Grace Potter: After Midnight

Mike Greenhaus on June 8, 2020
Grace Potter: After Midnight

Grace Potter is the first to admit that she has a habit of blowing up her life every time she makes a new record. But in the lead-up to Daylight, her first album in four years, the former Nocturnal didn’t just break from her past—she stepped away from her previous life altogether.

Grace Potter was in her “‘You and Tequila’ Bathroom”when she had an “I Will Always Love You” moment. To be more specific, she was relaxing in the tub, the crown-jewel centerpiece of the Moroccan Hammam-inspired, spa-like oasis Potter designed with the money she received for singing on a country hit with Kenny Chesney.

“Kenny cut me the most generous, wonderful check even before knowing ‘You and Tequila’ was going to be a hit song,” Potter admits. “He has all these really funny contingencies when he pays somebody—‘You can only buy a boat or a vineyard in France with this.’” I didn’t tell him what I was going to spend it on, but I did decide to do this massive bathroom remodel. This house used to belong to Sean Avery, the hockey player. As an efficient man of mystery, all he needed was a standup shower, a shitter and a sink. I blew it out.”

The tiny space quickly grew into Potter’s spiritual sanctuary, complete with a chandelier built from a repurposed fish trap that she shipped in from her native Vermont. And, when the singer/keyboardist/guitarist decided to sell the Laurel Canyon house she once shared with her longtime drummer and husband Matt Burr in 2017, following their divorce, she took one last soak as a proper goodbye. That’s when the first notes of “Release” came to her.

“I wasn’t sure if I was singing it for the house, my relationship with Matt or just my own life,” Potter says as she thinks back on a moment reminiscent of Dolly Parton’s own bittersweet goodbye to her onetime romantic and creative partner, Porter Wagoner. “These lyrics came through in a melody. I just hummed them and trailed off, but something about that felt really good and I wanted to record them, so I did. You can hear the drops of water dripping in the background—you can hear me splashing around.”

The track—a brutally honest, quasi-gospel number that opens with the lyrics, “I know that I caused this pain/ I know you can’t let me go/ Crying in the midnight rain/ Waiting on a miracle,” is a clear highlight on Daylight, Potter’s third official solo album. It’s also a harbinger for the pain and acceptance that lies at the heart of her first LP since her 2015 major-label solo debut, Midnight. In that time, Potter had an affair with Midnight producer and former T-Ride drummer Eric Valentine, ended her marriage with Burr and relocated to Topanga, Calif.—all while sorting through the breakup of her band. Soon after, she and Valentine also welcomed their first child.

“A lot of what happened from 2011, when I bought that house, to 2017, when the divorce finally went through, was the activity of Hollywood without the sensation of home,” she admits. “Sometimes the truth is so uncomfortable that it derails everything. And that’s what happened in my life.”

As she recounts the tense, emotional period that resulted in Daylight—a soulful return to form that still retains some of the welcome pop-leaning hooks she flirted with on Midnight—Potter is camped out in a hotel suite in downtown New Haven, Conn. In a few hours, she’ll take the stage at the nearby College Street Music Hall with her current ensemble, which includes guitarist Benny Yurco. He’s the last holdout from the Nocturnals, the band Potter formed in college with her eventual husband Burr, guitarist Scott Tournet and a few other roots-loving friends almost 20 years ago.

Right now, Potter and her assistant are putting the finishing touches on a new stage decoration while some breezy Hawaiian music plays in the background.

“It looks like cheesecloth, but it’s plastic,” she says. “I love dying things, like too much. So we had to get this synthetic dye that absorbs into plastic. There’s a lot of DIY happening here.”

From her earliest days touring with the Nocturnals, Potter and her entourage always have had a grassroots, band-of-gypsies spirit, even as her eclectic interests and desires led her to sign with Hollywood Records, write the beforementioned country smash, appear on VH1 DIVAS Salute the Troops and sing the theme to Grace and Frankie. (Balancing out those mainstream moments, she’s also co-hosted the Jammys, collaborated with The Flaming Lips and recorded with everyone from Dan Auerbach to Warren Haynes.)

