Kanrocksas Preview | Grace Potter (The Extended Interview)

Starting Friday afternoon, we’ll be in Kanrocksas mode, live tweeting from the two-day festival in Kansas City, Kansas. Rain or shine, the inaugural event is bound to be a lot of fun, with a Ferris wheel, bungee jumps, a water slide (“SLIDErocksas”), and a hot air balloon glow presentation during the evening. And, oh yeah, there’s music, too — three stages and more than three dozen acts including The Flaming Lips, Muse, The Black Keys, Eminem, Best Coast, OK GO, Kid Cudi, Girl Talk, and today’s featured band on Speakers in Code, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, one of our favorite live acts.

Potter and the Nocturnals, from Vermont, have been storming around the country this summer, rocking the main stage at Bonnaroo last June, and they’re even presenting their own first-year music festival called Grand Point North on August 13th and 14th in Burlington, Vermont.

If you’ve never seen Potter and the Nocturnals perform live, Saturday at Kanrocksas will be a great chance to catch them in all their glory. They’re definitely a band made for a good festival — they rock, they roll, they stop at nothing to energize what’s surrounding them. If we had to pick some of our favorite discoveries of 2011, they would definitely be near the top of our list; we’ve yet to be letdown by one of their live performances (read our review of their stop in St. Louis at The Pageant earlier this year).

Luckily, we were able to catch up with Grace over the phone before her Kanrocksas and Lollapalooza debuts this weekend. Enjoy.

GP: Hi Jason, how are you?

JG: Great, Grace, how are you doing?

I’m good, I’m good. What’s going on?

Not much. I’m in St. Louis. It’s a hot one.

Oh boy, I bet it’s a steamer, huh?

Well, I’m sure you know how it is. You have been playing outdoors all summer, huh?

Oh, we sure have! It’s good, though, because then everyone in the audience is sweaty, and you’re sweaty, and we all just embrace the sweat, and it’s a good thing. (laughs)

You know, I was at your Bonnaroo performance.

Oh yeah…

I mean, what, maybe 40,000 people really into the moment. What was it like for you up there?

That was definitely a highlight of my life. I loved that show, I had so much fun on stage. And I was not expecting an audience that big — I was thinking it was going to be about half that size, if anything, because it was so early in the day. And the sun was beating down on the poor audience, and I just thought, “It’s cool, at least you’re on the main stage.” And we come out to fuckin’ the roar of 40,000 people — it was definitely a real moment. I felt very real in that moment. I never knew myself until I got out there on stage and said, “Alright, let’s do this.”

I could hear people talking after your set about how energetic it was. When you’re able to give a lift like that to a festival audience, especially in the middle of the day, is that what you’re going for?

Yeah, I mean, we want people to feel like they’re being refreshed, and to feel like this is something they haven’t seen. When you have so much music to see during the day, you have to give people a good reason to stop in their tracks, and that’s what our show has always been about. When we put on a show, it’s about trying to rend people’s imaginations into our world for a second. And a lot of people don’t want that — a lot of people are just wanting to pass by and go, “oh yeah, I saw her, and she was good.” But, a really good show, a really excellent rock ‘n’ roll band should be able to stop people in their tracks, not just make them want to breeze by for a second and then keep going and then go get a fuckin’ hot dog or something, but to really stop and be entranced in the moment. I’ve been taking hypnotist classes so I can hypnotize the audience into not wanting to leave! (laughs)

That will come in handy for these festivals, I’m sure!

Sure will! (laughs)

You guys are festival veterans now.

Yeah, We’re comfortable in this atmosphere. I think that healthy competition is a good thing, and that’s what festivals are in a lot of ways, I’m not going to deny that. I think a lot of bands don’t want to admit that, you know, they’re peeking over their shoulder, but especially, we’re going to do Lollapalooza this weekend, and people better watch the fuck out! (laughs)

Hell yeah. 

Yeah, they don’t know what’s about to hit ’em.

No, they don’t! I’m going to go see you at Kanrocksas.

Oh, cool! That’s going to be killer.

So, you guys are going to be playing at a motor speedway. Is there anything different about a first-year festival? No one knows what to expect, right?

Yeah, I think it’s a good thing, there can be this sort of good, nervous energy to the thing. The organizers are hoping everything goes well. The bands are trying something new, we’re basically the guinea pigs for the whole thing. And in the first year of a good festival, everybody leaves feeling like they discovered it — like they’re, you know, Christopher Columbus, discovering a new piece of land — that’s what festivals are for. It’s made for discovery, and for this kind of sense that we’re putting our faith and time into something that will hopefully continue and get bigger and better every year.

