To anyone who’s ever been at the mercy of one, it often seems like the job of modern publicists is to prevent access to their clients. Which makes Disney/Hollywood Records’ Sharrin Summers an anomaly, especially when it comes to Grace Potter & The Nocturnals.
Normally a publicist doesn’t figure into a Hotstar. But Summers delivered the kind of impassioned, heartfelt endorsement of Potter that comes from a devoted fan – if not from an agent or manager – and that was after the cover was already a done deal.
The picture becomes clearer when you see that level of enthusiasm radiates through every person connected with the singer, including Measurement Arts’ Justin Goldberg.
“It’s one of those things you wait your whole career for,” Goldberg told Pollstar. “Somebody who’s the real deal.
“I used to do A&R and publishing at Sony and spent most of my early career watching talented people who never managed to have a live career. Grace is an amazing artist to work with. She’s so hard working. She’s a star.”
Goldberg’s relationship with Potter, which began in 2005, came about in a rather unusual way and was quickly followed by an unusual request.
“I’d written a book about the music business that basically said, ‘Go indie. Don’t sign with a major label. Spend your time touring,’” he explained. “Grace read the book and contacted me and we met in New Orleans.
“Even back then she had a riveting live energy that was generating waves and there was some label attention. She told me if I wanted to come on board as her manager I had to kill the first record deal offer she and the band had, which was from Universal.
“She said, ‘They want to make me into Norah Jones – and I want to be Robert Plant.’ Stylistically, she was so far from where she is now, I was really taken aback.”
Potter used an iconic film by an even more iconic band as a guide to help steer her career where she wanted it to go.
“Her boyfriend and drummer, Matt Burr who founded the band, had turned her on to ‘The Last Waltz,’” Goldberg recalled. “She refers to it in interviews. It has very much influenced how she’s approached positioning the band at the forefront of her musical force. It’s very much a rock band, so she turned out to be right.”
Scott Tournet, Cathereine Popper, Benny Yurco, Grace Potter and Matt Burr
The Vermont-born and -based Potter, who brims with the energy and enthusiasm that carries through her team, told Pollstar the drive to be a musician began almost as soon as she could reach the keys of a piano.
“When I was 6, I sat down at the piano and decided that I was going to master my craft,” the 26-year-old singer explained. “Before that I was always singing. I just ran into a woman who used to drive me to Gymboree. She told me I would be in the car on the way there harmonizing to ‘Betty Davis Eyes’ in perfect pitch! I didn’t remember that. She could be making it up, but if that’s any testament to how long I’ve been doing this … because I was 3.”
It was at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., where she was actually studying film, that Potter first met Burr and guitarist Scott Tournet. The pair had already formed the core of what would become The Nocturnals, which now also includes bassist Catherine Popper and rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco.
“I delved into the music program a bit, but I learned pretty quickly that, just in terms of what the department had to offer, it wasn’t what I was there for. I was there for a liberal arts education, knowing full well it was just the education part. It’s not like I was going to pursue a career in economics.
“Matt and Scott had a band called Soul Patch that I just loved. They were the big band on campus. It was a genius collaboration that only lasted a semester or two, but when it fell apart I swept in there and grabbed a few of the members and started our band. We just took gigs as much as we could on campus before migrating back to Vermont.”
Catherine Popper, Grace Potter, Matt Burr, Benny Yurco and Scott Tournet
Since its official inception in 2004, the band has released three generally well-received albums, but it’s their latest, self-titled release that’s poised to make them stars and bring about Potter’s dream.
“This record is the closest thing to capturing our live energy that we’ve done,” the singer said. “We’re not the best studio band, but this time, going in with a renewed sense of what we were trying to do made it easier. We played the way we play on stage.
“There was very little overdubbing and most of the songs we got in the first or second take. So it’s very easy to recreate them onstage.”
And that’s exactly where the band really stands out, according to Partisan Arts’ Hank Sacks.
“For me as an agent, it’s been an extremely gratifying experience to work hard with them,” Sacks told Pollstar. “They take a huge interest in the day-to-day decisions that we make. They care about their touring career. They understand that’s where it’s at.
“From day one, I was struck by their knack for blowing away audiences. Grace has some special charisma and charm. Combined with her songwriting ability and her musicianship, they just literally blow people away.”
Potter said that’s the band’s ultimate goal, no matter where they’re playing.
“We’ve gotta have people up and dancing,” the singer explained. “We do theatre shows, which are really exciting because it’s a chance to play some of the ballads and soulful intimate songs. But by the end of even the most intimate theatre show, we’ve still got people up on their feet, making a mess.”