Grace Potter has a big voice and a personality to match. She's a Northeastern tomboy with a spirit as unfettered as her brassy vocals and simmering soul. Especially on her band's latest, 2012's The Lion, the Beast, the Beat, a collection of glossy pop and bloozy, idiosyncratic rock produced by the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) and Americana producer Jim Scott (Wilco, Whiskeytown). Make no mistakes, it's the Vermont-based Grace Potter and the Nocturnals' most vibrant and infectious album to date.
Potter and company approached The Lion, the Beast, the Beat with a creative intensity, crafting a diverse collection of tunes ranging from the expansive '60s garage-soul of "Turntable" to the vaguely Fleetwood Mac-ish "Parachute Heart" and the bouncy new-wave blues of the Auerbach-penned "Loneliest Soul."
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have always done their best work on stage, so it's no surprise they recorded much of the The Lion, the Beast, the Beat live on the floor, capturing the band's chemistry and energy. And even though Potter and company have been touring in support of the 2012 LP for 16 months, they have no intention of slowing down. For Potter, at least, the disc slid under the radar thanks to an opening gig for two modern country heavyweights.
"We were on tour with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, which really kind of overshadowed the release of the album because it was such a big piece of news that I was touring with them. It was kind of a what-the-fuck kind of thing," Potter says, with a laugh. "That's all anybody wanted to talk about."
Potter says it wasn't until months later that it felt as if the public had been introduced to The Lion, the Beast, the Beat. "[It] actually wasn't properly out for the world to experience and for us to play as a band until really September or October. It still feels very fresh and still feels new," she says. "It's done nothing but gain pace as it's gone on, and that's made it one of the most rewarding album cycles we've ever been on."
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals first began to take shape when the band's future drummer, Matt Burr, first heard Potter perform at a coffee shop on the Sarah Lawrence University campus almost a dozen years ago. Alongside Scott Tournet, the duo formed a band. They released their debut in September 2005 and were signed a few months later to Hollywood Records.
From the start, Potter and the gang found an early following among jam enthusiasts who appreciated their earthy sound and groove-laden folk-blues arrangements. However, after 2007's This is Somewhere, the band began to feel a little restricted by the style. When bassist/mandolin player Bryan Dondero departed in 2009, the act saw it as a chance to regroup.
"We were just a three-piece and had a few roads we could take, none of which seemed super appealing. It was like the world was our oyster, but the oyster had gone bad. We really wanted to take that opportunity to reshape the band, not just by replacing a member but recreating ourselves and keeping it fresh and exciting," she says.
After recording some preliminary tracks with famed producer T-Bone Burnett, Potter bailed on that project, brought back her band, and enlisted hip-hop producer Mark Batson (Seal, Jay-Z). He brought out more color and flavor in the band's sound, bringing forth a collection that was as bright and lively as Miami Beach. Samples abound and nearly every track possesses a sturdy, radio-ready R&B pop melody. For Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, the result of those sessions, 2010's self-titled release, was exactly what the band needed to do in order to survive.
"I think the direction we took was shocking, but for us it was absolutely necessary," Potter says. "It was — what do you call those — a defibrillation record because we were going really far off into space and taking a lot of risks, but it was absolutely necessary for us to stay sane and stay happy and really to stay a band."
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals was a sensation. It not only was the band's first release to hit the Billboard Top 200 album chart, it broke the Top 20 and landed at No. 3 on the Rock charts. That success was only amplified when Potter guested on Kenny Chesney's cover of "You and Tequila" off his 2010 album Hemingway's Whiskey.
Released in May 2011 as the album's fourth single, "You and Tequila" went platinum and received two Grammy nominations. Last year, the band joined Chesney and Tim McGraw's Brothers of the Sun tour.
"To this day I think about what would've