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Published: 2010/06/16
by Nancy Dunham

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals: No Repression

So what happened with T-Bone Burnett? I understood he was going to produce this album.

I did go with T-Bone actually. That was more of a solo record. That’s why it is on the backburner. The form [of the band] wasn’t totally formed then; Cat & and Benny hadn’t joined the band.

Meanwhile I had been writing with Mark all along during the T-Bone project. A lot of the songs that I wrote were actually written by me and Mark. So Mark and I were already co writing and there was that sense and feeling this is too easy. Why it so easy?

Why was that?

I had never really co-written with anybody before because I considered co-writing a daunting task — painful and probably not that great. I had always been my own songwriter and I loved being a songwriter and I loved creating my own world and I couldn’t imagine letting anyone else into that world.

Mark and I had this symbiotic thing that sort of felt easy and so obviously when the band earned the right to make another record, the T-Bone record was in the can. It’s fantastic, too and it makes me giggle. We had no thought of bulldozing that record to make another one.

It really was just on the merit of the band that the second record became possible. Obviously, too, on the merit of the songs and my voice, and the ability to capture the live experience and say “Hey, America,’ or ‘Hey, world,’ this is not a band that is going to be trifled with. So working with Mark was easy.

It was not a selection process. There was no one else we auditioned or thought about working with. My heart went right to Mark when I heard the label wanted the band to step up and make a record because I knew he was perfect.

And he has got soul. He’s a soul brother. He’s a gangster. It was easy and one of the most remarkable records of my life.

And Cat has made a lot of records and she said that this is her favorite record by far. She’s recorded hundreds of records so her saying that is a testament to what I already knew to be true, that Mark is that rare bird to say the least.

What was it that felt right in the studio, that Mark helped you develop?

I think passion and fearlessness, straight up. Every time we have ever been in the studio, the Nocturnals are very wary of anyone who is going manipulate. That’s why we didn’t sign with a record label for 2 ½ years. We had record labels knocking down the door but we just felt manipulated or like somebody was trying to cram us into a box.

And luckily Hollywood [Records] had faith in us, to let us be ourselves.

We were really fearful about being told how to play in the studio. What I love about Mark is that he never told us how to play. Not one time. He just kept saying ‘Yeah yeah, yeah just do what you do. Yeah, yeah, yeah that was really good. It’s really close. Just do it one more time.’ He never ever was difficult. He never made it feel like we were straining if there was strain in the studio or a moment of tension we would just call it a day. We’d start the next day.

Was there a mood or an attitude you felt he brought to your sound?

I think that certainly one big mood was the building of the beat. I know that’s really technical but playing to the click is a musician’s nightmare. I mean maybe Berklee [College of Music] grads can do handle it, but we felt locked in by the click…The great thing about his beats were they were loose and off the one he would build a beat and have it get slower and faster. He had an essence to him and he understood the soul of it and he gave us a backbone that we never had in the studio before by building as opposed to putting up a click track

The second thing is that a lot of what he was doing was dealing with the psychological journey of the studio musician. Doubting yourself is half the reason that a take doesn’t work. It’s not that you can’t get it, it’s that you doubted yourself and you’re worried or you’re straining or you anticipated that one really hard part in the song is going to go well. He just wiped the fear away with his faith in us.

I can’t give you any specific psychoanalysis of how he did it but he really let us be ourselves. He never made us stop and question what was going on.

The truth is we as a band would have been better in the studio if we’d been allowed that free rein in the past. although that’s hard to say because we were very, very green on our first record and there was a lot of fear and anxiety over whether it was going to work at all. It was really a mad scientist’s experiment the first time we were in the studio.

How do you answer people who say ‘This is a different direction for Grace Potter & The Nocturnals?’

A: God, I hope so! I am really tired of that picture of me with the plaid shirt on. God damn it, will you please stop posting that stupid thing? I have never been that girl.

That was in my era of listening to a lot of other people. I’m done with being the girl in the plaid cowboy shirt.

You know, people say ‘Oh I know the real Grace Potter. I was into her when she didn’t wear make up and she had her hair not dyed and she wore loose fitting jeans.’

God! That was me repressing myself because I didn’t think people would take me seriously if I wore the dresses I really wanted to wear. So I am now wearing the shirt I want to wear and the skirt I want to wear and finally embracing the true joy of the spotlight.

I hope this is a bookmark for us and I hope we’re moving onto a new chapter. I don’t want to forget who I once was, but I want to be allowed to be who I really am.

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