But, since returning to the road last year for the first time since she temporary stepped away from music, Potter is learning to adapt to having a true family along for the ride. Currently, her two-year-old son Sagan is scurrying around the room, turning the hotel carpet into a DIY art project of his own and using his mother’s shoe as a percussive instrument. “Clearly, I have a thing for drummers,” Potter says, her trademark locker-room laugh reverberating through the suite. “We have to plan ahead now. We have to figure out when we’re going to have days off and what we’re going to need to do with Sagan. Usually, it’s a science museum or playground.”

Valentine has been on the road with Potter throughout the winter, with the exception of a few days when he flew out to The NAMM Show “because he’s a fancy record producer,” Potter says with another hearty laugh. Her parents agreed to help with childcare, even staying on her tour bus for the first time. (“And now they probably never will again,” she says with a wink.)

Since New Haven lies near the southern tip of the Potters’ New England homeland, a number of family members are planning to come down; Potter makes a point to note their support, describing her dad Sparky as “the little gray-haired guy that’s always running around at Bonnaroo taking pictures.” She’s clearly fostering a similar connection with her son.

“We had a lost day yesterday,” she admits. “I had this whole plan to go shopping for things for the show, but I’d rather lose a day and relax here with Sagan. He’s my proximity to reality now. I can’t sleep until three in the afternoon with the blinds closed. He will wake me up, he will want to party, he will want to go outside and he will want to ride his bike.”

Potter has rubbed elbows with the music world’s elite, and weathered a few wild days of her own, but she’s quickly learning to embrace her new normal. “Your show ends at 11 or 12. It’s hard to just decompress and go to bed,” she says. “I like a glass of red wine after the show. I used to drink so much more and I didn’t even think about it until I’d look at the bottle and go, ‘Where’d all the wine go?’ But now, I’ll wake up in the morning and there’s a full glass of wine that I intended to drink before I ended up passing out. My body is just done—I can’t.”

The 36-year-old singer pauses mid-story to recount a time she was dosed by a lawyer who had a sign on his back that said, “The red spray bottle is sunshine acid. The blue spray bottle is just water. Everyone has a choice.”

“I should have read the sign,” she says, before looping back to her current domestic, but in-transit life. “I’ve had to change my schedule a bit, but it’s been better. Honestly, I want to wake up in the morning. I’m not going to bed early enough—I’m probably not getting as much sleep as I should. But I feel like that’s part of parenthood.”

During the Midnight sessions, Potter found herself at a crossroads, both personally and professionally. Though Midnight wasn’t always intended to mark the end of the Nocturnals, and even features a few of her bandmates on several tracks, the process ended up highlighting the group’s fractured dynamic. And, before Potter hit the road in support of the project, Tournet announced his departure in a terse social media post, effectively putting the group on ice.

Midnight was Potter’s most confident leap into the pop world, burying her bluesy vocals in dance-floor beats, radio-ready choruses and a mall-like sheen that felt worlds away from the festivals where she initially staked her claim as an artist to watch.

“When we finished Midnight, I felt like it was pretty organic,” Valentine says. “It was all played by a band. But when I go back and listen to it now, it’s like, ‘Wow, this is super hyped up,’ especially compared to what we did on Daylight. Grace was caught in a tricky spot between what she wanted to express on that record, what her band was comfortable doing and what the label wanted. Somehow she had to try and reconcile that as best she could. And then, I’m there trying to help and keep everybody happy.”

“[The Midnight song] ‘Delirious’ ended up being my catharsis for the pain and the abandonment that I’d been feeling,” Potter says. “That ended up being the vocal peak, the release of the entire thing—‘Fuck you, you fucking asshole!’ I really needed to say that and there was so much anxiety and tension at that point. That was the big meltdown.”

