Speaking to singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier down the line from her home in Nashville, Tennessee the 47-year-old’s sing-song Southern accent belied her years of personal struggle.
Heartache is Gauthier’s stock-in-trade: her breakthrough album, 2005’s Mercy Now, was an unflinching look at her early years as an openly gay teen runaway, abusing drugs and alcohol before ending up in jail.
But it’s her new record, The Foundling, that’s her most personal to date. The album is a noirish, eviscerating song cycle based around Gauthier’s experiences as a child given up for adoption, and her recent unsuccessful attempts to reunite with her birth mother.
With so much pain permeating these songs, surely they’re going to be difficult to perform on stage each night?
“No, they’re really not. I go into a trance and I really enjoy it. I guess I was just born to sing personal songs…they should make me an Olympic gold medallist of personal songs. For some reason, it feels like my destiny,” she told Sydney Star Observer.
With her birth mother’s rejection still quite fresh in her mind, was Gauthier looking to gain some sort of closure with The Foundling?
“Maybe subconsciously I was looking for some closure, but consciously, I just want to tell the story. I’ve never believed in healing yourself through art — I’ve never been quite sure how that works.
“What it does for me is it gives me a perspective on it as a ‘story’, which is better than having it all inside me. I do it for myself, but if someone else is able to connect with it and hear their story in it too, then what a wonderful thing that is.”
It’s been well documented that Gauthier penned her first song at the age of 35. She explained that she simply wasn’t lucid enough to do so before then.
“I was a raging alcoholic, to be honest with you.” she said.
“I got sober in 1990 after I got arrested for drunk driving, and that’s when the songs started coming. It required a self-awareness that I just hadn’t had for most of my life. The point of my drinking had been to not have that kind of clarity.”
Gauthier has been openly gay since her career’s beginning. She has said that she’s found more acceptance from mainstream audiences than gay ones, having been rejected from playing several gay and lesbian festivals because her music was deemed ‘not gay enough’.
“I’m not interested in ‘gay music’ — what is that? I don’t just sing about ‘gay things’, ” she laughed.
“It’s crazy that I can play these country festivals, folk festivals, rock festivals, even the Grand Ole Opry…but I can’t seem to get into the gay women’s festivals. I’m not complaining, because I seem to be doing OK, but I would’ve thought gay festivals would be kind of a haven of acceptance.”
info: Mary Gauthier plays various dates around metro and country NSW from March 13-27. The Foundling is out now. Visit www.marygauthier.com