Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Mike Gentry
For a while, there was a very real fear that Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were doomed to never have it work out for a Daytrotter session. The first time they were scheduled to rendezvous at our Rock Island studio was earlier in the year when they had played a gig here in Davenport the previous night. They were staying in town at a hotel, just chomping at the bit, when an overnight flu virus knocked our sound engineer out of commission. Sadly, the session was cancelled. The fall gave them another chance. A gig at the same venue in Davenport was set and a few days prior to the show, the session was set though the particulars were arranged spottily over an extended amount of time as there was pneumonia and a sinus infection getting battled by yours truly - the omnipresent narrator.
Getting out of bed was an afterthought and voting (the show and session took place two days after the election) or plotting a rain-checked recording sessions were thoughts that came even further after. So meeting Grace Potter is still something that hasn't happened for me, meaning that coming to any sort of conclusion or forming a working idiom/composite that could stand to infer certain connections between her music and her real being would and will be strictly superficial and the stuff of the imagination, but then what else is new? Here is a beautiful woman, wearing a short skirt, a red and black-checkered flannel that would be any timber worker's proud pile and who knowingly placed a replica NASA space cadet helmet (her own, brought in out of the tour bus) upon her head for the official photograph post-session.
Here was a woman who, reports told, was playfully talking and joking about blow jobs in between takes as if they were as frivolous a subject and small talk-ish-ly blasé as gossip about the weather. She was willing to forego a sound check that night to keep pounding away in the studio, a gym rat of sorts, choosing the permanent document over making a fleeting moment as perfect as it could be. She seems to make sure that these worries about perfection are not her own. She - by all definition - is what we would call the perfect girl, just like the Lisa that Gary and Wyatt made out of a bra and some computer formulas in "Weird Science." Her music oozes with a kind of friends with benefits connotation, even though it isn't necessarily at all about physical attraction, lustiness or bedding down with anyone. It has the makings - in as many different ways as you can think up - of a friendship that inevitably will turn into some sort of deeper infatuation that is normal and telegraphed. She is desire because of the desire she has for all things rock and roll - for the history of music, for the power of love, for the almighty ballad, for the hard-drinking debauchery, for the saltier language, for the blackouts, for the feeling that it infuses, where getting and becoming more alive isn't possible.
You're already there with rock and roll and Potter has found a way to transcend the goodness of Dolly Parton, Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones - amongst others - in a very unique way with her songs. An essay about Joplin upon her passing, that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine back in 1970 gives an interesting look at Joplin, who Potter must admire wholeheartedly. It details how certain obituaries defined the singer as the drug-addicted girl who used to let her breasts swing, didn't wear a bra and died tragically too young. It also showed her as the person mortified of being watched as anything but a performer, often ducking into stairwells to drink champagne with a close friend at big parties. She was quoted as saying, "I never seemed to be able to control my feelings, to keep them down…my mother would try to get me to be like everybody else…And I never would. When you feel that much, you have super horrible downs. I was always a victim to myself. Now though, I've made feeling work for me." The same goes for Potter, who summons hellfire and darkest nights into a purpose, one that is full-throated, full-force and entertaining. She's not a victim to herself, but the feelings work for her.