When Grace Potter burst onto the scene, it was impossible to make sense of her good fortune. Blessed with supermodel looks, legs for days, commanding the stage with soft purr to a husky growl. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals were festival darlings, opening for artists like Robert Cray and cranking out hits such as the sexy earworm ‘Paris (Ooh La La La).’ The band reached number one bolstered by the hit ‘Stars,’ and, indeed, it seemed they were aligned in her favor. Potter was a comet streaking across the night sky, until it all faded to black.
After weathering an overlapping series of personal and professional struggles including her divorce from former husband and bandmate Matt Burr, Potter retreated from the stage and almost left music altogether. Slowly, the shadows lifted and Grace Potter felt herself reaching toward those broken fragments of light that once shone on her so brightly.
Her latest solo album Daylight is a reflection of her journey, back to music on her own terms. She’s returning to her roots with a new set of rules. Grace Potter performs January 15th at the Florida Theatre (www.floridatheatre.com).
Potter spoke with EU Jacksonville about coming to terms with herself and her fresh perspective on her music. Today, Grace 2.0 is still delivering blistering blues riffs, but she’s also revealed a new softness and strength.
Today, in the cozy comfort of a quiet lakefront hotel, Potter is living her best life. She has a new album, new husband and a new baby. It’s a peace she never knew existed, until she stared down from the precipice of her former life and dared to jump.
“I’m sitting in Burlington, Vermont, and I’m looking out at the Lake Champlain. I decided to get a hotel room, so I would have a nice, quiet place to do this, and now I realize I made the right decision,” sighs Potter. “It’s just beautiful.”
In the wake of her private collapse, Potter struggled to write. She didn’t feel the fire that fueled her previous work, and she wasn’t certain she ever wanted to again. The hollowness made it easy to walk away. “I didn’t have to think about it at all. There’s a lyric that Paul Simon sings, ‘losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart,’ and I love it because I couldn’t put those words together. I couldn’t actually say the things that I was feeling. Art had just left me,” she recalls. “I didn’t have anything to offer anyone else, and I didn’t feel like I needed to. Actually, that’s not true. I felt like I was letting people down. But I needed to teach myself that I didn’t owe anybody else anything. I owed myself the opportunity and the respect that I had given to so many other people throughout my career.”
With the future of the Nocturnals in limbo, Potter slipped instinctively into a solo endeavor because she didn’t know what else to do but discovered it was impossible to invest a whole heart in a project that was shattered by all the turmoil. “I love making people happy, and I love that music sort of found its way into my life and my spirit in such an effortless way. But just because I have that musicality and that spirit and that ability to think doesn’t mean that it’s this charge that I have to carry with me like a heavy weight everywhere. And it was feeling like a heavy weight,” she says. “When the tour from the Midnight record was over, I was blown apart.”
Rather than return to the stage, Potter thought she could go back to painting houses where she could strip a project down to its essence and control the colors and textures surrounding her. Sometimes, you have to tear it down to build it back up. Coming back to writing wasn’t a conscious decision. It was a reflexive meditation used to exorcise the aggression and hurt. It wasn’t ready to be something concrete yet, but the process was cathartic, and, slowly, she began to let the light back in.
“I did try through painting, and I love fixing up houses. Through the process of divorcing, there’s a lot of property shifting that happens. My ex and I had a house in Hollywood, and we shared a house in Vermont, so there was a lot of moving and shuffling. Then after that, my now-husband Eric had his house to move out of, and his ex to sort of cope with, so there were four people’s lives that had been overturned, not just mine,” notes Potter. “I find myself always turning to my hands and hard labor when I don’t know what to do. So, I’ll do a lot of raking or landscaping or demolition which is like my favorite thing to do and also very meditative. You need to use your mind to apply to your hands and your craft and your artistry to it in certain ways, but you can do it without taking anything on that’s going to mean something. It doesn’t mean something. It’s just doing.”
She also reconnected with music through gardening, in both a lyrical and physical sense. The feeling of fresh, damp earth between her fingers and watching a seed blossom into green was food for a hungry soul. The words that she was putting down on paper took root and helped her let go of the past and embrace songwriting from a new, peaceful perspective.
“They are literal journal entries that I had been writing out without the intention of them being songs. These were feelings I was having; sometimes they would come through music, but most of it was just writing. It was not at all poetic. It was just I need to write this down, so I don’t hold it inside me anymore. As I went back through a lot of my voice memos on my phone, which is where I really kept a lot of those thoughts and ideas–It was sort of my Captain’s log of my life–I was so astonished to find the words and themes and ideas,” muses Potter.
Daylight is just a chronological roll back of the last four years. I still can’t believe I put it out to the world. It’s daunting, but, as daunting as it is to share such intensely personal things, it has invited so many people to tell me their stories and share with me experiences they had that they didn’t think they were safe to share. That some part of their life that they were ashamed of or felt shouldn’t have happened or better to just bury it and never talk about again because it causes pain, it’s just been the most weird outpouring, because I finally hit this place with people that they see I’m a human and not some super hero, rock star goddess, whatever. I go through the same things that everybody else goes through, but I’ve chosen to share it. It’s very empowering to feel that therapeutic energy go beyond just myself.”
In January, 2018, Grace Potter also embraced motherhood with the birth of her first child, son Sagan and discovered a newfound inspiration to create a life and legacy for them both. “Every single morning, I wake up, and I can’t believe this is my life. That was a very clear moment in the songs ‘Everyday Love’ and ‘Every Heartbeat.’ Both were not songs initially but a prayer and a celebration. It was because I was so happy and so done with talking about everything that had gone wrong. That is what motherhood feels like. Having Sagan and watching him become a human, you start to think about who you’re going to be to that person. Why not match that up with the thing that I do best? To not share my music and my voice with him would be very sad, just because I was angry or bitter or scared. It helped me break through and invite music back into my life,” she says.
“It’s uplifted me. You can only read so many self-help books. You have to just be yourself, and that’s really what happened to me. I had this break as I was writing these songs, and I just snapped. I said I can’t write another break-up song. I said I need to write a song about how happy I am because I am truly living the most amazing, beautiful life. The life that I have, and the life that I dared to jump off the edge and create for myself is so delicious.”