Valentine, a respected LA producer known for his work with heavier acts like Queens of the Stone Age, Lostprophets, Good Charlotte and Smash Mouth, has helped a range of artists step out of their comfort zones. “When Nickel Creek reached out to me and said, ‘We’re interested in working with you,’ I said, ‘I know zero about bluegrass music.’ And they said, ‘Perfect, because we don’t really want to make another bluegrass record.’”

Midnight peaked at No. 26 on the Billboard 200 chart and Potter supported the project with a mix of big-name opening spots and marquee theater dates. But, shortly after finishing the LP, Potter realized that she had feelings for Valentine beyond just liking him as a producer.

“As we were finishing Midnight, we both had this feeling of, ‘I still really want to hang out with you,’” Valentine says. “That transitioned at a certain point into something else. She was the first one to say, ‘I’ve got real feelings going on here; I’m in love with you.’ Shortly after that, I was like, ‘I feel the same way. What do we do with that? This is insane; our lives are just going to explode.’ It wasn’t really until the end of 2015 when everybody became more aware of our feelings for each other, [realizing] that this was super serious and that things were going to change. We were stealing time to be together leading up to that.”

Potter and Burr split up and—since the drummer was initially touring as part of the Midnight band—their divorce was immediately pushed into the public eye.

“There’s a lot of guilt that comes with a transition like that,” Valentine says. “We were exploring this new love, but there were also two other people who were losing love in their lives. It was extremely painful and really traumatic. So, it took some time for us to get to a place where we felt like we could celebrate our happiness. Before that, it always had this dark cloud of like, ‘I just fucked everything up for everybody.’”

After wrapping up her Midnight support cycle, Potter stepped away from the music industry. “I quit music,” she says. “I called my managers and I said, ‘I don’t want to book any shows. I don’t want to sign a record deal. I don’t want people calling me trying to co-write. I don’t know what I want yet, and I need an infinite, indeterminate amount of time to figure it out.’”

Potter relocated to Topanga with Valentine and slowly started reactivating her career. After a period of hesitation, she decided to use the emotional turmoil of the previous few years as the basis of her future Daylight songs. To say that the results were honest would be an understatement. “I never said I was a saint/ I never said I’d be your savior,” she sings on the sultry “Love Is Love.” “Oh, and I didn’t mean, I didn’t mean to hurt nobody/ No, no, no/ But intentions are different than actions,” she muses on the album’s title track. “‘I don’t love you’/ Ain’t the kind of thing you say under your breath/ Shout it out/ If you never wanna see me again,” she belts out on the surprisingly hopeful “Shout It Out.”

Valentine was there throughout the process, helping translate their once forbidden love into a set of songs that felt in line with the Nocturnals’ earthiest work.

“I have a lot of ideas, but I can never tell which are worth pursuing,” she says. “So to have a witness to my healing process who was also able to go, ‘I know what a hit record is supposed to sound like and that sounds pretty hitty to me’ made me feel like I was just having another conversation with myself. I remember how things felt, he remembers how things happened.”

Despite not having a label, the couple gradually started recording and, eventually, recruited some friends, including Yurco, Mike Busbee, Matt Musty, Benmont Tench and Lucius.

“We landed on this very intimate, close-up, stripped-down approach,” Valentine says. “That’s where you’re going to be able to hear these stories and have them really sink in, instead of having her voice fight through this big wall of instruments.”

And, now that Potter has rediscovered her connection to music, she has a bevy of ideas. She hopes to revisit a few songs that didn’t make it onto Daylight and recently wrote a Christmas tune. Potter worked on some vocal arrangements for Gwen Stefani during her hiatus from performing and would also like to explore that corner of the world in the future. And, she is excited to figure out her everevolving family balance.