We’re putting our own first-year festival on this year, so we’re having the same feeling as the Kanrocksas people — we’re doing our own festival in Vermont. It’s definitely on a smaller scale, but I have that feeling and that energy going into it as well, and I hope people leave like they found something.

Yeah, I was going to ask you about that. I was reading about your festival, and how you want to keep it so that it’s not the biggest thing in the world.

No, yeah. If anything, the adding is going to be in the details, as opposed to making it bigger and more massive and more mass-consumer oriented. We can’t fit that many people into that space, and that’s why I love it, because it’s a small space. As the years go by, hopefully the people who buy the tickets will understand that they’re getting an intimate experience, and that it’s the fine wine of music festivals, in my view! (laughs) Of course, I’m a wino, so everything comes back to wine.

Well, that’s not a bad thing at all.


What do you get to do at a festival during the day, besides perform?

Well, at Grand Point North, our festival, I’m definitely going to gun to make sure I can see a few of these bands, especially the ones I haven’t seen before. Because I owe it to them to check them out. And I invited them, so I hope I’ll carve out the time to hang out with these bands a little bit and just get to know them. Just like everyone else, I’m just as excited to discover new music and to feel like I’m nurturing and kind of helping to curate our fans’ opinion of music and sort of possibilities of genre-jumping, as we say. ‘Cause we want people to feel like they’re hearing something new, maybe something unfamiliar, but they’re diggin’ it, and they don’t know why. And, I’m ready to have that same feeling.

So, uh, when you hear the word “Kanrocksas,” what comes to your mind?

I think about, and this is going to make you laugh, I don’t know if you’ve seen the commercial, but you know that commercial for overstock.com? Where the guy, he’s like the CEO of the company, and he goes, “we’re having overstocktober!” And, he says, in the commercial, he says, “hard to say, but easy to…” you know, something fucking…it’s like… (laughs) It’s the weirdest word ever, it doesn’t really fit, doesn’t really work, but I love it, because it’s just so wrong, it’s right, you know? And I’ve seen it on Twitter — a lot of people are saying that they’re going to be there, and they keep saying “Kanrocksas.” And I, when I first heard it, I was like, “Is this a joke? Is this like a hashtag Twitter thing that I’m not hip to? How does the word rock fit into Kansas?” But I’m psyched it is, maybe we’ll be inventing a new state. Maybe Kansas will change its name after this festival! (laughs)

I gotta say, when I first heard that name, I just thought, “that’s the most bizarre name for a festival.”

Yeah! (laughs) It’s like overstocktober. You gotta make it work somehow. It’s like a haiku — you gotta fit the words together, and it might feel weird to say a few times, but if you say it a lot, it starts to make sense, like Bonnaroo, or Lollapalooza, or Coachella, you know like, “Kanrocksas – we can rock!”

Maybe in a few years, it will all make sense!

Yeah! (laughing)

Have you ever played on a speedway?

No! I’ve played at a lot of Air Force bases. But, never on a speedway, this is going to be a new one for me. We played at a horse track once, that was cool.

Oh, yeah?

Yeah, by a casino, with the Black Crowes at some point. That was cool. It smelled like horse shit, and uh, so…maybe it’ll smell like motor oil, so it’s gonna be good.

So, if Grace Potter and the Nocturnals were racing around the speedway in a race, who would win?

Which one of the five of us?


I would definitely win! I’m a Leadfoot Betty. I am a leadfoot. It’s true. I have a dangerous, dangerous will for speed. But also, none of the Nocturnals trust any of the other Nocturnals behind the wheel, with the exception of Matt, our drummer. He’s the only one who actually knows how to drive proper. I mean, literally, it’s gotta be him driving. Nobody trusts me, I don’t trust them, they don’t trust each other — there’s just no good drivers in this band. But, if it was just about the Speedy Gonzales part of it, it would definitely would be me. Although, Matt’s a pretty good…I think he could probably cut the corners better than me. I’m good with the stick shift — I actually taught Matt how to drive stick shift when he first came to Vermont. So, who knows. I don’t know, man. I think it would be neck and neck, but I’m definitely a leadfoot over here.

Well, I would put my bet on you, too.

(laughing) I love it!

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