After a decade AWOL, Lilith Fair roared back to life last weekend in Calgary, Alberta. And on Saturday, the estrogen-powered pop tour will bring a lineup that includes big names Sarah McLachlan, Erykah Badu and Sheryl Crow to The Gorge Amphitheatre in George.
Among the buzz-worthy rising stars is Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, whose soulful, self-titled fourth album was released by Hollywood Records last month. And in the days leading up to the festival, Potter checked in (from her hotel bathtub, no less) to talk about girl power, new songs and her love of Phish.
I was wondering, for starters, if you ever went to Lilith Fair.
No, you know, I was rolling around at Phish concerts at that time. I was sort of too young to understand what the thing was about. And I think, for me, being from Vermont, it was all about Phish and whatever local band was cool at the time.
It took me a while to even absorb the female (rocker) thing. Still, as a musician now, it’s just easier to find male bands that are really good. And it seems exciting and interesting to try to concoct a tour of talented female musicians that all deserve credit, and luckily Lilith Fair had done that.
You’re part of that and can inspire a whole new generation of female rockers.
Absolutely, you know, and that’s not to be taken lightly. It’s an exciting label to be put on me. It’s just strange. It’s very strange because I’ve never been much of a feminist in that regard. You know, I spend my time around male musicians and I tend to find that I enjoy the music of more men than women. And like I said, it’s hard to find a lot of women who are really so talented that it doesn’t really matter that they’re women. That’s the goal for any musician, female or male.
What kind of a set are you rehearsing for this tour?
I cater to the audience based on what I see from Twitter comments and people kind of leading up to the day of the show, any press or people will call in or write in and ask for certain songs. So I’ll always take that kind of thing into account.
For the most part … if it’s a daytime show, you play your sunshiny, happy music. If it’s a nighttime thing and it’s late at night, you go for your grittier, dirty rock thing and everything in between.
You hear echoes of a lot of different sounds melded into the new record, from ’70s rock sound to the soul sound. And you’ve mentioned in interviews your admiration for the likes of Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and Bonnie Raitt. Out of all that, what would you say most influenced your sound?
Not women, believe it or not. … People compare me to Lucinda Williams or Bonnie Raitt. But I don’t necessarily count them as major influences on me. Although Emmylou Harris I always use as a reference for harmony vocals … I just did this duet with Kenny Chesney and I took the Emmylou approach on that.
That’s the thing that people misperceive a lot of times, that I’m gunning for some female icon, I want to be just like her kind of thing. And I’m just not doing that. That’s not really my thing. My thing is to find music that feels soulful and visceral and real and truthful and to perform it without any intention of imitating.
Last year, you were working with T-Bone Burnett for a while, right?
Yeah, I did a project with him that was more of a solo event. After our bass player (Bryan Dondero) left, our band took a bit of a hiatus.
So it was a solo project with T-Bone and his session guys that is just beautiful and a phenomenal collaboration. I’m really in love with what we did. But when the band reformed, it just didn’t feel like the right time to put that out. … When you work for seven years to promote a band, it’s not always the best thing to just turn around and put out a new solo record.
So it’s a few months off, then.
Yeah, right now we’re just focusing on the Nocturnals and our legacy that we’ve really worked hard to establish. You know, I’ve been with these guys, Matt Burr and Scott Tournet, for almost eight years now, building this band up from the ground, in the completely grassroots way. It really means the world to me that we actually get to enjoy the fruits of our labor.
How would you compare or contrast the T-Bone Burnett tracks with what you do with the band?
What I was doing with T-Bone was really re-exploring my personality as a vocalist and creating music that is so cinematic and so dark and eerie and gritty and beautiful, but completely not components of my own personality. It was like me stepping into a role for a movie, and that was really exciting for me. With the Nocturnals, it’s just a big party (laughs). Even in the sad songs, there’s this sort of cheeky personality that we’ve had for all these years that’s slowly grown from the ground up. There’s just a lot more history there, so it’s easier to just be ourselves and (for me to) be the crazy aunt or sister or cousin that they all think of me as.