By Victor Gonzalez
It’s 5 a.m., and an impromptu, collective chant to the tune of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” fills the streets of Baltimore.
The city’s beloved Ravens were crowned Super Bowl XLVII champions roughly eight hours ago, but the team’s diehard fans are still celebrating the victory with the squad’s unofficial fourth-quarter battle cry. And unsurprisingly, roots rocker Grace Potter is at the center of the action.
“It’s crazy here,” she says. “People are insane.”
Two days after playing a sold-out gig in Baltimore on the eve of the big game, Potter and her Vermont-based band, the Nocturnals, are gearing up for an encore show in Maryland’s capital, harnessing that Ray Lewis-like electricity radiating throughout Charm City.
“I know that everyone is going to lose their shit,” Potter quips during a phone conversation with Crossfade. “We’re going to have to play ‘Seven Nation Army’ again,” she laughs.
But a Ravens win and a Jack White cover can only supplement, not fuel, Potter’s critically acclaimed live show. Since independently releasing their first studio record, Nothing but the Water, in 2005, she and the Nocturnals have earned a reputation as one of the most dynamic live acts in contemporary music.
As both principal songwriter and fiercely energetic frontwoman, Potter can effortlessly command audiences anywhere — from grimy dive bars to massive outdoor festivals — ecstatically bouncing barefoot across the stage with her signature Gibson Flying V guitar slung across her back.
Last summer, Potter and crew toured the country, opening 60,000-seat stadiums for Kenny Chesney, converting country music fans, and breaking negative stereotypes about female musicians along the way.
“That’s the one thing that has always irked me about the industry,” Potter says. “People have their female genre. They’re like, ‘Oh, I’ve got my rock albums, I’ve got my R&B albums, I’ve got my rap albums, and then I’ve got my girl albums.’ It’s like we’re in this weird separate category, which doesn’t make sense to me at all.”
As a musician with ladyparts, Potter doesn’t feel any less rock ‘n’ roll. And she definitely shouldn’t. Just one listen to the group’s latest record, 2012’s The Lion the Beast the Beat, is proof.
Produced and engineered by Grammy winner Jim Scott (Red Hot Chili Peppers’Californication) and featuring several tracks coproduced and co-written by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, The Lion the Beat the Beat is a wide-ranging 45-minute showcase of topnotch musicianship and remarkably powerful lead vocals.
However, it could’ve easily become an uncomfortably commercial pop record had Potter not removed herself from the recording process when she began to feel disconnected from the music.
“I knew that at the heart of what we were doing — regardless of what kind of record sales we were looking for — there was a dangerous line being walked, where we were bordering on major, pop, over-the-top success, with some of the songs that I had written and some of the songs that we were pumping out,” she says. “I didn’t want that.”
To clear her mind, Potter embarked on a personal adventure, camping alone in California and Arizona before flying home to Vermont to hit the hiking trails.
“That was a big step for me, because I don’t like stopping,” she says. “Stopping is the opposite of what I do all the time.”
Potter found further solace in the Caribbean and spent an isolated week writing new music there, eventually returning to California to finish the record.
“It’s not to say that I [was] afraid of success,” she says, “but there’s a point where you don’t want to over-saturate your ability to have freedom and not have to walk around with security guards everywhere. I don’t want that level of stardom.
“If we do succeed and get accolades and find ourselves in the mix of some grand, overwhelming success, I want it to be for the songs that we love and for the songs that we’re going to want to play night after night.”
Think Tom Petty.
“That’s the kind of success I’m looking for,” she says. “He is still able to enjoy quite a lot of privacy and is still considered a great songwriter and person of influence. He is my God!”
To some, Potter is a god in her own right. And the 29-year-old singer understands her job as an empowering role model.
“It’s a heavy weight to bear to be called somebody’s idol or to have people say, ‘I look up to you so much.’ Or, ‘You’re an inspiration to me,’ ” she admits. “More than anything, it’s just flattering and inspiring to me. It makes me want to be a better person.”
She also strives to be a better performer, day in and day out. So when Grace Potter and the Nocturnals swing through the Fillmore Miami Beach this Saturday, the feisty frontwoman promises to give it her all.
“Miami is one of those places I dream about moving to,” she says. “I feel like you already have the party going. I just want to be the band that wanders into the middle of it and makes the party better. There’s not much we could do to make you guys happier than you already seem to be, but we’re going to do our darnedest.”