Grace Potter: The Lion That Roared

In this week's print edition of the Houston Press, Rocks Off talked to singer Grace Potter about her spot opening this summer's "Brothers of the Sun" tour co-starring country superstars Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, and the hit duet with Chesney that got her there, "You and Tequila." But there's so much more we talked about.

Potter and her band the Nocturnals' fourth and latest album, The Lion The Beast The Beat (Hollywood), is as good a place to start as any. It's not exactly what would have happened if Blondie and the Black Keys had a baby, but it's something like that.

Potter and the Nocturnals co-wrote three songs with the Keys' Dan Auerbach, and some of the more disco-fied numbers ("Never Go Back," one of Auerbach's; "Keepsake") set her up as a latter-day dance-rock diva a la Debbie Harry, except with the same power-soul vocals as previous efforts like 2010's Grace Potter & the Nocturnals. After our interrogation about the tour and "You and Tequila," she was only too happy to talk about her own album.

Rocks Off: I enjoyed your own album. It is a bit different from what I would imagine the crowd at these shows is used to. How is your set going over on this tour?

Grace Potter: It's a combination of reactions from the crowd. Because there's so many people in the crowd, we've got people who absolutely love it, and we've got people who are absolutely horrified by us. And we've got everybody in between.

A lot of people just listen and chill out, and we don't get the crazy fist-pumping from everybody. There's a lot of people that are just listening, standing, observing, absorbing the whole experience.

And then later, they'll tweet at me, and later they'll download the record and send me these beautiful messages along saying, "Oh my God, I'm so glad I discovered you. You've got a new fan in me. You earned a new fan today." A lot of that's happened.

Visually and when you're onstage giving it all out there, it's hard to tell how people are receiving you. Honestly, the most important thing is to just not care. If I did let it get to me, I would be in the wrong business; let's put it that way.

RO: The entire record reminded me of almost like a Blondie album. Would that be incorrect?

GP: Oh, wow. Thank you! I had a lot of influences in making this record, and it was probably harder than any other project I've ever had because I did have more influences. As I'm growing up and getting older and the band is evolving and we're all kind of figuring out what kind of music we love making, it does change, and our influences expand to a pretty broad spectrum.

I'm glad that you picked up on that, because I reach pretty far out there when I'm writing. I'm listening to everything from Vivaldi to Iggy Pop, and just trying to find those melodic elements that really stir it up on the inside.

There's almost like an operatic process in writing an album like this, where each of the songs is somehow interconnected with the others thematically, melodically, sonically while also marching over some pretty broad terrain.

RO: You do have such a powerful voice. Have you ever had any formal vocal training?

GP: No... (chuckles), much to the chagrin of my parents and many people who see me sing. The only thing I have formally learned how to do is warm up my voice, and I've gone to professionals about vocal maintenance.

But it's doctors -- I don't want to have the same thing happen that happened to Adele or all these amazing singers who really destroyed their voice because they don't realize that they're doing harm to their voice.

I went and saw a doctor in Nashville that's one of the most popular places to go for ear, nose and throat, he sort of assessed my singing style and checked out my whole process of how I sing and what I do with my voice every day, and gave me some very good pointers about warming up and keeping my voice in good shape. Hopefully I'll be able to maintain.

Honestly, it's the daunting schedule that can kill the voice of a singer more than it is the moment when you're onstage. That's just a tiny piece of the puzzle. The rest of it is what usually causes vocal damage -- the talking over loud music, a kazillion meet-and-greets every day and all that. So we're trying to balance it so I don't ruin my voice.

RO: Have you had to adjust the way that you sing to sing in these giant enormodomes right now?

GP: No, in fact I'm singing quieter because of it. I've got in-ear monitors, which is a technical term for basically earbuds or headphones for the stage, so that I can run around and hear what I'm doing.

They've actually made me internalize my voice a little bit, protect my voice better from damage. So it's been great.

Grace Potter & the Nocturnals perform with Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Jake Owen on the "Brothers of the Sun" tour Saturday at Reliant Stadium, 1 Reliant Park. Show starts at 4:30 p.m.

p.s. Don't forget our $50 ticket deal!

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