“Ultimately, the aim is to be more bicoastal and more connected to our Vermont roots,” Potter says. “We’ve considered it more recently because my parents are getting older and we’re looking into getting a place there that can be a foothold for when Sagan gets a little older. I don’t want him going to school with a bunch of famous people’s kids with G-Wagens and helicopters and all that. I don’t want him growing up in that reality. There’s a lot of life in Vermont, and the pace and the energy there really resonates with me. Topanga is the happy medium between work and play that we want right now for our family. But as time goes on, Vermont is home.  I think we’re gonna slowly move deeper and deeper into the woods until nobody can find us.”

Your life changed drastically between Midnight and Daylight, from your divorce and the start of your new relationship with Eric to the birth of your son. During that time, you also stepped away from music, both on and off the stage. What led to that decision?

I was just really sad after the Midnight tour. Even when Midnight came out, I was sad that things had happened the way that they had with the band—how things had dissolved. It made me not want to make music anymore. But there I was with a newly minted solo album. I hadn’t intended it to be a solo album, but it was. I was opening for The Rolling Stones—a huge tour, the most successful tour I had been on. There was so much concern. There were so many people wringing their hands, like, “Is this just going to be  Grace Potter with a piano onstage?” But word spread that the show was expansive; it was a new band. I was proving myself— really working my ass off to earn the right to have emancipated myself from that era. I didn’t want to be angry; I didn’t want it to make me sad. I didn’t want to have that victim, abandoned feeling, but it was hard to avoid. That was what the Midnight era felt like.

And then, with my marriage falling apart right before everyone’s eyes—because Matt was on the road with me for the beginning of the Midnight tour and people noticed when he was suddenly not there—it was really difficult. It had already been spooling up way before that. I just started associating touring, putting out albums and recording with pain, loss and heartache.

At the same time, I had this amazing new love. There was an ever-present element of, “If it’s not beautiful and it doesn’t make me feel good, then I shouldn’t do it anymore.” I now feel love in a way that is teaching me to love myself more—and maybe the lifestyle that I had been pursuing was not ultimately serving me. It certainly has not served the other people who have lost the game. I hate to call it that, but the music industry is definitely a game.

Matt was really banged up after everything, and I was banged up. I felt, “If this is what happens when you become successful and when the stakes get raised, I’d rather not do it.” And I needed to finish the divorce; there was a lot of court stuff. Beyond Matt and myself, there was some complicated stuff with Eric’s ex that was really scary. It was really dark. I was so over that Midnight darkness that I just got rid of that element of my life.

Was there a specific moment that reinvigorated you to start writing again?

We moved to Topanga once the dust settled and started looking for a house. In Topanga, all the houses worth buying are internal. It’s all local people and word of mouth, so you can’t go on Zillow. You have to go there, meet the people, and get in on the ground. I also knew that every building in Topanga probably started as a tent and slowly sprouted like a mushroom into what it is now. When we bought our house, we had already been there for a year and half— waiting and looking. And that’s when I started writing music again. So in that window of time, we were gardening and landscaping. I was doing a lot of painting. That was, and still is, my favorite thing to do. I had my microphone so, occasionally, I’d sing a little bit of a song. And then I’d tuck the mic into my pocket and keep painting. It was a meditative process. I also started listening to music again. Not my music, just anything—everything. It started with Les Baxter and Esquivel—instrumental music. Before that, I wasn’t even listening to music, except for Frank Sinatra and Mozart.

It was also the first time I’d messed around with a streaming service, so I got a Spotify account and the algorithm recommends things to you. I wanted a groove—an Afro-Cuban presence. When we got to Topanga, I also wanted to listen to all the albums that had been inspired by Topanga, like Neil Young’s On the Beach. The band Spirit actually lived in our house and wrote a song about it [“Topanga Window”].

It was so inspiring to be in Topanga, in the dappled light with my hands covered in sweat, actually feeling the neurons start to fire again in that direction. It was two years before that happened. It finally came back, and it felt warm. It felt good. It didn’t feel dangerous, it didn’t feel like, “Here we go again.” It felt new, like I was 12 years old, writing songs for the first time. The melodies coming out were interesting and jazzy—cinematic. Sometimes a lyric would just fall out at the same time as a melody. I started tracking them down with voice memos.

