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Catching up with Grace Potter & the Nocturnals Bassist Catherine Popper

Catching up with Grace Potter & the Nocturnals Bassist Catherine Popper 

By Chrissy Mauck

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals bassist Catherine Popper cruised by the Fender/Filter Lollapalooza Artist Lounge at the Hard Rock Hotel directly after arriving in Chi-town on Thursday evening.

Although New York has been home for many years now, Popper is a native of North Carolina and she delivered a slew of southern clichés that kept us “in stitches.”

For instance, Popper refers to her go-to 1966 Fender Precision Bass as her “pork chop.”

“It’s just a term of affection,” she says. “Down South when you love something, we usually refer to it as some sort of food.”

Popper has some fun at the Fender/Filter Artist Lounge, located at the Angels & Kings suite at Hard Rock Hotel. 

Popper bought the bass, her first electric, at the Guitar Boutique in New York, and it’s been by her side since for touring gigs with Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Leona Naess, Norah Jones and many others.

“There were some people that I trusted who told me that Jimmy Coppola at Guitar Boutique was the dude,” shares Popper. “I told him ‘I’m looking for something that when you bite into it, it tastes like an upright bass.’ He knew what I meant and said he’d look out for a bass for me, and something light too, because that was way more comfortable for me. He called me up and said, ‘I found you a 1966 bass. Everything is original. It tastes like an upright when you bite it.’ It was kind of expensive— $2600 and at the time, my friends were saying it was too much money. But it tastes like an upright when you bite into it. So I got it and the first thing I did when I picked it up was just hammer on the E string and it didn’t buzz; it just rang forever. So I slapped some flatwounds on it and it’s still my favorite instrument.”

Popper moved to New York to study jazz on the upright bass at the Manhattan School of Music, where she soon discovered that being a female was a liability.

“I went through kind of a gauntlet,” she shares. “It wasn’t so cool to be an upright female bass player playing jazz at my music school and I got put through the ringer. I wouldn’t go back and change it because and it definitely prepared me for the fact that like would never be as difficult as that school and playing in that scene was.”

Although the rock and roll scene was far more welcoming in the ‘90s, Popper never took well to being offered a gig based on being someone’s “eye candy.”

“I really felt like there was a sense of entitlement for a lot of women, because people wanted to have a chick in the band,” said Popper. “I used to write big band arrangements and just to be up there as a chick — the whole idea was really creepy to me.  I’m a bass player, not just a female bass player. It was really in my head to never wear makeup and dress really casual onstage and I took it really seriously.”

While she still turns down requests that come in based around her gender, Popper has embraced her feminity since teaming up with Grace Potter. And there’s no denying that her bad-assness, paired with the sparkly mini-dress clad Potter, presents quite a powerful and provocative image while rocking out on stage.

“Grace is a strong woman,” shares Popper. “She can play; she can write, and she wears these tall heels and these dresses and I thought, ‘If she can do it, I can do it.’ Maybe because she’s doing it, I can do it and feel comfortable about it.’ But then we get up there and play our asses off. It’s funny how people still focus on the fact like, ‘Woah look at those girls, they’re doing stuff!’”

And so they are. The roots-rocking, hip-shaking Potter and company rocked the Lollapalooza stage on Friday afternoon.

“It’s so cool to see all of those people out there,” offered Popper. “I was at the first Lollapalooza and I remember being really pissed off that the bottled water was $2.00, and I was like, ‘I’m never going to a festival again.’ I don’t think I ever did pay to go to a festival again, but God bless these people who pay $300 or $400 to live like they are in a third world country and listen to music. The fact that there are still fans that do that breaks my heart. It’s so cool and it makes me want to try harder.” 

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