Potter impresses at Pro Bowl
BY ERIN SMITH / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Ooh la la, indeed.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, a blues-rock-pop band from Vermont, burst on the scene in 2010 with the international hit “Paris (Ooh La La).” With appearances on late-night television and the VH1 “Diva’s Live” show, the band became instantly formidable.
Potter, a charismatic, leggy blond backed by a stellar group of blues-rockers, stood out, particularly because there are few rock bands with female singers at the forefront of music.
Like most “overnight sensations,” Grace Potter and the Nocturnals actually built up to mainstream success with half a decade of intense road work and two albums before the 2010 self-titled breakthrough release.
Last week Potter sang the national anthem at the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s annual all-star scrimmage held at Aloha Stadium. Her performance was riveting and nuanced, unique and, if I may, kick-ass.
I checked in with Potter via phone to talk about her Pro Bowl appearance, Hawaiian influences on her music, playing with Willie Nelson and her thoughts on women in the music industry.
ERIN SMITH: I think it’s impressive that your first performance in our beautiful state was a solo version of the national anthem, performed on a Flying V guitar. People can be particular about how the anthem is performed. What was your thought process when deciding how to perform the anthem?
GRACE POTTER: It’s my first time in Hawaii, ever. I don’t know if you know this, but Grace Potter and the Nocturnals had played 49 of 50 states, and the band can’t take credit, but I can, for playing the 50th state. We’ve even played Alaska!
I had a notion that what with Hawaii having its own traditions and being such a beautiful place, I should do it a cappella. I know I can fill up a stadium with my voice a cappella; I did it every show on my tour with Kenny Chesney.
Then I thought back to all these great Hawaiian artists from the ’60s and ’70s that I listen to, and what was stirring to me was the sound of the slide guitar. I know how to play slide guitar, and I thought it would be cool to use the bendy, emotional sound of the slide guitar that is a tradition in Hawaii and then put my own spin on it. It worked out well, I think.
ES: Can we talk about the guitar? I understand it was a Gibson Grace Potter Signature Flying V.
GP: The Flying V has become my favorite guitar to play. I don’t play flourishing scales; I’m more of a rhythm guitarist. … I wanted to associate the Flying V more with the great, classic blues guitarists of the ’70s. That’s why I chose the natural wood, the cream and the piping. All of those little visuals came from my brain.
ES: On your album, 2012′s “The Lion the Beast the Beat,” you have a duet with Willie Nelson. I lived on Maui for years, and Willie is a beloved neighbor on that island.
GP: His son Lucas was just texting with my husband, telling him what we should check out and where to go.
ES: The first time I saw you perform was on VH1, when you performed your smash hit “Paris.” I was so thrilled to see some genuine rock torch being carried by a great female performer. How do you view women in the current climate of rock music?
GP: I feel lucky to be a girl; I feel at a bit of an advantage. There is a ton of talent out there, but the problem with women is that they don’t tend to always know exactly what to do right away. There’s a bit of a drive to impress and a need to be appreciated and wanted, so I find that a lot of women get their toes into a lot of different things, and it’s harder to drop your anchor and say, “This is what I do. This is the only thing I do.” With the exception of Joan Jett, of course.
I’ve had my missteps and gone off the deep end, gone the wrong way before, just trying to find and search for the thing that’s going to be a balance of staying true to myself and also finding that audience that is desperate for good music. You want to find it, and you want to reach out to those people, but you don’t want to do it at the expense of your integrity or your music.
I don’t want to be critical; I’m not saying there’s no great rock ‘n’ roll out there. There’s a lot of great rock ‘n’ roll. I try not to categorize it the way so many people do, as like, “You’re my favorite chick rocker. You’re my favorite female artist.” Why can’t we all just be artists? … Adele, Amy Winehouse, Alabama Shakes, Heart, Solange Knowles — there are a lot of women out there doing a lot of music really well.
ES: That’s true. It’s very true. It’s funny because sometimes it can be a battle both ways. With my music career, I’ve found that you can be given unique opportunities for being a girl in a rock band, but then at the same time, people will sometimes say, “Oh well, you only got that opportunity, that only happened, because you’re a girl in a skirt.”
GP: Oh, for sure! It’s a double-edged sword. And you have to use that to your advantage and know that, OK, maybe you did get this gig because you’re a girl. And maybe you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t have nice legs. But then, use that to your advantage and absolutely, positively turn heads. Not in the wrong way, but with your talent.
My opinions might change when I’m older and a bunch of young, hot things come in and start kicking ass. I hope I don’t become … curmudgeonly. (Laughs).
For more on Grace Potter, check Erin Smith’s “Heels and Picks” blog on Tuesday at HonoluluPulse.com.