When Grace Potter writes a song, steps up to her Hammond B3 and starts to sing, she drifts through a musical wormhole back to the days of Bonnie Raitt (when Little Feat had her back) and Janis Joplin, when she was contemplating Pearl. There's no way Potter should have evolved this far as a singer-songwriter and performer in a mere 26 years, and it's equally unlikely that any artist could produce an album as timeless and exquisitely powerful as 2007's This Is Somewhere. Her band, the Nocturnals, exhibit a dynamic range and emotional depth made even more impressive by their ability to sustain it over an entire album. Potter took time from her current tour for a brief phone interview.
This Is Somewhere certainly garnered you a lot of attention, all deserved. Was there a downside to the spotlight?
No. In fact, I relish it. I've relished it since I was two years old, and I will continue to do so until I whither and die. It's not that I deserve it more than anyone else; it's just that certain people are built to accept that in a comfortable way and hold those reins and not feel like they're out of control. I wasn't very popular in high school, so it really felt great to get some level of respect or attention.
You inspire a lot of comparisons, many obvious, such as Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, Sheryl Crow and Lucinda Williams. Were there any that were just baffling to you?
They all baffle me in some way or another, but at the same time I'm honored. Lately, I've been getting a lot of male comparisons, which I love. Robert Plant sang like a woman for years before anyone caught on that he was taking his cues from Janis. Jeff Buckley was one I heard recently, because I've been doing some bizarre operatic gymnastics when we do this Pink Floyd space-out thing. People talk to me about Jeff Buckley's record and how it was crazy that it was called Grace, and I sound like him. It's stuff that doesn't occur to you until someone hits you with it.
Does this mean the next record will be called Jeff?
I'm going to have to sleep with a Jeff first. Any takers?
I'll change my name. You guys really channel the '70s in your sound. Is there a line you don't cross when using that decade for inspiration?
Yes, actually, there is. I think there's a difference between being hokey and nostalgic, and conjuring the roots of something. I think that hokey nostalgia so people can come to your show and feel like they're back in 1969, that's not real and it's not forward motion. So I do believe it's important to respect that music and tip your hat to it without trying to recreate it.
You've written some fairly serious songs, but you've got a reputation for being something of a wiseass. Are you holding back on the wiseass songs?
No, they're coming. I'm like a stork, flying with all my wiseass comments. They'll be delivered soon.
In that vein, I'd read that you wanted to bring your labelmate Hilary Duff into a session to record a song called "Piss on Your Hand." When the hell is that song coming out?
We recorded it for the record; it is on some weird B-side in Japan. It's a great song, but I realized that Ween had a song called "Piss Up a Rope," and I didn't know that when I wrote the song. I can't release it because it appears to be derivative although it isn't at all. I wrote the song because we were all peeing in cups in a van. It's a foul story, but I'm going to tell you anyway. Sometimes when you're late for a show, there's no time to pull over and everybody's on a different pee clock so there's nothing to be done but pee in a cup. The punch line of the song is "a little piss on your hand is a small price to pay for relief." We still play it live once in awhile.
I think you still have a shot with this song.
Yeah, it's gonna be a hit. Me and Rihanna are gonna do it at the Grammys next year. Timbaland will produce it. It'll be great.