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Grace Potter glams up rock and roll

By Denise Quan, CNN
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What Grace Potter does before a show
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Grace Potter heads up Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
  • The band is releasing its self-titled third album for Hollywood Records
  • Potter says her band is "undefinable"
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To hear a longer cut of the interview, you can subscribe to "Soundcheck Uncut" on iTunes or on www.cnn.com/podcasts.

Los Angeles -- Grace Potter and the Nocturnals' tour bus sits on a side street in Los Angeles, taking up no less than three metered parking spots.

In a few hours, the Vermont-based rock group will take the stage at the El Rey Theatre, in support of their self-titled third album for Hollywood Records. In the meantime, they'll soundcheck, and Potter herself will putter around the bus's tiny kitchen, making lunch for her bandmates on the electric burner she stores in her wardrobe. On the table sits a tube of polenta, some organic sprouts and several blocks of cheese -- "Vermont cheddar," she says with pride.

Her parents and brother will be V.I.P. guests at tonight's show. "They surprised me and booked a trip out to California."

At 27, Potter still lives in Potterville -- a rustic compound in Waitsfield, Vermont, built by her artsy parents, Sparky and Peggy.

"They were reading 'The Lord of the Rings' as they were designing the house, and all the other little outstructures and art studios that were being developed on the property," she explains. "I live in one of the Shire buildings. I'm half underground and half above ground. It's just a nice way to escape from what is a very fast-paced life, you know, living in a rock and roll band. It's nice to go back there and just settle in -- this other version of myself that's in rubber galoshes, raking and shoveling show."

At the moment, however, Potter is in full glam mode -- an Amazonian goddess in a black mini, six-inch heels and at least a pound of sparkly, chunky jewelry. With her flaxen hair and wide cheekbones, she looks like a rock and roll Heidi Klum. Then she takes the stage -- a strutting, sexual wildcat fronting a five-piece band determined to carry the torch of classic rock. It's a far cry from the girlie, waifish, aloof females proliferating indie groups these days.

"I think that being precious and rock and roll should never go together," says Potter. "There's definitely no subtlety in what I do. When you want to get your face melted, you come to a Grace Potter and the Nocturnals concert."

Then she laughs at her own words.

"Why don't we needlepoint that onto a doily, and we'll sell it at the merch table?"

Potter recently spoke with CNN about her new album, working with Kenny Chesney, and being the total package.

CNN: Why did you decide to name your third album "Grace Potter and the Nocturnals"? Mostly bands go self-titled for their first.

Grace Potter: It was never my trajectory to have a self-titled record, but when you make a record that feels so comfortable, and feels so real and so much like who we are, it's hard to think of another name. I just showed everybody a piece of paper that just said, "Grace Potter and the Nocturnals," and they were like, "But that's us!" And I was like, "Exactly. It's us, and that's what this record is."

CNN: You spend a lot of time on the road -- maybe 200 days a year?

Potter: Sometimes a little bit more than that. Having a record is like having a baby. I hate to say that, because I've never been a mother, so I'm sure a lot of moms would disagree. But I feel very much like it's a child that I have to nurture and raise -- and it's been really fun.

CNN: With the organic gourmet cooking you've been doing on the tour bus, it seems as though you've found a way to make life on the road more comfortable.

Potter: When you give your life over to your touring schedule, it's so grueling, you have to have moments where you have your own comfort places. This back lounge (of the tour bus) is one of my little cozy places that I can go to, and just relax, and read a magazine, or surf the Internet, and just sort of be in your own little Zen zone.

And with 12 people on the bus, there needs to be a level of organization so that everybody has their own space and nobody's being invaded. You have to have a good stomach for it. And, you know, I get to decorate it however I want.

CNN: Is this why you have Christmas decorations up, and it's February?

Potter: I know. I think we just decided to budget it smart this year, and stick with the Christmas decorations, and just carry it over into the new year. We've also got a lot of music DVDs here. Waylon Jennings is the one that we've been getting into most recently. The guys are really heavy on the country right now, which is great. I mean, we're not a country band, so we're exploring new genres.

CNN: You did a duet with Kenny Chesney called "You and Tequila."

Potter: That's right, Kenny Chesney had me on his record ("Hemingway's Whiskey"). That was fantastic, and it's really opening the door to fans that otherwise wouldn't know about us, because it's crossover.

CNN: The two of you had never met? He just heard your voice, loved it and followed up?

Potter: Isn't that wild? Kenny's a great friend now. He's a lifer, as we call them. He just called me and left the sweetest message. He just called and sang into the voice mail. I played it for everybody this morning while I was getting myself did up.

CNN: When did you decide you wanted to pursue singing for a living?

Potter: I think I knew when I was about 2 and a half that I wanted to be a singer. I was always singing, and my mom tells me that when I would sing songs, I would sing along to them in perfect three-part harmonies. Like I'd make up harmonies to Cyndi Lauper songs and stuff. And I loved Michael Jackson as a kid.

CNN: What do your parents think about your rock and roll lifestyle?

Potter: They love it. They ARE sex, drugs and rock and roll. They're the reason I am the way I am. I mean, they were bringing me to concerts at a very young age, and letting me kind of run wild. They weren't crazy parents, but they weren't the strict parents either. It was right in the middle. They had a good balance.

CNN: A lot of times, people in rock bands have come from difficult childhoods, and they don't have great relationships with their parents.

Potter: Sometimes having a difficult childhood can lead to an amazing redemption in life, and creativity that just goes beyond. I just feel blessed that I had both, and I didn't have to suffer necessarily to gain this perspective, and this amazing career that I have.

CNN: How do you reconcile the new, glamorous Grace with the jam band friends you started out with in Vermont?

Potter: They love it. They laugh. The way we learned how to become a touring band came from that jam band world. I never want to renounce it, I never want to push it away. It was a big part of who we were, and who we became. And I learned to control my drinking with the jam band world, and the drug taking -- all that stuff has sort of calmed me down, and helped balance me out, and understand where my limitations are and where the band's limitations are. I absolutely love that world. We continue to play music festivals and see our friends, you know, bands that are running in the same circles as us. It's a big community, but it's also a very small world.

CNN: These days, so much of marketing music has to do with imaging -- the personality and how you look.

Potter: It's hard to show people the total package. I feel like people get snippets of bands, and they think that they know everything. Our band is undefinable, but at the same time, it's comfortable, and it feels like you would want to come hang out with us in the back lounge of our bus, and just be a fly on the wall for our conversations. We're lovable, we're sexual, fun, we love to play great music, and we're a family. It's a good-spirited world, and there's a quality of life that we encourage -- from food, to music, to fashion and, you know, good hair. It's all part of the package.