In what seems like a remarkably short five years, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have experienced a meteoric rise to rock ’n’ roll stardom. In their journey the band ascended from small-town rock clubs to the largest stages in the country. With the exception of Phish, GPN has reached a level of commercial success virtually unheard of for a Vermont band. And whether they would admit it or not, it’s a level — and a lifestyle — that most struggling musicians covet. Who wouldn’t want to make a good living playing music? And who in their right mind would simply walk away?
Earlier this month — on Friday the 13th, no less — bassist Bryan Dondero did just that, leaving GPN after five years with the band. Seven Days recently caught up with him to talk about the split, meeting him at a cottage on Malletts Bay where he recently relocated with his longtime girlfriend, The Leaves front woman Aya Inoue. Ironically, their new landlord is none other than Grace’s mother, Peggy Potter. Further muddying the picture, the cottage also overlooks a lakeside cabin where the band often spends time in the summer. As Dondero put it, perhaps only half-jokingly, “That could be a little awkward.”
What follows are excerpts from that conversation. Read the entire two-part transcript on the Seven Days music blog, Solid State, to which — full disclosure — Dondero is also an occasional contributor.
SEVEN DAYS: So, what the hell happened?
BRYAN DONDERO: (Chuckling) It’s hard to digest what happened. I think in some ways I saw it coming. In other ways I feel like I was completely blindsided.
SD: Then this wasn’t an amicable split?
BD: Not necessarily. But when is a split ever amicable? Anybody who says they split amicably is full of shit. It’s never easy. It’s never, “Oh, this was the best thing that could have happened!” Bullshit. I’ve been thinking about that word “severance” a lot lately. I like that word, to “sever.” And that’s kind of how it feels.
I felt like I was put in a position where I was basically being forced to make a choice ... One thing I’ve learned is that it’s better to make a choice and make the wrong choice than to not choose and face the consequences of not choosing. That’s worse.
SD: Are you worried you might have made the wrong choice by quitting?
BD: I hate using that word, too. It’s not quitting. It’s withdrawing. It’s leaving...
A lot of people have been saying that old adage, “One door closes, another door opens...” And I do feel that way. I’ve felt for a long time that I had more to offer the band that I wasn’t being allowed to offer … but not in a Jay Bennett [ex-Wilco] kind of way (laughing).
SD: Not to dredge up any “he said, she said” stuff, but I am curious as to how it all went down.
BD: To be fair to Grace, what happened between us is a personal thing. But I also felt a sense of holding her accountable. And that’s where I’ve been struggling. Because someone says something, you don’t necessarily have the right to go spreading it around and throwing mud and trying to get vengeful. And that’s not my style.
The one thing that bothered me, and I still don’t know that I completely understand it … and these are her words, and the ones I feel justified in holding her accountable for, is that she said something along the lines of, “Bryan, you have so much integrity. You are integrity personified … and that scares the shit out of me. Because I feel like I might have lost mine.” Those are pretty much her words exactly. And I was like, “What? What the hell does that mean?”
SD: So what was the choice? Grace Potter and the Nocturnals becoming more of a commercial entity or…
BD: I don’t know. I don’t think I have an answer for that. I think she’s struggling with that right now. I think that’s why she was confronting me. It’s almost as if she was confronting herself.
It’s weird because in some ways she bashes [the band’s commercial side]. And she knows how I feel about it … If you’re happy doing it, go for it. I don’t care. The people who matter to me, know me. And they are not going to judge me because my band has this ridiculous video advertising soap operas for “One Tree Hill.” Whatever. I don’t care. Because I’m happy getting on stage and playing music for people, living the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. It’s great. Who wouldn’t want to do that? Not a bad day job.
But I think in some ways she was confronting herself. I don’t know why I got singled out in all of this. It’s kind of weird. But I was struggling with it at the same time, too. It forced me to make a decision.