It was after being busted for drinking champagne in a parking lot outside of prom when she was 15 years old that Grace Potter came to realize that she might have a career in music.
After her arrest, Potter was sent to Diversion, a program where juveniles perform community service in her native Vermont.
Potter had previously recorded a demo of a song that she had written, “Hit the Ground,” to help her in the college application process, thinking that her musical prowess might compensate for her so-so grades.
Potter took the recording and passed it off to the Diversion officials as something she had done as an apology for her drinking.
“I played it for them,” Potter recalls, “and I looked at all their faces. All of a sudden, it went from this kind of mean, discerning group of people who were judging me as this sort of juvenile delinquent to realizing that they were listening to something kind of special that I had gone out and taken the initiative to record — albeit, it wasn’t actually for the Diversion program.
“That’s how I got out of my first really bad brush with the law,” she continues with a laugh. “So I thought to myself, ‘If music can get me out of being arrested, then maybe I should pursue it.’ ”
More laughter ensues.
Potter’s an easy-going presence, a natural entertainer, even in conversation, so much so that before she was even in kindergarten, she says that she was rewriting the pop songs of her youth.
“I remember singing along to, like, Toto’s ‘Africa’ or Steve Winwood’s ‘Higher Love’ or something like that, thinking that I knew a better lyric, I knew a better way that they should have done it,” Potter chuckles.
Music came so easily to her, in fact, that she initially questioned whether or not she could really make a living at it.
“I just thought that a career should be hard, that whatever you do for your career, you have to study it, you have to learn it, it can’t just be something that you’re already good at,” she says. “I really kind of tortured myself through film school and art classes and theater classes and all these different manifestations of performance, thinking that that’s the way a job is supposed to be.”
Eventually, though, Potter would meet up with drummer Matt Burr and guitarist Scott Tournet while still in college and they’d form Grace Potter & the Nocturnals in 2002 (the band’s current lineup is rounded out by guitarist Benny Yurco and bassist Michael Libramento).
After years of near incessant gigging, the group broke through commercially on their self-titled third record, released in 2010, which cracked the top 20 of the Billboard album chart and broadened the audience for their rootsy, homespun rock ’n’ roll.
Their sound is driven in large part by Potter’s powerhouse singing, which sometimes sounds as if she’s expelling a windstorm from her lungs.
That record set the stage for the band’s latest disc, “The Lion the Beast the Beat,” their most adventurous, uninhibited album.
From one song to the next, the record is akin to rapidly switching through different channels on the radio dial, a little arena rock bombast here, a touch of earthy country balladry there, instantly hummable hooks just about everywhere.
“You can’t define yourself by one thing, right?” Potter says. “I actually said at the beginning of the record that I wanted it to play like a mixtape that I would have made for a friend in, like, 1992. I’d think about all my parents’ records and all the pieces of music that have influenced me and the band over the years, and it really is a mixtape. It isn’t just one thing.”
Still, for a record with such an intuitive feel to it, “The Lion” was a struggle to complete.
“I had a bad bout of self-doubt in the middle of the record and actually pulled the plug on the whole project,” Potter says. “I had a little bit of a freakout. I sent everybody home. I had to dig back into what we were really trying to do in the studio. There were a lot of questions in my head about what direction to go in knowing that we were going to be touring on this record for probably a year and a half. It’s a very scary place to put yourself if you don’t think that you’re going to love every song.”
What eventually enabled Potter to regain her confidence in the album was “The Divide,” a stirring, dramatic, symphonic rocker that closes the record.
When Potter was feeling her most bottled up creatively, she hopped in her car and just drove and drove for days on end, eventually finding peace within herself and penning the song in question.
“I drove a lonely distance,” she sings, “ ’Til the road turned to fire.”
And she hasn’t stopped stoking those flames.
“We are a touring band,” Potter says of the group’s constant road work. “We’ve never pretended to be a studio band. We’re not exactly Steely Dan.”
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@
reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
9 p.m. Saturday
Mandalay Bay Beach, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. South