Grace Under Fire: Solo Flirtations and The New Nocturnals
JW: So you did five songs with T-Bone?
GP: Well, yeah. It was like sessions. I came to him with like fifty songs and some songs were ideas that we didn’t actually finish. He brought in his band, [drummer] Jim Keltner, [guitarist] Marc Ribot, and [bassist] Dennis Crouch. And, just so that you know, that record has not disappeared. It’s not even really considered shelved. It’s not even on the back burner, maybe just the middle burner.
JW: Were The Nocturnals not a band at the time?
GP: Catherine and Benny were not involved.
JW: Did The Nocturnals break up temporarily?
GP: No, but we didn’t know what was going to happen. We certainly were all completely flapping in the wind. The idea was to eventually find a bass player. But I didn’t just want to find a bass player. I wanted a new band. I didn’t want to fire anybody else and feel like everybody was leaving. But this was a very stricken phase. I had all these songs and I knew I wanted to record them and I had to get them out to the world, but things were falling apart from the inside. I felt that I needed to have action because that’s just what Potters do. And that action was to work with T-Bone until my band found its feet again. The fact that T-Bone was even interested, remotely, was such validation. Not one that I was even looking for, it just fell into us. Bob Cavallo, the head of [Hollywood Records], knew T-Bone and called him up about some golf wager that they had from back in the day, and said, “Hey, I’ve got this artist, you may not know who she is, but she’s been out and about in the last few years, and if you like her, let’s go have breakfast with her.” So T-Bone just decided to have the breakfast with us, and after the end of the breakfast, he agreed to do the record. It was a really scary time. I mean, my band was gone. Oddly enough, the T-Bone project, and its inception, happened the same week I co-wrote seven songs with Mark Batson.
JW: Why were you co-writing with Mark? Did you think you were making a different album than the potential one with T-Bone?
GP: I was just writing songs for an open-ended album. I didn’t know who was going to produce it. Nobody knew where it was going to go. I had six of those thirteen songs that are on the record done and I think the label wanted me to write some more. But they also felt, and Justin, my manager, felt like there was this really great opportunity to write with this hip-hop guy Mark. So the T-Bone thing was not in any way confirmed, there was no idea that T-Bone was going to come have breakfast with us. So basically, when I’m in L.A., I know that I’ve got these issues with Brian, but I haven’t dealt with them yet. I’ve got a feeling like the band has been on a break. For like three months at this point, we’ve been off. There was a heaviness to even the idea of us getting on a bus together and going back on the road. So it was just feeling like there were a lot of things coming down on me, but at the same time, I knew exactly what I wanted.
JW: Why was The Nocturnals’ future in question? Were there other problems besides just needing a new bassist?
GP: The thing that was in question was that T-Bone had agreed to work with me, but he hadn’t agreed to work with the whole band. He loved Scott, though. He was into the idea of the band, but he’s T-Bone, and he has his people that he knows how to work with that I’m sure he didn’t want to risk working with an entire band of people and new personalities. Really, the band wasn’t in pieces at all. Scott and Matt were firmly in my spirit, in my heart. But T-Bone was really excited about working with me and the songs that I had written.
JW: And again, this gets to the heart of what I was saying earlier. As your boyfriend, Matt would have to be a hundred percent behind you because you have this is an amazing opportunity to work with T-Bone Burnett. But as your bandmate, it must have hurt that T-Bone wanted to use a different drummer.
GP: But not when it’s Jim Keltner. When Matt heard that Jim Keltner was going to be on the record, he shit his fucking pants. Everyone was happy. Brian was actually really happy too, he was really excited for us. He saw the opportunity in it. He wasn’t happy, but he was level-headed about what an amazing opportunity it was. And he saw clearly that it was the right thing to do. And we’ve all loved T-Bone forever.
JW: I think a lot of people may have been confused because there was word last summer that the Nocturnals were making an album with T-Bone Burnett. Now the album is done and its produced by Mark Batson. There may have been a perception that T-Bone was replaced, but what you’re saying is that they were two completely separate projects.
GP: T-Bone knows this, and that’s why I think there wasn’t a lot of animosity in the project shift because he’s loyal to his musicians, too. There were no Nocturnals on the record except Scott and basically everything that Scott played on was getting mixed out anyway which was really upsetting for me because I heard what he did and I felt that it was so true to where I’ve come from and it was so familiar. But at the same time, I understand why he was getting mixed out. That’s just a sound – T-Bone goes for one thing, the Nocturnals go for another. The T-Bone record was essentially a solo album. And I don’t think that he would disagree because at the time that we all decided to work together, I was a solo artist. I had two members of a band that were waiting for the next step.
JW: “Medicine” is a song that you recorded with both producers. How do the two versions compare?
GP: Well that’s a fascinating study just in general, to listen to T-Bone’s record and then to Mark’s. It’s apples and oranges. They’re so different. Keltner went into this crazy, tribal rhythmic journey and the guitar riff wasn’t so important. And the guitar riff on the “Medicine” that Batson did with us – it was all guitar. It’s the driving force behind it. The drums are certainly there and present, but the guitar line is the hook. The hook was not as much as the focal point on the T-Bone record.
JW: In that one, you make an overt reference to Stevie Nicks in the lyrics.
GP: No, I said in an interview that she is the woman in the song. I like to picture that this woman, the policy woman, is a brunette, gypsy, Spanish version of Stevie Nicks that has come into town.
JW: So that fact that you mention a “gypsy woman” in the lyrics, that’s a coincidence?
GP: That was a connection I made later. Sometimes, it’s amazing how musicians can rewrite what the song was about after the fact and I try not to do that as much as possible. I try to keep it pure and try to remember what I was thinking the night I wrote it. But certainly, there’s this imagery of a young, Spanish Stevie Nicks with long black hair coming into town and just blowing everybody’s mind.
JW: Obviously the state of the record business is not great these days. You have a very sellable album. Ten years ago it could have sold a lot of copies, but things are different now. So what is your goal for this record and moving forward?
GP: I’d like for this to be our breakthrough. I would like to continue growing and I want it to be on a natural arc. I don’t want some crazy spike, but I would embrace anything that happens. I don’t want a flop and I don’t want to go back to making sandwiches in Waitsfield, so anything better than that is fantastic. If this record doesn’t do well, I think it’s just going to be a sign that I need to get married and have babies. But, I really hope that it’s not time for that yet because I have a dream that would be sad not to fulfill. Today at the lake, when we were sitting on the rocks, you were asking us what we used to dream about when Matt and I used to drink wine there all those years ago. And, it’s this. I’m not kidding you. This is exactly where I wanted to be. So, if our record could just get us to the next level a little bit, than that’s exactly where I want to be as well. If there is that crazy, unexpected spike, and the industry has something amazing in the cards for us then, I’m ready for that as well because I think I was born to do this. I really do. But I’m ready for whatever happens. I really am. As long as I don’t have to make sandwiches.
Jefferson Waful is a longtime contributor to Relix Magazine. He is also the lighting designer for Umphrey’s McGee.
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