Vermont rocker Grace Potter wants to apologize to all of her close friends residing in the Bay Area. When she purposely circumnavigated San Francisco during a recent two-week drive from Los Angeles up the California coast in her tiny Fiat, she was on a mission, and she needed the time alone to completely rethink her new album, “The Lion The Beast The Beat,” whose sessions had hit a creative dead end.
“All I had in my car was a blanket, my guitar, a bag of mushrooms, some Smart Water and a croissant,” says the blond fashion plate, who went unrecognized on her trip in casual jeans and T-shirts. “Plus the Coke-bottle thick glasses that I’m legally required to wear, just in case I’m ever pulled over.”
It was a high-pressure followup. Potter and her backing band broke through with 2010’s “Grace Potter & The Nocturnals” and its flagship hit “Paris (Ooh La La),” plus “You and Tequila,” her smash duet with Kenny Chesney, for whom she opens in Oakland tonight.
But two months into recording, with 50 potential cuts, she says, “I didn’t have any killer songs that I was excited about — they all sounded like Adele or Florence and the Machine ripoffs. Not that I meant to do that — that was the direction that was being encouraged for me by, umm, the powers that be.”
So the composer (also featured on a new VH1 “Storytellers”) simply ditched the dissatisfactory material and hit the road, veering off course into Utah and Nevada.
She stayed in a haunted room at the Madonna Inn, visited ghost towns, hung out in Bodega Bay because Hitchcock filmed “The Birds” there, and camped out in the Big Sur wilderness. “There’s a lot of weird s--- in Northern California — I’m not going to lie,” says the trailblazer. “It’s one of the most awesome places to be alone.”
Otherwise, Potter, 29, ate at truck stops and slept in her car. Gradually, honest, working-class anthems emerged, like “Timekeeper” and “The Divide,” facilitated by further songwriting forays back home to Vermont, then to the Caribbean.
When three Dan Auerbach-assisted tracks fell into place (including the kickoff single “Never Go Back”), “Lion’s” rootsy new course was set. By getting lost, she found herself.
Potter is still amazed that her record company, Hollywood, let her go so far off the grid. “But I was on a walkabout, a self-inflicted adventure,” she says. “And through it, I learned that I trust myself more than I realized, and that faith in yourself when you’re making a record is more important than anything else.”
IF YOU GO
Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
Opening for Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw’
Where: O.Co Coliseum, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland
When: 4:30 p.m. today
Tickets: $36.75 to $276.95
Contact: (800) 745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com