At what point did you think those voice memos might be the start of an album?

This was mid-2017, and then I found out that I was pregnant. We had been trying for a long time and we had a failed attempt earlier in the year—I had a miscarriage. Everybody has them but you don’t know when it happens because nobody talks about it.

We had a Shaman experience, where we did this plant-based medicine—I don’t know how many plants were really involved, but I’m pretty sure it was just psychedelic drugs and MDMA. It was a very deep excursion into my spirit and my purpose. I felt really determined to face whatever that was—whatever was undone, whatever had been unraveled in my life through the trauma and pain of the band breakup and my divorce. That’s when the lyrics started coming out. So I have to say: I owe it to psychedelics. It just set my mind in motion in a way that allowed me to be honest and fearless with what I was feeling. I realized what the truth was. It came out and actually sounded like something—like real music.

I rented a studio in Topanga that was right behind this beautiful, old building that used to be a salon. It was intentionally empty— nothing but a piano. That’s when I started to go back through some of the voice memos, these thoughts I’d had while we were working on our house. And then the music came back. I still didn’t think I was making an album; I still didn’t have a record company. I was out-to-here pregnant, so there was really no concept of when or how. It was just like, “I’m doing music again because it feels good to do music again.”

We signed with Fantasy Records at the end of 2018. We had recorded a lot of the album before then but we had to do some more work. The main thing was my vocals because it’s hard to get me to sing a good vocal at home. I’m a wiseass and I don’t have a lot of patience. If it’s not perfect in the first four takes, then I’m just bored.

In certain ways, that creative rebirth must have reminded you of writing your earliest songs.

My heart was feeling the healing energy of the songs, the way it did when I was an angsty teenager feeling isolated. I had this time in 7th-8th grade where I lost all my friends. I had a very strong sense of self and knew what I wanted to do, so I stopped being a social human. I went through my parents’ old clothing from the ‘60s and ‘70s and started wearing all their hippie clothes. I grew dreadlocks and went to Phish concerts. That’s when music first came in. I was hurting—feeling isolated and abandoned. It was a hurtful time and music was a healing force. It also, oddly enough, got me people’s attention. Before that, I was just the younger sister of a popular girl who had all the cool friends. I was the weird, nerdy kid with braces and dreadlocks.

It took another couple of years of writing songs before I got up onstage during a high-school assembly and played “River of Time.” It was a hodgepodge, like Page McConnell and Joni Mitchell starting a supergroup. I went from being totally isolated and really blacklisted from the “cool kid” group to having everybody want to hang out with me. It was almost like I was an object at a museum that they wanted to look at more closely.

That’s another reason that music fell out of my life—I needed to make sure that this whole thing was working for me. My identity had been so tied up in music.

You were working through both your divorce and your new relationship with Eric while you were writing Daylight. There must have been a therapeutic element to the experience.

It was really weird. I went to therapy—I went to hypnotherapy to deal with some of the deeper issues that sometimes creep in when you’re making music. I have a lot of empathic feelings, and I get a lot of information that’s not really mine to hold onto when I’m singing. Somebody’s pain or somebody’s spirit will come through me and come out of my mouth. I’m just an antenna. So we did a little bit of work during my time off on how to not hold onto other people’s shit because the stage is a therapeutic place to go. People go to concerts to heal and to feel something, and I had been taking on people’s journeys and messages. I get things, from different places, that people are trying to communicate to someone in the crowd. They’re coming through me, and I’m like, “Which part of this is me? Am I going insane or is this actually a very important message that I need to share with this person?”

One time, I got a strong feeling that a [friend’s mom] was trying to talk to her, like, “You need to check in with your mom.” She did and then, later that day, she found out that her mom had been cruising around with walking pneumonia for weeks and hadn’t done enough about it, and she was in the hospital. Everything was fine, but the moment that happened, I was onstage and I was like, “I don’t know if I should say this or not.” The songs on Daylight sound the way they sound because the truth is raw—it is not always comfortable. When I finally let the truth in, it was jarring and scary.

