Once upon a time, there was a rock star named Grace Potter. She was a swaggering, cowboy boot-wearing badass who fronted a band, the Nocturnals, through four albums of strutting, '70s-style hard rock with a dash of soul. Potter's soaring voice mixed with her band's musical muscle was a potent combination.
For about a decade or so, Potter and the Nocturnals rode a wave of upward momentum, signing with Hollywood Records, sending albums like 2007's This Is Somewhere, 2010's Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and 2012's The Lion the Beast the Beat further and further up the charts. In addition to selling hundreds of thousands of albums, Potter was packing bigger and bigger houses with the Nocturnals.
Behind the scenes, though, there was a growing problem. The 20-something wild child who'd grown up idolizing characters like Sharon Stone's tough cowgirl in The Quick and the Dead was outgrowing her role.
"I think that I branded myself too soon as 'The cool girl in the cowboy boots,'" Potter says. "For me, my armor was pretending I was one of the guys. And that played really well early on, but as I was creating music over that period of time, I realized that as a songwriter, I was trying to communicate some really deep emotions through the filter of being this badass rock star. But I'm really not that."
After The Lion the Beast the Beat came out, Potter decided it was time to make a change, and she recorded the 2015 album Midnight as a solo artist — though most of the Nocturnals appeared on the album. And, boy, was it a change; the album is full of pounding, programmed beats, frothy dance-pop, and miles-deep funk. It was such a stunning departure from her typical work that it seemed like Potter was recharged as an artist, having a clean slate to make whatever kind of music she wanted.
Yet, four years still passed before she released her second solo album, Daylight. This LP is many things, but it ain't bouncy pop music.
There are a couple of old-school rockin' moments on Daylight, namely the hard-charging "On My Way" and a near-X-rated ode to pure lust called "Desire," but other than that, Potter is as introspective and stripped-down as she's ever been, trading her swagger and bombast for a more intimate performance.
And that's because over the four years between Midnight and Daylight, Potter has been through a lifetime's worth of experiences. She officially ended the Nocturnals, got divorced, fell in love again, and became a mother.
That tends to change a person, and Potter says that if Midnight was a big party, Daylight is "what we look like in the morning after we've been at the bar all night long."
The opening lines of the title track, a barbed-wire ballad with plenty of wide-open space for Potter's skyscraping vocals, sum up the turmoil of the last four years of her life.
"Oh, Lord, it's been a long, long time," she sings as the song rises and falls. "I've been lost and found and lost again so many times/ I can't remember if I ever knew my way at all/ But this is a dark matter, love is a sharp, sharp dagger/ Even the slightest touch could cut you down, down, down."
The album's songs about love, loss, and healing were so personal for Potter that she initially wasn't sure she was going to let anyone else hear them.
"There was nothing to hide behind," she says. "That's what was so terrifying about putting an album out. It's so weird; this album is so reflective and so honest, and it goes to so many dark places that it seemed like you should go to in private. I never thought I'd pu out an album like this. It's far too revealing and almost disturbing in some ways. Keeping it to myself was my therapy; it's as close to hanging out my dirty laundry as I've ever done."
Since the album was released last October, though, a remarkable thing has happened: People have responded emotionally to Potter's new songs, sharing their own stories with her.
"Since it's come out, I can't tell you how many people have shared these really vulnerable parts of their lives with me," she says. "People are opening up these really wide, beautiful canyons of their lives that they've never felt comfortable to share and sharing them with me. And I wouldn't have known that if I'd kept these songs to myself. Now I'm so glad that I'm not missing it. The stories I've heard, the emotions from people; I'm so glad I'm experiencing this narrative on people's lives."
Given the personal nature of her new material, one might think that Potter doesn't feel as attached to the old-school rock 'n' soul songs she did with the Nocturnals. But, she's actually gained a new perspective on her older songs that makes her love them more than ever.
"People used to describe me back then as wiser than my years," she says. "It's been really cool to dig back through the catalog and find out where the truth had been. It's almost like fortune telling; it's like messages in bottles from myself, then to now."