Playing alongside huge acts such as Kenny Chesney, Ben Harper, and Lynyrd Skynyrd at the inaugural Tortuga Music Festival is a notable band with a lesser-known name but no lesser amount of soul. Poised to amp up the crowd and blow the LandShark-beer-toting concertgoers off the sand with a high-energy, genre-crossing, no-holds-barred performance are Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.
The five-piece, alt-folk, bluesy jam band that hails from Vermont has been together for ten years. Led by the down-to-earth, barefoot-dancing multi-instrumentalist Grace Potter, they've been steadily gaining a Dave Matthews-like cult following; jumping up the U.S. charts with their latest album, The Lion the Beast the Beat; and recently returning stateside after a decidedly triumphant tour across Europe and Australia.
In anticipation of the Fort Lauderdale-based Tortuga, Potter took time away from enjoying a sunny tour stop in L.A. to give us some advice on relationships and let us in on some war stories from the road.
New Times: The Sydney Morning Herald recently wrote that Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were the "stand-out, knock-down, jaw-dropping" performance of the Bluesfest there, where you just played. That's amazing!
Grace Potter: Yeah, baby! That's Australia for you. You know, it's amazing. It just goes to show that you don't really know what you're capable of until you get out of your comfort zone a little bit. Touring Europe and Australia has never been top on our list because, you know, we have so much work to do in the States. But getting over there was a real affirmation that you just gotta put in a little leg work, and if you're doing something that people can get behind, it's totally worth it.
Was this also your first European tour?
Yeah. We've toured in parts of Europe before — we've done a very brief stint in Switzerland, and we also toured in the U.K., a tiny bit in Ireland. But this was our first full-throttle tour where we kinda let it all hang out. And it totally worked. You just gotta get in front of people, and that's how the fire gets started.
We've been touring in the U.S. for so long that I think it's easy to forget how new we are, how rare we are to other people. We kind of take it for granted because our crowd knows what we do. So going out there and being in front of people who've never seen us before, it's a really refreshing perspective for musicians.
Did it meet your expectations, or were you thinking it was going to be one thing and it ended up being something completely different?
Yeah, I mean, I wasn't ready for the reaction. We had a pretty dramatic reaction from people, just basically saying, "Where have I been and what have I been doing not knowing about you guys?" And that's, you know, I hate to even toot my own horn. [laughs] I don't like to brag. It was just really killer.
And also, one thing that surprised me was a big troupe of Americans that flew over for the whole tour and actually followed us. That was another unexpected twist that was just superfun and just cool to see those people on an intimate level and see them every night and go, "Hey! It's you again!"
Do you have any outrageous highlights or memorable moments from your time overseas on tour?
Oh yeah! [laughs] Some are not printable! One of the most exceptional nights and days was St. Patrick's Day in Dublin, Ireland. We just happened to be there. I mean, it was a full-on accident. But it was an epic night — a night to remember on every level. The whole band was together, and we went out pubbing and just basically let it all hang out because nobody knew who we were! We were just like every other crazy, freewheeling, drunk Irish person who was out on the streets that night. There's a video, actually, of me street-dancing with a stranger. I just broke into dance at one point, and you can see it online — I actually tweeted it. I was just completely possessed by the Irishness of it all. But it was a really great night.
You and your drummer, Matthew Burr, met at a Java Barn on the St. Lawrence campus while you were playing out?
He's also your boyfriend. Is that still true?
[laughs] I don't comment on my personal life. I'm sorry.
I was just going to ask if you have any advice or secrets on how you've done so well. You must have good chemistry playing together for so long.
No, of course. I think a big part of music is about being around people that believe in you and that you believe in, and having mutual respect. One of the greatest things about our band is just how much we all respect each other and enjoy each other's company. It takes a lot to stay together for as many years as we all have. Me and Matt and Scott got together over ten years ago, really, at college. And now we've added Benny — four years ago, Benny joined. And then Michael came about a year and a half ago.
And, you know, every single piece of the puzzle that builds the band and makes the band who we are comes from respecting each other and loving to be around each other. Because we really are a family, and it's like a marriage. And I'm not saying it is a marriage [laughs], but there is a sense of commitment that you really put toward not just one person, but the entire group. And that's really all I have to say about that.
The Tortuga festival is coming up. You've already worked and toured with some of the headliners, like Kenny Chesney and the Avett Brothers. Are you excited to all reunite down South?
Absolutely, I can't wait to see everybody. It's been too long. Well, with the Avetts, we've been in Europe, so we're totally sick of each other. [laughs] I'm just kidding. No, it'll be great to see Kenny and the Avetts.
Is there anyone you're dying to work with next, maybe in a different genre, maybe to branch out your sound somewhere new?
Yeah, you know, I'd love to get a remix. I always thought that would be cool, to hear kind of like a dance-floor version of what we do and to also get some other producers' perspectives on what we do. Because it's hard, for me anyway, to go into the club and hear some of the music that they play. Some of it's awesome, but a lot of times it's like, Ugh, I just want 'em to remix one of our songs! I think it would be fun to get some tunes that work for our modern disco era. [laughs]