A Conversation With
After a misspent youth that she is very fortunate to have survived, Mary Gauthier went on to study philosophy for five years at Louisiana State University. She later traveled East to the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and later opened her own award-winning restaurant, Dixie Kitchen in Boston’s historic Back Bay. Mary later sold her restaurant to pursue music full-time.
Mary’s first recording was the self-released Dixie Kitchen. This was followed by her critically acclaimed Drag Queens in Limousines. With the release of the excellent, Gulf Morlix-produced Filth And Fire, Mary has earned a position as one of the most important songwriters to come along in many years. Her work is receiving very positive reviews from both the mainstream and alternative media, as well as from her peers.
Her style is country, although it’s unlike the country music that you’ll hear on the radio. The characters in her songs are often hardscrabble and troubled, and while these stories may be unsettling at times, they are comforting in that they make you understand that you have NOTHING to complain about. Your 401(k) has lost half its value? Mary’s characters often don’t even understand what a regular paycheck is, let alone a 401(k). Their comfort sometimes comes in the form of their next fix, catching a breath of clean air, or in finding their next meal.
Mary is currently touring in support of Filth And Fire. After an extensive tour of England, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Belgium, Spain, and Sweden — broken by a brief return to the US — Mary’s tour of Europe continues in early September in Norway with stops in Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, and Belgium. I caught up with her a few weeks ago somewhere in New England.
I love Filth And Fire. It blew me away. I was unprepared for it. It was totally unexpected. It ranks right up there with some of the great Texas songwriters. Most women writers don’t seem to write as externally as you do. The imagery is great.
Thanks, I appreciate that.
Who are your influences? Your favorite songwriters?
I think most of us start off wanting to write like Hank [Williams] or Woody [Guthrie]. Then there’s Townes [Van Zandt], of course.
Good benchmarks if there ever was any… I also hear hints of a little Ray Wylie Hubbard in there.
Oh yeah. Ray Wylie’s a friend of mine. We can’t help but be influenced by those we surround ourselves with… and Guy Clark..I’m touring with him this fall.
Is there anyone you’d want to write with, or would you rather work alone?
I’d love to sit down in a room and write with someone, Maybe I’ll catch Guy drunk…
You draw your characters from some really hard-living people — people that some might call the dregs of society. Junkies, street people… people who struggle to make it day-to-day.
That’s where the best stories are.
You were pretty close to them for awhile yourself, weren’t you?
Yes, I was. The Christmas song on Filth And Fire… that one’s true. I just gave Davy a little dialogue, but the basic story is true [The song is about living under a bridge during the holidays. Davy steals a Christmas tree — ornaments and all — and hangs it off the bridge in his attempt to spread Christmas cheer].
Does your philosophy background help with your writing?
Yes, I’d say that it does.
You just got back from a European tour. It seems like Europeans seem to latch onto certain American artists who they like, and they seem to be more loyal to certain artists and genres that would otherwise come-and-go here. Rockabilly and some jazz artists seem to get more respect over there. Some American artists seem to do better and get treated better in Europe than they do here. Some, like Nina Simone and some of the earlier black artists, even decide to make their home there. What’s your take on all this?
Nobody does music better than Americans, but the Europeans seem to be a bit better at picking out the best of it.
Yeah, I read about some of your shows on the online journal. The journal is very interesting. It provides an inside view of a musician’s life that people don’t normally get to see. I noticed that it hasn’t been updated in awhile. Do you plan to pick back up on this?
Yes, I do. I’ve been very busy lately though, and haven’t had time — though I do hope to eventually get a book out of it.
You just played the Fred Eaglesmith Weekend in Bellows Falls, Vermont that Charlie Hunter puts together every year. That Charlie Hunter is one hard-working guy. I’m amazed at how much he is able to do. He’s quite the artist too. Have you seen his work? How did that all work out?
It was great. You know, Charlie did the album art for Drag Queens in Limousines. I’ve been trying to break into that New England scene for awhile now.
Is it a particularly hard scene to make it in?
Well, it seems to be for southern artists. They are sometimes not as receptive to southern artists. There seems to be some sort of North/South thing going on in folk music.
There seems to be a North/South thing on many levels in many places, don’t you think? It’s like that almost everywhere, isn’t it? Isn’t it the same way in Europe, and even on the big city level here? Isn’t there usually a cultural gap between the North and South sides, even on the big city level?
Yeah, I think you may be onto something with that. It certainly exists in Ireland, and here, too, in many ways.
How about that Fred Eaglesmith? He’s one of my favorites.
Yeah he’s great. Quite a fan-base.
Speaking of Fred fans, you recorded a song with Australian country artist Audrey Auld while you two were in Texas last year.
Yes. I lent vocals to one of Audrey’s songs. You know, Bill Chambers [Audrey’s partner and the father of Kasey Chambers] honored me by recording “I Drink” [from Drag Queens in Limousines] for his new solo album.