Entering new territory

Nocturnals are pushing the limits in quest for vintage-sounding pop music

May 17, 2007|By Allie Semenza | Allie Semenza,Sun reporter

For a large portion of Grace Potter's life, singing wasn't her top priority.

Potter tried acting, painting and interior design before forming roots rock band the Nocturnals in college in upstate New York. Now, after about five years together, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are touring nationally and preparing to release their major-label debut. Tomorrow, they'll stop in the city for a show at the 8x10.

Potter said growing up, she took her voice for granted.

"Because of how naturally it came, it was almost like it was too easy of a decision," she said. "I had to take the low road in order to get to the high road."

When she started singing with the Nocturnals, Potter's voice was smooth and sweet - but not edgy enough for her. She strove to give her voice more character by singing more loudly and roughly than she had before.

"Some of our older fans think I've devolved from my pretty voice, but I disagree," Potter said. "I love singing loud, you know, it's in my soul, and it's the kind of person I was from the beginning."

Potter and the other band members, guitarist Scott Tournet, drummer Matt Burr and bassist Bryan Dondero, are trying different approaches to songwriting and recording.

The group recorded 2005's Nothing But the Water at a barn in only four days. With This is Somewhere, their first major-label album, they took more time to write, rewrite and record. It was the first time Potter had ever gone back and made major changes to her songs.

"Tom Petty goes through the exact same thing, Lucinda Williams goes through the exact same thing," Potter said. "I just didn't know it. Nothing comes that easily, and it was nice to let something come a little harder this time around."

Potter said that the slower pace allowed the Vermont-based band to have more time to think, but also led the foursome to second-guess themselves sometimes.

"It's kind of like writing a book as opposed to writing a vignette," she said.

The band's goal with the album was to make solid, vintage-sounding pop music, she said. The group finished recording in January, and This is Somewhere is set for an Aug. 7 release.

"I want to be a part of that revolution that brings good music back to the airwaves," Potter said.

This approach meant trimming longer jams from songs, and boiling down the band's blues-infused sound. More than ever, Potter drew lyrics from her personal life.

This is Somewhere enters new territory for the Nocturnals. Potter wrote this new set of songs with her bandmates' strengths in mind, while also continuing to push the limits of their music.

"Some of our fans are a little freaked out right now, but because they're seeing us emerge into a new realm of musical potential," she said. "That freaks me out too, but at the same time, we don't want to stay stagnant like a pool of water."

Continuing to grow and challenge themselves is a primary goal for the group, which is exactly the way Potter envisioned it.

"I'm 23 years old. I'd really like to expand and get bigger and better and keep it exciting," she said. "It's all about keeping it fresh, and right now fresh means challenging ourselves to step out of our little roots-rock box and start making some joyful racket."

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals play the 8x10 tomorrow, with Smooth Kentucky opening. Doors open at 8 p.m. and tickets are $12. The venue is at 10 E. Cross St. For more information, call 410-625-2000 or go to the8x10.com.

allie.semenza@baltsun.com

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