With her force-of-nature voice, Grace Potter has probably been drawing favorable comparisons to Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin since she could crawl. Before this year, she and her band the Nocturnals had released three albums of blues-rock and retro-soul, with 2010's Grace Potter & the Nocturnals and its sassy single "Ooh La La (Paris)" both becoming modest hits. Add the leggy blond's model-good looks, and Potter has seemed like a pop star in the making for a while.
That moment may be at hand on her fourth album, The Lion The Beast The Beat (Hollywood Records), released in June. From the opening moments of the title track, a widescreen alt-pop epic à la Florence + the Machine, Lion feels engineered to make Potter a star: There's high-profile collaborators (the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach co-wrote three songs), session pros (Beck's dad David Campbell arranged the strings) and an overall high-gloss sound to everything from pop-operatic ballad "Timekeeper" to growling rocker "Turntable."
But the reason Potter is spending her summer visiting most of the country's NFL stadiums with Tim McGraw & Kenny Chesney's "Brothers of the Sun" tour is altogether different: "You and Tequila," a sobering, bare-bones duet with Chesney. The ballad from Chesney's 2010 album Hemingway's Whiskey came in at No. 7 on Billboard's 2011 year-end Country Songs chart, was nominated for two Grammys and is even today "impacting" at radio.
As they say in the music biz, "Tequila" is a grower. So is Potter. She spoke with Chatter a couple of weeks ago on a rare sunny day in Portland, Oregon.
Chatter: Do you ever just wake up and say to yourself, "Wow, how did I get in the middle of this big, country, giant-stadium tour?"
Grace Potter: Yes. Every fucking weekend (laughs). I'm like, "How did this happen? What's going on?" It's very surreal, and I don't think I'll ever get used to it. It's funny; I'll get up there at sound check and we're out there in these massive stadiums that's going to hold 60, 70,000 people. It's humbling and exciting all at once.
C: What kind of country music do you like, if any?
GP: I am the biggest fan of...I guess they kind of call it outlaw country, although I don't [use] that phrase; I just hear it on the radio. I think of people like Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle, Gram Parsons, Waylon Jennings. Those were my heroes. Willie Nelson.
C: How did this Kenny Chesney duet happen?
GP: He just called me out of the blue. I guess he had heard my song from a mutual friend who'd given my CD to him, maybe a year or two before that, and he had his iPod on shuffle.
My song kicked in, and he had no idea who I was, no idea where I came from or what kind of music I played; it was just he heard that song "Apologies" that was on my second studio album [2007's This Is Somewhere], and he freaked out. He made a phone call that day and said, "That's the voice I want for this."
C: How did you feel when you found out it became this big hit?
GP: It was really gradual, honestly. Kenny talked about it maybe being a single when we first did it. I didn't know anything about his music, and I loved the song the second I heard it. I was like, "This is really special. This is not what I expected from him."
When he sent me the song, I thought it was a demo, but it's almost exactly as it sounds on the recording. I was thinking it was going to get all sparkled up and they were going to overdub a bunch of shit on the track and add and add and add and add. I thought, "It's a big country star, so why wouldn't it sound like a big, overproduced thing?"
But honestly, he kept it almost exactly the way it was when he sent me the demo. It's just beautiful: Simple, true, honest. And it meant a lot to me.
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C: Are you a tequila drinker yourself?
GP: Oh, sure. I mean, it's not advisable, especially before a concert or when I'm working all day, but every once in a while I enjoy a really nice silver tequila. It's less of a hangover the next day and gets me into less trouble, I feel, than the yellow stuff.
And to answer your not-asked question: Yes, I have eaten the worm before. It's disgusting.
See more of this interview with Potter Thursday on our Rocks Off music blog at blogs.houstonpress.com/rocks.