Interview: Grace Potter will Rock the Eccles

During the pandemic, Grace Potter and her husband (and producer) Eric Valentine set about getting their future mapped out after what had been a roller coaster of experiences over the preceding years. Potter is set to play the Eccles Theatre in Salt Lake on Feb. 24, 2024.

Potter had been through the breakup of her band, the Nocturnals, and divorced her husband, Nocturnals drummer Matt Burr. She went on to make her 2019 solo album “Daylight,” with Valentine producing, and after wrapping the project, realized she had fallen for her producer, a situation that soon progressed to the two becoming a couple, marrying and having a son. There was a career high point for Potter when “Daylight” was nominated for two Grammies, but also the shock of the pandemic halting touring early in the cycle for “Daylight” and turning the world on its ear, as well as the heartbreak of a miscarriage.

Along the way, Potter and Valentine decided it was time to settle into a new phase of life by moving from their home in the Topanga Canyon area of Los Angeles back to Potter’s native Vermont.

Valentine set in motion plans to build a compound in Vermont that would include a home for the family and a studio for music endeavors—a place that would provide comfort and familiarity for the couple.

“I think he (Valentine) was wisely looking at our lives and looking at the trajectory of where we were going and what kind of a life we could have and what we could build together that would be a stabilizing force,” Potter said.

But Potter wasn’t ready emotionally for life’s next stage. There was more processing and healing to do. 

“It was the first time I met this thing called wisdom, and it was very uncomfortable for me. I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it at all,” she said. “I was just like I’m not ready to be wise and s***! F*** that! I’ve got to get in the car and run away from that because I was being handed an opportunity to meet my higher self and I was super not there. I just wanted to run away. 

“Initially, there was a huge amount of time where I (thought) moving home felt like it was the best idea ever until I got there and realized I wasn’t ready for my homecoming experience,” Potter said. “I still had a bone to pick with the world.”

Soon Potter was on her way from Vermont back to Topanga to pick up the couple’s car and embark on what became three road trips she took all by herself. On these trips, she was able to ponder events and issues from her life, and along the way, she started writing the songs that would make up her spirited new album “Mother Road.”

“Ultimately it ended up being a real grounding experience for me to put myself out there on the road and be alone and not rely on this incredible Buddha husband of mine, who has all the answers and will be building me my dream barn (in Vermont),” Potter said. “All of these things he was doing were like ‘No, I’m not ready for that. I don’t deserve that. I’m not worthy of that. How do I become worthy?’”

As Potter hit the road, her trips became about much more than escaping physically; they became a journey back in time for Potter that connected her past to her present and eventually coalesced into a concept for “Mother Road” that extended back to before her time fronting the Nocturnals, to her college years as a film major and a childhood that showed an affinity for creating characters and telling stories.

“I decided I’m going to go back to the stories I wrote in college, before the band, before the Nocturnals. So instead of sort of emancipating myself from my band, my life and my history, this was about ‘What’s the future that I had, like the one I had before all of that, and who was I?” Potter explained. “And I started exploring her. And she’s not me now. I’ve changed so much. And I have so many different experiences, amazing f***ing experiences, by the way, but just really not what I expected would come of my life when I was 19 and going to college and chose my major as film. 

“So that first trip was all about revisiting some of those early screenplays and also even deeper when I dug down into these stories I would tell when I was six, seven, eight years old,” she said. “Yeah, I made up all of these characters and I’d make up these names and I’d take off my glasses or I’d put a hat on or I’d flip my hair the other way. I’d try to transform who I was into an imaginary friend named Stephanie, named Lola, named Penny. I had all of these characters in my head that had been there all along, but I just hadn’t acknowledged them. I kind of shut them up when the Nocturnals got out on the road. So it was really interesting to go back and revisit those stories. And I found in there a plethora of unfinished (stories), and so how does it end? What’s the ending? Tell me the best ending you’ve ever heard?”

Eventually, the concept for the album came into focus as ‘Why don’t you just make an original motion picture soundtrack and that will be your next record?’” she said.

As Potter describes it in a press release for “Mother Road,” the album developed into a series of character-driven story songs that in some way express facets of her personality, her past and her present.

“As ‘Mother Road’ unfolds, my central narrative begins to fragment into multiple paths,” she explains in the press release. “Each path becomes a character, and each character weaves in and out of my present-day consciousness at important milestones along the way. The album is my take on what it means to be alive and how to live life to the fullest.”

Interestingly enough, “Mother Road” did not become the introspective, reflective kind of musical trip that might be expected from someone wrestling with the idea of moving on from a previous chapter of life. Instead, it’s mostly a free-wheeling album that’s varied, often raucous, highly entertaining and also personal and authentic.

Musically, it spans the chunky roots rock of the song “Mother Road;” the funky, soulful and saucy “Futureland,” “Ready Set Go” and “Good Time” (the latter of which sounds a bit like T. Rex shot through a blender of classic Memphis soul); the cinematic, spaghetti western tinged folk-rock of “Lady Vagabond;” the pretty and tender acoustic folk of “Little Hitchhiker;” the tangy bluesy rock of “All My Ghosts;” and “Masterpiece,” which evokes an epic like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” without the operatic/cabaret elements.

Now Potter is starting her tour to promote “Mother Road” and has put together a band that Potter feels can bring the passion, power and joy of her music – both from “Mother Road” and her previous albums—to vivid life on stage. 

“What we’re endeavoring to do and what we’re doing is the most surprising, creative live music experience I’ve ever had,” Potter said. “I tapped into and utilized my instincts to bring a band together that felt like the perfect combination of that fearless youth, as well as the road-dog energy that I clearly have lived inside of and grown up inside of.”

  • Who: Grace Potter
  • Where: The Eccles Theater
  • When: 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024
  • Tickets and Info:

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Alan Sculley
Alan Sculley
Alan Sculley has operated his music feature service, Last Word Features, for more than 25 years. His music features and reviews have appeared in more than 100 daily newspapers, alternative weeklies and entertainment publications.

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