Grace Potter: Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong (Relix Revisited)
It’s takes some nudging to get Potter to open up about Burr, because they both are trying to avoid letting the world know that they’re a couple—mostly for silly image reasons: “Come on, we’re supposed to be like Fleetwood Mac,” Burr says as Potter starts to spill the beans on how they met. “You gotta keep the mystery alive if you still want to screw Robert Plant, and find out if he stuffs his pants.”
But to hear Potter tell it, she sounds as if she wants to scream from a mountain top how much she loves the 27-year-old, New York-born drummer. “The first time I met him, I had only been at St. Lawrence for like three days. I was this nervous college girl trying to get my papers together and figure out what classes to take, and wandering around the hallways, when here comes this bounding, handsome, long-haired guy with a briefcase—so I assumed he was a professor. He had on this suit jacket with corduroy elbows, tight-fitting jeans, and I just thought he was hot. The second I saw him, I was like, ‘Uh-oh, here comes trouble.”
Burr starts to blush, and taps his drumsticks nervously on a practice pad. “I was like, ‘This is exactly the kind of guy that I would totally hook up with right away.’ So I avoided him like the plague,” she continues. “I literally turned the opposite direction and dated a completely different kind of guy because I knew he was the kind of guy that I would totally fall in love with and marry, and that’s not what I was looking for—I was in college. I didn’t want to get married.
“Then he started coming to my [solo, open-mic] shows, and he was always kind of by himself, and very much his own party. He would sit there leaning against the wall, enjoying himself, always smiling like he had something to laugh about, like he just had told his friend a joke and was laughing. And I still thought he was a teacher/professor guy, I didn’t really know whether he was a student or not. It was like two months of me playing, and him coming but never really talking to me. So when he did finally approach me, it was kind of like when you’re a girl at a bar and you see the guy looking at you the whole time, and then finally he gets the nerve to talk to you, and then everything goes wrong.”
Explains Burr: “I remember her playing [an early version] of ‘Apologies’ at The Java Barn [where the band would form]. The whole room was dead quiet, and there were like 15-20 people there. I was in the back, and it really hit me. So I went up to her afterwards and asked if she would be interested in forming a group. She was very standoffish and was, like, ‘I dunno. I’m kind of into doing this solo thing.’”
“I just said like the most rude, off-putting thing,” laughs Potter. “I was trying to protect myself from the man of my dreams!” Potter roars, drawing “awwwwws” all around. “And that’s off the record,” she grins. “No, but I knew from the second I saw him that we would play music together and be hanging out, doing artistic stuff together,” she adds, looking over at the blushing drummer.
“It was just one of those things, I dunno. I was playing games. The first time in my life, I played a game and it worked!” With that, she leans over, gently lifts Burr’s chin and plants her lips on his.
With Burr on drums and Beard on bass, Potter began exploring polite female singer/songwriter fare, playing piano and mixing originals with Van Morrison and Dylan covers. While playing piano in another band, User Shorty Patent Co., Burr and company bought her a B-3 for her birthday, and it essentially changed her life, becoming the perfect compliment to the bluesy voice she was honing. When Tournet joined, everything got louder and Potter’s soul-rock pipes quickly began to congeal.
“Right off the bat,” says Burr, “people seemed really touched. Originally, we were doing this way quieter show, doing blues and folk, softer stuff. And even if it was just one person in the audience at a gig, that one person was like, ‘Wow, that was incredible.’ So we knew there was something there.”
Dubbing themselves Nocturnal Grace, for its habit of practicing into the early morning hours at The Java Barn (and later taking on the owl as its mascot), the band set off on regional tours during breaks from school, and gigs throughout the Northeast on the weekends. Together, they backed Potter on her first recording, Original Soul, released in 2004 under her name only. The next year, Beard exited to finish his studies, and Dondero joined just before the recording of the self-financed Nothing But the Water, what is in essence the full band’s debut. While playing the disc live, they earned accolades from the likes of such heroes as Taj Mahal and Bonnie Raitt for sweaty, emotional shows full of crunch and soul. And things began to snowball on tour with the likes of the Allstars and Cray, and at such festivals as All Good and Bonnaroo.
“They reminded me of an era that I loved,” says Cavallo, “everything from The Band, Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt. But mostly it’s the attitude, the quality of her lyric-writing, her vision. It all sounds like the past.”
After reading several positive reviews, Paul Barrere of Little Feat finally made it a point to check out the band at last year’s Wakarusa Festival. “I was blown away,” he says. “First of all, she’s just absolutely gorgeous, but she’s got all this soul, and she’s playing this B-3 and just rippin’ it, and the band is solid, the grooves they were putting down were solid. It’s the kind of music that I like to emulate with Little Feat, ‘cause you can’t sit still with it—you want to get up and move.”
That said, if the band members themselves fancy their music as more of a marriage of the new and old, in terms of their approach to playing the music and where they want to take it, they’re definite throwbacks, or at least idealists: “In a way,” says Dondero, “we want to bring music back to that cool place where it’s almost simpler, where you have a kick-ass band that plays amazing shows and gets played on the radio. All that stuff’s got so skewed in recent years, and I don’t know why. It’s like this big business thing came in and just kind of changed the rules of the game. I think we would love to see it get back to the place where all these great musicians and bands were being heard on the radio and playing concerts and making music became easy and fun again.”
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Crystal Bowersox stops by Relix to perform a song from her new album, All That For This.
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