As co-guitarist for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals since the group formed more than a decade ago, Scott Tournet has prided himself on being able to offer a speedy reply to just about any inquiry tossed his way about the band.
Want to know about the fan base the Vermont-born troupe has assessed in increments over the years, as opposed to one huge burst of pop stardom? He’s got you covered.
Curious about the stylistic breadth of the band’s music and the triumphs and drawbacks tagged to it? How much time you got for an explanation?
But ask Tournet about the chief Nocturnal, the devine Ms. Potter herself, and what has made her one of the most formidable female rock ’n’ roll artists of her day, and the guitarist seems briefly – briefly, mind you – stymied.
“Usually I have tons of answers for everything,” said Tournet, who will help Grace Potter and the Nocturnals bring this weekend’s Forecastle Festival to a close on Sunday evening in Louisville. “Really. I have an opinion for everything. But that one’s a little tricky just because I’m pretty close to the flame, so to speak. Trying to talk objectively about Grace and our band is tough.
“One of the things we talk about as a band is how cool it would be to be able to watch our own show onstage sometime to understand it better. Because when you’re in it, sometimes it’s hard to understand the power it may hold. It’s weird. I’ve known Grace as a friend for a long time (Potter and drummer Matt Burr formed the Nocturnals with Tournet in 2002). I respect and realize that she is a star. But I don’t really see her as one. I do when she sits in with someone else and I’m not playing. That’s when I can actually see what she carries into a performance.
“Something just happens when we go up onstage. We morph into this huge thing. It didn’t used to be like that. Grace has always carried some charisma and an energy that people were attracted to. But we became this rock ’n’ roll band. It’s like watching your child grow up. They grow gradually and gradually. It’s like when the uncle shows up and goes, ‘Look how much you’ve grown!’ That’s because he only sees you periodically. For me, I see Grace’s growth day to day.”
Potter’s name has been regularly referenced over the years alongside legends like Janis Joplin. But a more accurate parallel would be to Ann Wilson of Heart, just for the immediacy and confidence that underscore her vocal chops. There are leanings to pop and the blues, too, but Potter mostly takes an elemental and energetic approach to a sound rooted strongly in ’70s-style arena rock. The 2007 album This is Somewhere, 2009’s Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and 2012’s The Lion The Beast The Beat embody and build on those inspirations, but her live shows overflow with tireless vocal stamina and a desire to give her audience as intensive a performance workout as the one she puts herself through.
Witness the opening line she delivered to a delirious audience locally at The Dame in 2009. “By the end of the night, you-all are going to be a mess.”
“That’s the thing about Grace that people don’t really understand,” Tournet said. “She’s actually a multi-faceted chameleon of a person. We could totally do one full album of songs like Paris (the 2010 hit from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals that earned the band considerable exposure on radio and television) that are very physical. We could do a total art-rock album. We could do a blues album. We could do a folk album. We could do a million different things. So that’s the good news. But sometimes that’s been our Achilles’ heel, too, because we don’t fit in snugly with one genre.”
How far outside conventional rock boundaries has Potter journeyed? How about touring with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw on a stadium tour last summer and turning up as a guest on the former’s 2011 hit You and Tequila (just as Chesney did a year later for the Nocturnals single Stars)?
“I thought it was kind of hilarious that we played Coachella – the coolest, trendiest, most hip and now festival – and then went out with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, which is the antithesis of that,” Tournet said. “It’s crazy. It’s weird. We’ve always been able to blend into different environments.”
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals perform on the final night of Forecastle. The festival runs today through Sunday at Waterfront Park, 129 East River Rd. in Louisville. Start times are 4:45 p.m. (June 12), 2:15 p.m. (June 13) and 1:15 p.m. (June 14). Tickets are $75, $85, $180. More ticket info at http://forecastlefest.com.