Cincinnati has been good to Grace Potter. She has performed here many times, usually as an opening act.
Potter and her band, The Nocturnals, came out of the jam band scene of Vermont about a decade ago and quickly established themselves as a viable new group. One of their first visits to Cincinnati featured them opening for the Derek Trucks Band at Bogart’s in 2006; the following year she played the 20th Century Theatre opening for Tea Leaf Green (she’d return in 2008 for her first club headlining gig in town).
In 2010, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals pushed their way into the mainstream with the eponymous third album for Hollywood Records and the hit single, “Paris (Ooh La La).”
With their latest album, The Lion The Beast The Beat, Potter and her team seem to have their sights set on taking things to an even higher level. She’s kicking off 2013 with a large headlining tour that comes to the Taft Theatre Friday night.
After the success of the 2010 full-length and the 2012 release of The Lion The Beast The Beat, Potter found herself appearing regularly on shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman, as well as securing an opening slot on the Kenny Chesney/Tim McGraw mega-stadium tour last summer that drew nearly a million fans across the country. The tour hit Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium in July.
As is to be expected, some of Potter’s jam band fans saw the higher-profile appearances and The Lion The Beast The Beat as a bid to be more commercial. God forbid a jam band should tighten up its game.
“I think I‘ve grown up and we’ve become the musicians that we wanted to be and we’ve become the people that we want to be,” Potter says. “We’ve taken a really long time to come to terms with the fact that a) we’ve got a career out of this thing, and b) what kind of career is it going to be and what kind of band are we? That’s a heavy road to trot down.
“But, we’ve been on that mission for the last year and I’m really proud of everybody. ‘Commercial’ isn’t a bad thing. I mean, The Who were commercial, The Rolling Stones were commercial, The Beatles were commercial. Is that bad? I don’t know.”
If anything, The Lion The Beast The Beat was intended to be less commercial, Potter says. In the middle of recording, Potter boldly called the sessions to a halt because she didn’t feel right about the music.
“Coming into it, I actually didn’t want to make a commercial record,” Potter says. “I wanted to make a concept record with a similar theme kind of crawling around in the album from song to song. What came from that was a lot of soul searching and a lot of songs that I think a lot of people can relate to. In that way, I can see how it might be perceived as more of a commercial record. But, at the heart of it, I was instinctually running in the opposite direction more than before. I was taking more risks.
“I wasn’t happy with the record because it started out very commercial. When I started writing this record, I was like, ‘Is this a hit record? Am I writing 13 singles? Or, am I writing an album that fills my heart with joy?’ I wanted to make a record that we were all happy with and the guys were happy with it. They were digging the songs and there was a lot of ‘poppy’ music on there. But for some reason my instinct was to run in the opposite direction.”
So, to clear her head, she went on a road trip to California and then to Vermont.
“I spent a good week and a half up in Northern California sitting alone in the woods and on the beach and in random fields,” Potter says. “I climbed trees. And there was this one place that had this outdoor hot tub and I would go and sit there from midnight to sunrise, soaking in this beautiful hot tub listening to music and dreaming and scheming. I had never done that before. I had never been by myself for that long.
“Actually, I wouldn’t recommend it,” she adds, laughing. “I had a couple of unsavory exchanges with some dudes at gas stations where they thought I was public property and I had to gently remind them that I was just a wandering traveler that happened to be a female. But, those memorable experiences all added to what turned into the completion of The Lion The Beast The Beat.”
What is cool about Grace Potter and The Nocturnals is that even though they may record a song that you might hear on the radio, they back it up in concert with a balls-out live show.
“We like to make people dance and we like to hypnotize people,” Potter says. “We came from the jam band scene. It is a part of what we are about and I hold onto that very tightly. So often, music falls short live because people don’t stretch out and don’t allow the song to expand beyond the recorded version.
“A lot of these great Pop acts that are No. 1 on the radio right now, you go to see their show and it’s a 35-minute show. They play their hit songs and then they don’t know what else to do except for banter. So, we really pride ourselves in enjoying those moments when we can stretch out and share with the crowd.”
GRACE POTTER & THE NOCTURNALSperform Friday at Taft Theatre with Langhorne Slim.