If it weren’t for music, Grace Potter might have become a visual artist. “My dad would let us use the records he didn’t like as paint palettes for our art projects,” Potter says.
Emerson Lake & Palmer took a hit. Potter feels bad about Aqualung. “I was disrespectful in every way to the record cover,” she says.
“I tried to go to art school but I was too weird,” the singer and actress continues, her speaking voice carrying a hint of the same satisfying rasp her singing voice is known for. I take the bait. What is art school but a safe haven for misfits?
“They saw through my bullshit,” Potter explains. “When you apply for the school you have to show some level of technical skill. The art world is surprisingly capable of sniffing out those who aren’t supposed to be there, and as it turns out, I wasn’t supposed to be there. I had a different calling.”
That calling, of course, was music. Known for playing country soul as well as blues-influenced classic rock, Potter came up fronting the Nocturnals before going solo in 2004 with the album Original Soul. Last year, she released Daylight after a four-year break from music — which was a bit like a divorce, Potter says.
“I came into that record with the goal of healing,” she says. “It was important for me to sit down with my muse and set the record straight. I really had a bad breakup from music. It was an enemy to me. Daylight was my way of making peace.”
Potter’s latest music features Benmont Tench, a founding member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and collaborations with indie-pop duo Lucius. Throughout, Potter alternates between the sanguine old-soul serenity of Bonnie Raitt and the pagan heat of a young Robert Plant. I ask Potter how she reaches those heights night after night on tour.
“I can’t explain it,” she says. “You can’t whip yourself up into a frenzy and pretend to howl like a fucking wolf. You just become a wolf, and a wolf doesn’t know it’s a wolf. When it’s happening to me, I’ll be damned if I know what’s going on.”
Looking back, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, discovered in her parents’ record collection, was the first music Potter heard that really felt truly her own. “Also, The Band and Led Zeppelin,” she says. “To this day those artists continue to sustain me. Different times in my life, they find their way back in. My parents’ era of music felt so personal to me.”
More than anything, that deep dive into her parents’ music taught Potter a lot about how personal music can be. “Music collections are an incredibly personal thing,” Potter says. Her parents’ collection was organized around how the music made them feel when they listened to it. “That’s definitely translated into my music,” Potter says.
Grace Potter performs with Bailen 8 pm Sunday, March 15, at McDonald Theatre; $29.50 advance, $35 door; all-ages.