“I don’t think rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be comfortable”

Night vision: Grace Potter says that, when her band the Nocturnals brought Michael Libramento (first from right) into the studio, “That's when I started getting really comfortable again. We got really psyched on the songs.” Photo by Phil Andelman

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals on evolution, a new album, and adding Asheville’s Michael Libramento on bass

who: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, with Rayland Baxter
where: The Orange Peel
when: Thursday, Oct. 4 (8 p.m., sold out at press time. theorangepeel.net)

“Playing on the road, you acquire musical friends,” says local multi-instrumentalist Michael Libramento. His musical friends include Grace Potter and the Nocturnals — he joined that band late last fall, first to play on their album, The Lion The Beast The Beat, then joining their tour on bass. Oh yeah, he also shared the stage with Willie Nelson at FarmAid 12 last month.

Libramento has performed in local bands stephaniesid, Ice Cream (his experimental keys-and-drums duo with Evan Martin) and Floating Action. It was while touring with the Seth Kauffman-led outfit that Libramento first met Potter and her band. “I reached out to Grace. I didn't know they were looking for anyone. I was like, 'Let's make some music, it would be fun to record or play,'” he says. “She called me back and said there was a gig that they needed someone to play for. It just kind of worked out.”

Even though this venture with the Vermont-based rock band is a lot of firsts for Libramento (first stadium shows, for one; first time spending more than a month in a Los Angeles studio), he seems at ease among the Nocturnals. When the band performed on Good Morning America in June, Libramento looked like a seasoned pro on the small screen. (See him on stage in person this week: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals starts their fall tour with a show at The Orange Peel.) And the frontwoman seems happy with the end result. She even has a nickname for Libramento.

“When we were getting into the studio initially, it was just Scott [Tournet on guitars], Benny [Yurco on guitars and vocals], Matt [Burr on drums] and myself,” says Potter. “Libro came in about halfway through the process and that's when things really did click together. We were trying to make a five-piece band out of four musicians, and it felt like something was missing.” She says that when Libramento joined the group, “That's when I started getting really comfortable again. We got really psyched on the songs.”

The album, Potter explains, was guided by the band and which songs they locked in on during the recording process. So it's a group effort, but it's also a departure. Lion deals with fairy tale archetypes along with themes of change, loss and renewal — all reflections on the very literal state of the Nocturnals. “There are definitely themes of the changing membership of the band and all the changes we go through, as people, in our lives,” says Potter. On the record, “There was a lot of openness, a lot more exploration. That has to reflect in the lyrics whether I meant it to or not.”

Lion is also underscored by a polish and pop-savvy that reflects Potter and company's evolution. Listen to tracks from the band's '06 album Nothing But the Water. They were blues-rockers then. Potter was a flannel-wearing brunette. “Paris (Ooh La La)” was not even a kernel of an idea (though, Potter admits, when she jotted down that particular lyric she knew she was onto something: “I was like, 'Guys, I wrote a song. And it's good,'” she remembers). In fact, when it comes to finding the definitive Nocturnals sound, Potter says, “I don't think we ever will.”

She continues, “That's one of the fun things about making music. You don't have to choose. You don't have say, 'This is what we do.'” Potter likens a particular sound to a yearbook picture: “It's like saying 'I want to see that kid, but only when he was in ninth grade. Forever.' Creative freedom is so important, even if it's not always successful — I don’t think rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be comfortable.”

So far, Potter's found mostly success. And this year marks the 10th anniversary since she met Burr, who suggested they start a band. Early on, they toured on the jam circuit, growing their fanbase through much-loved festivals (Floydfest has been a regular stop). For Libramento, however, much of this is new territory. Like making the Tom Petty-inspired video for “Never Go Back.”

“In general, it's hard to convince me to be a in a video,” says Libramento. “The band's part in it was pretty small, though.” (In it, the local musician can be spotted in face paint and topcoat, wandering a misty landscape.)

Perhaps surprising: Libramento — who started playing piano as a pre-schooler and “all the band instruments” by junior high — isn't very interested in grandstanding when it comes to live shows. “I like the challenge of taking a pop sound and trying to play it tastefully and making it sound good,” he says. “I don't want to be taking a bunch of solos.”

Alli Marshall can be reached at amarshall@mountainx.com.

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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