To take that leap and acknowledge that I was in love with Eric was the first thing. But going even more into that, I didn’t know that things hadn’t been working with my previous marriage or with my band. I thought everything was great and, through the process of the band departing, there was a lot of confusion as to whether I was choosing to do that— whether I was pushing the band away—or whether it was just time. And everybody felt it because I wasn’t allowing that truth in. I was just covering my ears and forging ahead like, “We’re just making another record. It’s no big deal. We have a record company; we gotta get out on tour.” There wasn’t necessarily anybody forcing my hand or making something happen. That was an important realization—that it just happened. It wasn’t something that one person decided, like, “I’m gonna be a dick” or “I’m gonna get addicted to drugs” or “I’m gonna go fuck somebody that’s not my husband.” There’s no one truth, there was a lot of tough stuff happening. But music was not the enemy at the end of the day. I had to go through this process to find that out.

You started writing “Love Is Love,” which talks vividly about your affair, a few years before Daylight was released. Did you originally shelve that song because you felt it might be too raw?

That was the one where I was like, “Nevermind. Let’s put a cap on this right now—I’m not doing this.” It’s still terrifying to sing that song. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be totally at ease with how this all went down and what happened. But that song put it down on paper too soon for me. That’s always how I’ve processed things. If I’m ready to have a feeling, it becomes a song for the rest of my life. If I’m not ready to go there, I don’t write a song about it. I just don’t say it.

With that one I felt, “Everything is out on the table now.” It was very early on—winter 2016—and I was not ready to feel those feelings. It was horrifying to think that something could be set in stone. It was hard. [Our] love was such a beautiful thing, such a beautiful emotion, but somebody else was still going through a lot of pain. I felt like it was a cash in. I didn’t want to do that. In fact, in general, that’s where the discomfort lies in Daylight. I’m not Taylor Swift; I can’t write songs about breakups and put them out into the world because that is a very raw thing. It works for her, but to me, you’re capitalizing on your own pain—on causing pain—which is not cool.

At what point did you realize that you had feelings for Eric?

It was a couple months after Midnight was done that I was able to identify that really hollow feeling— “There is something missing from my life that I thought would be filled from being busy.” But busy doesn’t change the way you feel about somebody. There were so many questions—“Is this insane?” It’s OK to feel something that you didn’t expect. It’s not OK to blow up four people’s lives. A lot was at stake. It was scary, and it was hard to know what the right thing to do was because neither of us had ever been in that situation before. He kept making records and moved on to the next project he had. I was out on tour. “Love Is Love” [started] when we got together at the end of 2015. But it didn’t feel like we were able to celebrate it yet. There was just too much pain.

Eric played a huge part in Daylight’s creation yet, unlike most producers, his personal experiences are wrapped up in these stories. How would you describe your collaborative process during the sessions?

He was right there with me; we were writing a lot of these songs together. I wrote “Shout It Out” and “Please” by myself, but the rest of the album is basically all co-writes. When we were writing the songs, there was a lot of, “Are we ready to talk about this thing?”

If you listen to Midnight, the word “daylight” shows up a lot in the songs—but almost like daylight is this opponent that I’m fighting against so I can stay in the fog of darkness. I wanted to use Midnight and the night’s guise as a veil for all these feelings I was having because I was in the thick of some incredibly difficult, emotional stuff and Eric knew that. Even though we weren’t together in that capacity, we talked a lot and he saw the struggle I was going through with my band and with my label—just being misunderstood.

When you have been touring for 13 years, you don’t have a chance to process what you’ve been through. Van Morrison is one of my favorites, but there was this era where he was just singing about fame—being famous and being tired of it. You sort of lose the thread of who you are actually singing to.

As your first solo album after the Nocturnals, Midnight was perceived as a departure. Were there elements of that record that you purposefully tried to avoid or dig deeper into on Daylight?

