Grace Potter “I’m Living My Best Life”

Grace Potter has no complaints about her life today, but she could easily have offered a different assessment not long ago.

“I’m living my best life, as they say,” Potter remarked in a recent phone interview. “It’s just pretty magical.”

The journey that has taken Potter to this place, though, was anything but easy. She saw her long-time band, the Nocturnals, decay and dissolve, gone through a divorce from her first husband and Nocturnals drummer, Matt Burr, took a major left turn with her music, became estranged from music altogether and eventually found new love, a new marriage and had a baby son – all before re-emerging with her stirring and uncommonly honest current solo album called “Daylight.”

Potter was eager to spend much of 2020 on tour, performing in front of fans who waited five years for new music. She did some shows early in the year, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, putting her touring plans on hold.

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But she’s getting the chance to perform again, doing a string of socially distanced shows this spring, including a show May 3 at Avondale Brewing Company in Birmingham.

Potter figures to have plenty to share in her concert, especially in the songs from “Daylight,” which chronicle some of the life-changing events and emotions that Potter experienced in the several years that preceded and coincided with the album.

The saga began before Potter released her 2015 album, “Midnight,” her first solo effort. Going into that project, Potter had decided it was time to show a side of her that always existed — a playful, feminine and more modern-pop sound that contrasted considerably with the soulful, rootsy and rocking music that Potter had made with the Nocturnals

“When I go into any bar anywhere in the world, I first and foremost put on, I like Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody.’ It’s like my favorite song, can’t help it, don’t know what to say,” Potter explained. “It’s just a part of me needs that energy, and it had been a really long time in the band, the Nocturnals, where I wasn’t really feeling comfortable bringing that element in.”

She planned to do the “Midnight” album with the Nocturnals, but that didn’t happen. While Burr remained supportive of the “Midnight” project (and played in Potter’s “Midnight” touring band), guitarist and songwriting contributor Scott Tournet, objected and left the Nocturnals.

Potter said she could have called “Midnight” a Grace Potter and the Nocturnals album, but decided it truly was her solo album. And as the recording and touring got under way, she began to realize there were issues in her marriage to Burr.

“Then I had this ability to see clearly how much of our relationship was about music and touring and how much of it was about being in love,” Potter said. “I think whenever you live on the road with somebody and your life and career are tied up, those complicated layers start to reveal themselves, and that’s what happened.”

Potter made “Midnight” with producer Eric Valentine. They got along famously, but it wasn’t until after touring “Midnight” that she started to realize she wasn’t just attracted to Valentine for his producing skills.

“I didn’t know what it was,” she said. “And when the record was over, I was kind of left by myself to think about everything that had just occurred, from feeling a little bit abandoned by the people I’d been hanging out with for the last decade to feeling empowered by my choice to take my own music and do something with it and claim it as my own.

And then on top of that, just this feeling of I don’t like how I feel. I don’t like feeling uneasy, to feel like I’ve gone onto some shaky ground here and I don’t know why. I don’t know what it is. I can’t quite put my finger on it. And that’s when I started exploring the thought that maybe there was something going on with Eric.”

It took a couple of months, but Potter concluded she was in love and had to reveal her feelings to Valentine. He was completely blindsided by this revelation.

“He didn’t know what to do with me when I told him that,” Potter said with a hearty laugh. “I don’t think he had any inclination whatsoever about a romance. It was me sort of (putting it out there) very clearly for him that made him think about it and reassess (his life). He needed time when I told him how I felt. He took an evening to think about it before he was able to reciprocate and kind of acknowledge what he was feeling.”

The couple has been together ever since, and in January 2018, they had a baby boy, Sagan Potter Valentine.

If Potter was getting her personal life in order, her musical future was still up in the air. After going through a period where she had no interest in making music, she began writing in late 2017. At first, Potter thought the songs were too personal to see the light of day.

But gradually, she took ownership of her experiences and complex emotions, and gave herself permission to share what she had been though in her songs, and “Daylight” began to take shape.

Musically, Potter wanted “Daylight” to be different musically than “Midnight,” and that meant a shift back to a leaner, more organic, guitar-oriented sound that reasserts her soul, blues and rock roots. She has ballads like the slow burning “Love Is Love,” the stark piano-based “Release,” and the country-ish “Repossession,” rowdy rockers like “On My Way” and the sensual “Desire” and tunes that fall between those extremes such as “Back To Me” (which boasts prominent vintage-style backing vocals provided by Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius) and the earthy, acoustic-centric “Every Heartbeat.”

The organic, live-in-the studio sound Potter wanted proved to be a challenge for Valentine as a producer, who knew the new songs shouldn’t be overproduced.

“He’s not comfortable in that place,” Potter said “He’s an amazing record producer. He’s known for that Eric Valentine sound, which has an unbelievable payoff. The choruses, they just go boom. Everything sounds like a wild, successful hit song. That’s what he does. And he knows how to do that. So it was very big journey for him to really step away, and in a way I think it engaged him even more because (his) ear became attuned to emotion and the content of the lyric and the song and what would serve it best and what could be completely thrown out as just extra.”

The approach to “Daylight” worked, as the album was nominated for Grammy Awards for Best Rock Album and Best Rock Performance for the song “Daylight.” She lost out to the Strokes for Best Rock Album and to Fiona Apple in the latter category.

Potter, who plays keyboards and guitar, is looking forward to seeing more of what her new touring band (which includes former Nocturnals member Benny Yurko (guitar), Kurtis Keber (bass), Eliza Hardy Jones (keyboards, backing vocals) and Jordan West (drums, backing vocals) brings not only to the new songs, but songs from the Nocturnals’ four albums and other releases.

That may not happen in earnest until normal touring resumes, and Potter plans to vary the songs from show to show, and is confident her band can roll with such spontaneity.

“I usually change up the set and I change set lists,” Potter said. “It’s one of the benefits of having a talkback microphone on stage where I can tell the band ‘OK, nevermind, ignore the set list. This audience just wants to dance. So we’re just dancing for the next five songs, or whatever it is. That’s what I love about this band is that this is some of the most fluid, effortless musicians I’ve ever worked with.”

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