Just now coming down from the musical high that The International Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis delivered, we bring you a conference highlight – Mary Gauthier (pronounced GOH-shay). Let’s start with a quick wiki bio to open you up to who Mary is; at least briefly in black and white…
Gauthier was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Given up at birth by a mother she never knew, Gauthier was adopted by an Italian Catholic couple in Thibodaux, Louisiana. At age 15, she ran away from home, and spent the next several years in drug rehabilitation, halfway houses, and living with friends; she spent her 18th birthday in a jail cell. Struggling to deal with being adopted and her sexuality, she used drugs and alcohol. These experiences provided fodder for her songwriting later on. Spurred on by friends, she enrolled at Louisiana State University as a philosophy major, dropping out during her senior year. After attending the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, she opened a Cajun restaurant in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, Dixie Kitchen (also the eponymous title of her first album). Mary ran, and cooked at, the restaurant for eleven years. She was arrested for drunk driving opening night, July 12, 1990, and has been sober ever since. After achieving sobriety, she was driven to dedicate herself full-time to songwriting, and embarked upon a career in music. She wrote her first song at age 35.
We are so thankful that she decided to interpret the world she encountered not only through the art of cooking but through the craft of songwriting. Mary was all over the Folk Alliance Conference – panel discussions, videos about the songwriting journey, live performances, and in-person interviews. Why all the buzz? What are people drawn to? She was quoted in one of the movies as saying that when taking the stage to perform, she doesn’t know how to entertain, but she knows how to be honest. Well the honesty in her performance, songs, and life must be the magnetic force drawing faithful fans and newbies to Mary Gauthier.
She has been touring with her partner, Tania Elizabeth, for over 2 years now and lives a very fulfilled life. Mary knows that the career of a performing songwriter is synonymous to running an independent business. She takes it seriously, but knows that there has to be room for meeting people and always enjoying the making of music. With projects on major record deals, Mary shares, “we prefer being in the music as opposed to being in the music business.” She and Tania know that they don’t want the added pressure of supporting the team of a major deal – by tackling the life on a smaller scale it is more intentional and immeasurably more sustainable.
NMB: What do you wish you knew going in to the world of the music business?
TE: “Keep your masters for your records; Keep your publishing; Think long-term; Don’t sign a contract until you know – treat it like a marriage.”
NMB: What advice do you give to songwriters?
MG: “Writing should be called rewriting. A really great song is a life changer – if your life is not changing, then your really not writing songs.” (When performing your own material) “…Change the delivery on the fly, think about the meaning of the words and remember that even though performing is emotionally draining, you owe it to your audience, they paid for it.”
After meeting with Mary Gauthier, it is plain to see why people connect with her music and her as a performer. She ended the interview with this, ” Just love people, they will love you back.” If you are not familiar with her songs or performance, check out her legendary exposure on the stage of the Opry with her song “Mercy Now”.
To hear more from Mary, check out her website, stop in on a live show when she’s in your town or get her latest release – The Foundling. The songs on this project are true, haunting, musically unpredictable and emotionally unforgettable. Here are Mary’s words about her latest project:
I was born to an unwed mother in 1962 and subsequently surrendered to St. Vincent’s Women and Infants Asylum on Magazine Street in New Orleans, where I spent my first year. I was adopted shortly thereafter but left my adopted family at fifteen. I wandered for years looking for, but never quite finding a place that felt like home. I searched for, found, and was denied a meeting with my birth mother when I was 45 years old. She couldn’t afford to re-open the wound she’d carried her whole life, the wound of surrendering a baby. The Foundling is my story.
-Mary Gauthier 2010