While attending high school in her native Vermont, Grace Potter grew uncomfortably familiar with the principal’s office, where she was sent after taking a test, she recalls, “because on multiple choice questions, I would just fill in every answer, like, ‘Why can’t two things be true?’ I was such a little shithead, but that’s just the way I live – I am so have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too that I absolutely refuse to choose.”
That’s the concept behind “Midnight,” her adventurous new solo album, without her backing outfit The Nocturnals. Stylistically, it’s all over the map.
“Midnight” – which Potter introduces in concert in Oakland this week – was overseen by producer Eric Valentine, and features cameos from Audra Mae, Wayne Coyne, Nick Oliveri and Fitz and the Tantrums’ Noelle Skaggs.
It opens on hip-shaking workouts “Hot to the Touch” and “Alive Tonight,” then caroms through R&B (“Empty Heart”), techno-metal (“Instigators”), gospel (“Nobody’s Born With a Broken Heart”), and anthemic balladry (the closing “Let You Go,” about the death of a close family member).
“There’s definitely a defiance to making what I’m going to call disco, and that’s the conversation I wanted to start with this record,” she says.
After four albums together, Potter never planned on leaving the Nocturnals’ nest.
She began “Midnight” as a band project, she says. But gradually, she decided to whittle outside opinions from her songwriting equation.
“This time around, I said, ‘You know what? I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to have a mental battle with myself anymore,’” she says. “And I finally saw that I had lived in denial for a really long time, for the sake of maintaining the happiness of a bunch of other people. So recognizing that this was a solo record was a huge transition for me.”
Fans shouldn’t be surprised by the singer’s eclecticism. For instance, she was raised on religious music, singing in the church choir, she says, and her first-ever indie release, 2004’s “Original Soul,” was rooted in gospel. She also loved the mid-‘70s moment when Deep Purple excess simultaneously surrendered to both power-chorded punk and thumping Donna Summer dance. And she’s crooned country duets with Kenny Chesney, like “Wild Child,” “El Cerrito Place” and the smash hit “You and Tequila.”
Potter’s only serious choice in life? The Rolling Stones over The Beatles. Always. In June, she joined the legendary Brits onstage, twice, harmonizing on the classic “Gimme Shelter.” “I’m a pretty feisty, energetic dancer, but Mick was just dancing circles around me,” she says. “So rock and roll is the absolute refusal of accepting mortality, and those guys are living proof. And that’s why I love it!”