For this edition of Inquirer, Guitar World sat down with singer/songwriter Grace Potter.
What influenced you to pick up a guitar?
Because I thought it would look cooler than me sitting down at the piano. And that’s God’s honest truth. There’s just so many girls trying to be “girl singers,” sitting at the piano, tinkling away. And my music is edgier and harder than that. And I just had to figure out how to harness my energy and also be playing an instrument at the same time. And that instrument had to look cool—and the guitar definitely looks cool.
What was your first guitar?
I bought a Gibson J-45 acoustic with every penny I had in my bank account. I wanted to have an instrument that made me want to learn. I didn’t want to get just a little practice guitar that I wouldn’t take seriously. So I intentionally forced myself into investing in a guitar that would make me have to play. So that every day, it was looking me in the eye, like, “You spent 900 bucks on that thing. You’d better play every freakin’ day.”
What was the first song you learned?
I was actually writing at the time, and I had already written a song called “Stop the Bus” [which appeared on her 2007 album This Is Somewhere]. I was trying to figure out how those chords would play out on a guitar, because I’d written it on piano. I started just by learning—it was a three-chord song: Em, D, A—so it was easy to figure out those chords and, slowly, my vocabulary grew from there. So the first song I learned on guitar was one of my songs.
What do you recall about your first time playing guitar live?
Being insanely nervous, but also being insanely relieved. When you strum that first note, and you hear it from a P.A. system, and suddenly it’s louder and it sounds cool—it’s a really amazing moment when you get the vibration of the guitar against your body, but you’re also hearing it from across the room.
Have you ever had an embarrassing moment onstage, or a nightmare gig?
I’d just started playing the Flying V, and I hadn’t designed my own guitar or pickups yet. I was in the early stages of realizing that, with electric guitar, I was able to manipulate my tones and accomplish more with an electric sound. I was at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island and we were about to get off the stage, and I still had the guitar slung around my back, thinking I was pretty cool. The show had gone great and we did this big bow, and the crowd was going crazy. It was really a big deal for us…to be up there and sort of feel like we’ve done it, the show’s over, yeah! We can all go backstage and drink whiskey. That celebratory moment quickly went away when I went to spin around and walk offstage. I was walking backward for a moment with my guitar slung over my shoulder and I caught my boot on the side of the monitor and went head over heels, just this massive tumble—with my guitar. And I had this tiny little miniskirt on, so I’m sure the crowd got quite an eyeful. And I was thoroughly embarrassed.
Is there a particular moment on the new album, Midnight (Hollywood), that makes you proud as a guitar player?
Guitar isn’t the most focused presence on the record, but there are definitely a lot of guitar solos on it. The record is more of a different exploration. I wanted to write songs that were more personal and less about being a showboat. Even though it’s not an intimate-sounding record, I’m not just broadcasting—and sometimes guitar solos can be a bit of a broadcast, like, “Check me out, look how big my dick is and how low it swings.” I still like to swing my dick around, but I think “Instigator” is a good example of a really satisfying guitar moment on the album. I had written the song and it was a few clicks slower in the original version. And the producer suggested that we speed it up and we came up with this very complex arrangement. I think a lot of the firepower behind it came from the arrangement and the tempo, which made for a very satisfying guitar moment.
What is your favorite guitar or piece of gear?
Well, that’s easy. It’s my Flying V, you silly goose. I really do love it. I’m very proud of it. Being able to design your own custom guitar is something that I never really thought I’d be able to do. I don’t think of myself as any kind of guitar god or anything like that. I’m not capable of wielding the guitar like Jimmy Page, one of my all-time favorite guitarists. My skill set is more based on the grinding, sort of human heartbeat—almost playing the guitar more like a drum. But when I was designing the guitar, I wanted to go after that more sensual, soulful, emotional grind. And the V, as a guitar, really allows you to find that depth, while also having the clarity you need. That guitar is really a reflection of my personality.
Do you have any advice for young players?
Just play and play and don’t stop playing. And keep trying new things. Don’t ever settle in and think that you’re the hottest shit ever, because you’re not. There’s always room to learn and room to grow. The way you get good is by always knowing that good is around the corner. You have to keep playing.