Interview With Grace Potter

She went to high school at Harwood. She got her start on Church Street in Burlington. This past June, she opened for the Dave Matthews Band in from of 20,000 fans in Saratoga, NY. Grace Potter and her band, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, have made it down the long road to musical stardom –– and it all started here, in Vermont. While on tour with the Black Crowes, Grace took time out of her busy day to talk to NextUp.
How long have you lived in Vermont?
I was born and raised in Vermont. I was born in Randolph at … Memorial Hospital and I’ve been a Vermonter ever since.
What keeps you in Vermont? What do you love about the state?
I mean, it’s just the best place to come home to in the world. It’s so leveling, you know, because everywhere else you go you can find the same kind of strip malls and the same kind of gas stations, but there’s something about Vermont that’s just, to me, very different than everywhere else you go to. But mostly, it’s the place I go to to get centered.
How often do you get to come back?
I get to come back –– it’s been a lot, it’s a nice ratio this summer, actually. There’s been more time off in the early summer … I’ve been able to get home for up to a week at a time. I always judge it by how many farmers markets I get to make it to. So I’ve been to like four farmers markets this year, so that’s a pretty good ratio.
How did you get started in music?
It was in high school, really. I was in the music department at Harwood and it was really an awesome place – the teachers, the faculty and the facility were unbelievable.
What it’s like being a musician who comes from Vermont?
Not being in Vermont very often has given me a different perspective and not sort of identifying myself as a Vermont musician specifically, although that’s where I came from, I think there’s an interesting community in Vermont.
You go up to Burlington and I think you would expect to find a lot of the same kind of music or the same style of music that everybody is doing, but I think there’s a lot of diversity and it’s inspiring. You’re not going to see the same three bands over and over and over again, like you might assume. There’s so much creation going on –– that’s what keeps me going, even in a small place like Vermont there’s so much brilliance. I love the idea that you can really do anything and you don’t have to specifically write pretty, woodsy Vermont folk songs just because you live in Vermont.
What was it like opening for Dave Matthews Band in Saratoga and touring with them and bands like Black Crowes?
It’s been great. It’s a great, collaborative kind of vibe. I mean, what I love about it the most is the fans. We play in front of our fans, and it’s a certain kind of crowd, but now we’re opening the gates to a lot of other people who otherwise wouldn’t have known about us. The Dave shows were wild, huge… and the Black Crowes, it’s more laid back, which I love. It’s great to get to go from place to place and do the classic “American rock band” style approach.
Could you have seen yourself in this kind of position when you started your band in 2002?
Yes I did, I did see myself here. I had high hopes and they’ve all planned out beautifully. And I know this sounds a little strange to say, because most people that’s not what happened. But I really always did kind of envision this as the direction I wanted to go in and to have accomplished it is the greatest joy of all.
What sort of hurdles have you had to overcome to get to this point from when you started the band?
I think the biggest hurdle is being out on the road and being able to pay for all the stuff that it takes to become a rock and roll band. I mean it’s just almost impossible, especially with gas prices, because when you’re building form the ground up and you don't know anything about how to be a band and how to run a band and the business of it and the industry – that was our big hurdle. I just didn't know, didn't know where to start.
When you’re on the road what does a typical day look like for you?
I usually wake up way to late. We’re usually in a hotel somewhere, I’ve got to meet the band and everybody –– we’ve got a call time. Usually our call time is somewhere between 10:30 a.m. and noon. Then we drive for about 10 or 15 minutes until we find somewhere to eat. We stop, get out of the van, we all eat – sometimes the we have interviews, like now, when the band is eating.
So we get a bite to eat, then we hop back in the van and drive an absurd amount of hours, like five or six hours, and end at our final destination, which is the venue. The first thing I do when I get to the venue is go to the green room and see if they’ve got ice and water, because I’m always thirsty when I get out of the van. And I’ve got my dog on the road, so I take her for a walk. This gives me an excuse to get out and see the city, whatever city we’re in. Then we get there, usually around 5:30 for a sound check, then pull it together, make a set list, go on stage and play our guts out!
Do you have any advice for people that want to make it as a musician in Vermont?
Well, I’d definitely recommend talking to other musicians, like I did, because that’s a great way of hearing it. But the best thing I can tell you is that there is no one best way to do it. There’s a million different ways to do it and there’s no answers, there’s no one solution. Talk to as many people as you possibly can, don’t look for all of your answers from one person. And, finally, just work at getting really good at your craft, because you have to have the talent to make the whole thing work.