During the pandemic, Grace Potter and her husband (and producer) Eric Valentine set about getting their future mapped out after what had been a roller coaster of experiences over the preceding years.
Potter had been through the breakup of her band, the Nocturnals, and divorced her husband, Nocturnals drummer Matt Burr. She went on to make her 2019 solo album “Daylight,” with Valentine producing, and after wrapping the project, realized she had fallen for her producer, a situation that soon progressed to the two becoming a couple, marrying, and having a son.
Then there was a career high point for Potter when “Daylight” was nominated for two Grammies, but also the shock of the pandemic halting touring early in the cycle for “Daylight” and turning the world on its ear, as well as the heartbreak of a miscarriage. Along the way, Potter and Valentine decided it was time to settle into a new phase of life by moving from their home in the Topanga Canyon area of Los Angeles back to Potter’s native Vermont and building a home and a studio there.
“I think he (Valentine) was really wisely looking at our lives and looking at the trajectory of where we were going and what kind of a life we could have and what we could build together that would be a stabilizing force,” Potter says.
But she wasn’t ready emotionally for life’s next stage. There was more processing and healing to do. “Initially, there was a huge amount of time where I (thought) moving home felt like it was the best idea ever, until I got there and realized I wasn’t ready for my homecoming experience,” Potter remembers. “I still had a bone to pick with the world.”
So the singer hit the road by herself, and her trips became about much more than escaping geographically; they became a journey back in time for Potter that connected her past to her present and eventually coalesced into a concept for “Mother Road” that extended back to her college years as a film major, and a childhood that showed an affinity for creating characters and telling stories.
“I basically decided I’m going to go back to the stories I wrote in college, before the band, before the Nocturnals. So instead of sort of emancipating myself from my band, my life and my history, this was about ‘What’s the future that I had, like the one I had before all of that, and who was I?” Potter explains. “And I started exploring her. And she’s not me now. I’ve changed so much. And I have so many different experiences, amazing experiences, by the way, but just really not what I expected would come of my life when I was 19 and going to college and chose my major as film.”
Potter revisited her college screenplays and then dug deeper to recall stories she made up as a child.
“Yeah, I made up all of these characters and I’d make up these names and I’d take off my glasses or I’d put a hat on or I’d flip my hair the other way. I’d try to transform who I was into an imaginary friend named Stephanie, named Lola, named Penny,” she says.
As Potter describes it in a press release for “Mother Road,” the album developed into a series of character-driven story songs that in some way express facets of her personality, her past and her present.
“As ‘Mother Road’ unfolds, my central narrative begins to fragment into multiple paths,” she explains in the press release. “Each path becomes a character, and each character weaves in and out of my present-day consciousness at important milestones along the way. The album is my take on what it means to be alive and how to live life to the fullest.”
Interestingly enough, “Mother Road” did not become the introspective, reflective kind of musical trip that might be expected from someone wrestling with the idea of moving on from a previous chapter of life. Instead, it’s mostly a freewheeling album that’s varied, often raucous, highly entertaining and also personal and authentic.
Musically, it spans the chunky roots rock the song “Mother Road;” the funky, soulful and saucy “Futureland,” “Ready Set Go” and “Good Time” (the latter of which sounds a bit like T. Rex shot through a blender of classic Memphis soul); the cinematic, spaghetti western tinged folk-rock of “Lady Vagabond;” the pretty and tender acoustic folk of “Little Hitchhiker;” the tangy blues rock of “All My Ghosts;” and “Masterpiece,” which evokes an epic like Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” without the operatic/cabaret elements.
Now Potter is starting her tour to promote “Mother Road” and has put together a band that she feels can bring the passion, power and joy of her music – both from “Mother Road” and her previous albums – to vivid life on stage.
“What we’re endeavoring to do and what we’re actually doing is the most surprising, creative live music experience I’ve ever had,” Potter says. “I tapped into and utilized my instincts to bring a band together that felt like the perfect combination of that fearless youth, as well as the road-dog energy that I clearly have lived inside of and grown up inside of.”
Grace Potter performs at Maymont on Friday, Sept. 29 at 5:30 p.m. Tickets range from $35 to $190 and you can learn more here.