Originally published in Cityview Aug 9, 2016
Almost exactly a year ago, Grace Potter made the biggest decision of her career to date and set aside her band, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, to release a solo album called “Midnight.” Not only did the album put Potter out on a creative island, but it also marked an extreme musical departure from what fans of The Nocturnals had come to love.
“It’s interesting, because with the Nocturnals, there were many years where I was the sole songwriter,” Potter said during a phone interview. “If anyone was in the room when I wrote the song, I would just credit them for it, because I was very communal, creatively.
“(Working on a solo album) made me realize how much my songwriting is influenced by who I’m writing for. Whatever they excel at is what I write about. With ‘Midnight,’ I wasn’t writing for anyone. I just kind of followed the muse as far down that road as I could. I think that’s why the album goes in so many surprising directions; it’s very specifically because I hadn’t catered my writing to the sound of the band.”
“Midnight” explores sounds that had long been considered held in disdain by members of the Nocturnals, and it is far and away the most heavily pop-influenced album Potter has ever released. Songs like “Delirious” carry heavy disco underpinnings, with that track in particular sounding like a holler back to Donna Summer. But again, coming from a place of such emotional neutrality, the final form that “Midnight” took — disco beats and all — came as much of a shock to Potter as to anyone else.
“I was definitely surprised by it,” she admitted. “Especially with ‘Delirious.’ ‘Disco’ is a bad word in the Nocturnals. I learned a lot about myself. This has been the most transitional year of my life. A lot of things changed. I didn’t want them all to change the way they did. Some were painful as well as liberating. There was really a letting go of more than just my creative process, but also my comfort zones.”
Fan reaction to the album was not all good. Many fans were outraged at Potter’s sudden change of creative direction and were not afraid to voice their displeasure, much to Potter’s disappointment. She said that she never really feared that the album would be rejected outright, because she was already mentally and creatively committed to the project. But having people say they would never listen to her was unexpected. However, she remains undaunted.
“I don’t owe anybody anything,” she said. “If I’m going to lose a few fans, it’s not out of neglect. The reaction was really unexpected, (but) it didn’t make me question my artistic integrity. The only thing you can do is be honest with yourself.”
To that end, Potter — who might be one of the most creatively and intellectually honest musicians working today — gives a lot of credit to “Midnight” producer Eric Valentine for understanding her vision better than perhaps even she did at the time, and helping make it a reality.
“Eric was integral,” she said. “He’s such a sonic cowboy. He’s great at producing sounds in an almost scientific way of looking at music, but the emotion is still so powerful. Everything that I managed to achieve with this album exceeded my own expectations. I would come up with an idea, and he would one-up me. The whole process was like, ‘I will see you your chorus that takes off like a spaceship and raise you the best damn bridge that you’ve ever heard.’ ”