I would say there was not a whole lot that we wanted to retain from that album other than the fact that it was my favorite record I’ve ever made and I loved every second of it. [Laughs.] I was in Willy Wonka’s factory. But there was an end in mind. I thought, “Then you’ll go on tour and go back to your regular life. You’ll never see this producer again.” So I didn’t feel this imminent need to reflect on Midnight and bring it into Daylight or anything like that. But I naturally did because they are bookends of an experience—a window of time in my life in which everything fucking changed. We were really in it.

You have hovered between the pop and indie worlds for years. Do you still aspire for a certain level of mainstream recognition?

At this point, I got back into music because I wanted to get back into music. I did it for myself. If I went out on the road and that’s the only thing I did, that would not healthy. And if I stayed home, bit my nails and watched the Grammys, then that would not be healthy either. [Laughs.] So right where we are is where I need to be. 

Every time I used to watch the Grammys, it made me so frustrated and sad. But this time around, it was great. I enjoyed it and I was like, “I get it. This is not the end of the world; it’s not the beginning of the world. It is what it is.” I used to think, “Why haven’t they noticed me yet? They should have figured out by now that I’m better than all these people.” The young, bravado me was like, “I should be up there doing this.” And there was one year when somebody on the inside told me that I was three votes away from having a nomination, but I didn’t get it. You put so much value on that when you’re younger, but it’s not going to make or break your career. I’m already doing what I’m doing and enough people are recognizing it. I don’t need to be recognized in that way.

In order to be in the music industry, you have to be willing to join in that conversation a little bit but also not have too much stake in it. And I’ve always been on the other end of it, where I’m like, “If I deserve it, I’m gonna get it someday.” That’s not how it fucking works at all. I guess that means I’m getting older.

You came of age on the jamband circuit, playing with Gov’t Mule, Tea Leaf Green and the members of Phish, but have also veered into a number of other styles. Was there a moment when you realized that you wanted something else?

I first perceived [the scene] was changing with Jason Isbell and Drive-By Truckers. That’s some real-deal songwriting, not just noodling. People have lost their patience for [noodling] in some capacity, although if you go to a Pigeons Playing Ping Pong concert, you might not feel the same way. I didn’t mean to remove myself from that world as much as I meant to initiate a higher expectation for myself. I [already] knew what I could get away with doing for the rest of my life.

I could play those same festivals and show up and go, “How ya feeeeeelin’?” Or I could take it to a place where the content of what I’m saying is more in the direction of Bonnie Raitt or Jackson Browne or Taj Mahal, who were some of my early influences. All I could do was make sure the things I was putting out felt true to me and that I never took the easy road. But the influence of the jamband scene continues to come back. I find myself wanting to flex that muscle and test my band. We never do the same set twice. It is my instinct; it’s where my brain goes because it’s where I sprouted from.

Phish were a huge foundation for me in the infrastructure of my touring. My mom actually grew up next door to Page in New Jersey. And what I love is that they’re transplants to Vermont—there’s this thing about Vermont that draws you in, this ability to be a big fish in a small pond. I formed my musicality with that whimsical energy that Phish invited. When Trey played with us at [my festival] Grand Point North, I was pregnant and he said, “This song means something so different to me with you growing a baby. Your baby is singing it with you.”

I remember the first time Scotty brought LCD Soundsystem’s record on the bus. We just listened to it over and over. That was right before we made The Lion The Beast The Beat. You can hear that influence because we went to see LCD play at Austin City Limits, where we were playing as well.

Nobody wants to be caged in; nobody wants to be contained by a category. Yet, there are things that are organically going to fall into place and that just sound right for a musician. My voice happens to lean in that bluesy direction. It has my whole life and it will in one capacity or another forever. It’s just the content of my spirit—that’s how it gets expressed. That recognition definitely did lead the way for Daylight. Like, “We don’t need to focus on returning to form. We need to be a fully formed person.”

This article originally appeared as the cover story for the April_May 2020 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more subscribe below.