out of the woodwork. Every night when I'm making the set list, I'm like, 'Thank you! I wouldn't have thought of that one.'

"There's a lot of creative requests -- and, of course, someone always asks for 'Free Bird.' Then someone wanted us to cover the entire 'Jesus Christ Superstar' musical, in costume, and offered to pay for the whole thing and send us the sheet music and sew the costumes. That was a big one. But I'm not really a Broadway fan, so we didn't take her up on that."

Potter expects to stay on the road supporting "The Lion..." at least through the summer. She also has another soundtrack project on the horizon and may be producing another band, while a new album with the Nocturnals isn't in focus just yet. "We're thinking about songs and not so much about an album yet," she says. "It's more individual pieces, and I"ve got some ideas sort of stewing around.

"It's easy for me to write songs, but hard for me to write an album -- that's been my experience, at least. Usually when I least expect it, the songs creep up on me and I'm like, 'There's the album...' "

In the meantime she'll happily enjoy launching the Nocturnals' second decade with a Feb. 10 show back at St. Lawrence to tie everything together -- and maybe even get Potter the degree she never earned after leaving school to pursue music.

"It's been discussed and joked bout," she notes. "They laugh, and I'm like, 'No, seriously. I'm not kidding. Can I have (the degree)? At this point it's just another thing to hang on our walls. I've got a lot of stuff on my wall now, but this would be a good one so I'm hoping they give it to me."

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals perform Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25. Call 248-399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.

Web Site: www.royaloakmusictheatre.com

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