During the two years that went into making her current album, Midnight, Grace Potter realized a game-changing truth about herself.
“I figured out that I’m here for a reason,” she says. “I think people show up for a certain time or space for a reason. And it’s definitely not to make other people happy and just for me to stay in my place and do my bit. I don’t ever want to run what I call… I call it a ‘carnival,’ essentially.
“There are a lot of bands that do this, where the show is the same every night and they’re essentially the dude that pulls the lever on the roller coaster,” Potter explains. “The roller coaster always feels the same. And it’s always fun and people always get their yeah yeahs out and they always go home going, ‘That was great. Totally worth the money.’ I don’t want it to be about that.”
Instead, Potter was looking for something more substantial, something more rewarding — an album that might be risky, but also more genuine.
“This [album] could completely blow up in my face or it could be incredible,” Potter says.
Midnight should challenge fans that are accustomed to the tuneful, potent and decidedly American-sounding guitar rock Potter created with her longtime band, the Nocturnals, over the course of five studio albums.
Some will consider Midnight Potter’s sell-out album and her bid for pop stardom. And songs like “Delirious” (a song Potter said she wrote to prove to her label she could write a Top 40 hit), “Alive Tonight,” “Hot To The Touch” and “What We’ve Become,” with their programmed dance-friendly beats, synthetic instrumentation and hook-heavy choruses, certainly fit with the sound of today’s Top 40. But a few other tunes seem less tailored to fit today’s pop trends and help diversify the album. “Empty Heart” is a sassy rocker with a little funk. The breakup song, “The Miner,” is a soulful pop ballad with a striking vocal melody. “Let You Go,” the standout closing track, is a stark piano-based ballad with a dramatic vocal melody.
Potter admitted that to a point, Midnight indeed seeks to reach a Top 40 audience. She said she realized if she was ever going to gain a presence in the pop mainstream, she’d better try to catch the bus now before the doors closed on that ride.
“I think if I was going to try to stand up and be counted, I better fucking do it soon. I’m getting fucking old,” she says good-naturedly before touching on the reality of her situation. “Just that 30 marker was a big one for me because I realized that I still had so much I wanted to do. So the answer is yes and no. I’d like to be relevant, but I don’t really care. If the songs I’m writing aren’t relevant [to mainstream pop], then I don’t really care. If I’m loving them and I’m having fun playing them and I’m out there able to play them on stage in front of an audience that’s still willing to come to the show, I’d rather do that than be on Top fucking 40 radio, because I’ve got my thing and I’ve worked really hard at my thing and it’s definitely not being a pop star.
“But having said that, I’d like to help peoples’ ears. I’d like to offer an alternative to what people have been listening to, something that’s going to give a bit more girth to what [Top 40] music can be.”
Despite her Top 40 ambitions, Potter says for awhile she fully intended to make Midnight with the Nocturnals. The band had gained considerable popularity with its two previous albums, a 2010 self-titled effort and the 2012 release, The Lion The Beast The Beat, and Potter didn’t want to sidetrack that momentum.
But she started the project by changing up her writing process, especially as she worked in the studio with producer Eric Valentine. As they found themselves recording most of the instruments themselves, it became clear that Midnight was going to be a solo album.
But Potter also emphasizes that Midnight does not mark the end of the road for the Nocturnals, and she fully intends to make more albums with her band.
In fact, the band for her Midnight tour includes two long-time members of the Nocturnals, drummer Matt Burr and guitarist Benny Yurco. And Potter promises that in addition to songs from the new album, her setlist will include plenty of songs from the albums made with the Nocturnals, including some selections fans won’t expect.
“There are some really cool songs that we haven’t played in a really long time, like some of the really early, 2005, 2006 stuff that literally never saw its way to the stage ever and was only ever on a record,” she says. “We’re bringing some of that up and kicking up the dust. It’s really been a fun experience on a musical level just getting back into some of those older songs.”
On the Bill: Grace Potter with Eliza Hardy Jones. 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., Boulder,