By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
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Groove-heavy American rock and mature, up-front sexuality are two things that have practically disappeared from the pop-culture landscape in recent years.
But it's making a comeback thanks to Vermont native Grace Potter and her band, The Nocturnals, who have clearly decided that it's high time to dust off some lusty licks and even lustier vibes.
It's not exactly a new concept, no—such an approach is the definition of the rebellion that birthed rock 'n' roll.
But, then again, simply singing about sex isn't exactly what Potter had in mind when she and the Nocturnals formed, either. Conveying the urgency of physically needing sex? That was more her target.
"That's the emotion of this whole record," Potter says over the phone from her home in Vermont while gearing up for her current tour with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. "Even with the songs that are more about simple love, or about love lost, there's still a sexual feel to them. Not a lot of people were ready for that. I'm the wholesome girl from Vermont singing about sex. It was just an important step for me to make. To be a grown-up, to own my sexuality a little more than I have in the past."
The fact that Potter and her rejuvenated band of comrades are touring with the resplendently soulful Jones sheds light on how she views her latest, self-titled record.
"When we started this record, the only concept was that we really wanted it to be upbeat," Potter says. "We didn't have a specific vision, and we opened ourselves up to whatever might happen. It became evident very quickly that this would be a soul-intensive record."
The apparent soul on this latest release isn't as sonically obvious as the Dap-Kings' brand is, but, as with Potter's chosen method of communicating her physical desires, the soulfulness is conveyed through an honest commitment to time-honored sounds.
To her credit, when Potter laments the sunny-side-up status quo of Top 40 vanilla rock, she does so as a discerning student of what the masses are listening to, in the here and now.
"I listen to a lot of modern music," admits Potter. "From Rihanna to The Strokes to Jack White's latest project, I feel like we shamelessly sauntered into other genres that typically have nothing to do with us and put our own spin on it."
And, in the benign, corporately controlled mainstream music environment, simply being honest about desires that percolate just under the surface isn't something to gloss over. Sex, Potter makes a point of saying, is a vital part of music—even if most mainstream musical outlets are trying their best to hide that carnal fact.
"Sex was so misconstrued in the Britney Spears/Christina Aguilera era," she says. "The context of sexuality seemed to turn into something totally different. Sexuality became some uncomfortable, dirty old man that looks at barely post-pubescent girls grinding up on each other. That craziness made sexuality taboo."
Lest there were any doubt, Potter hopes to change such thinking.
"Sex has really gotten a bad rap," Potter says. "Instead of being up front about adult sexuality, people want to make music safe and politically correct. And I've had enough of that shit."