In support of her critically acclaimed new album, The Foundling, Mary Gauthier hit the road to share her incredibly moving, truthful, and talented music with her fans. The record is an autobiographical narrative that pries into the childhood of this gifted folk singer and shows her open, vulnerable side. I was lucky enough to catch an LA show of Gauthier’s, then chat with her afterwards. Here’s what she had to say about writing music, perseverance, and good coffee.
Gauthier’s new album is honest, vulnerable, and something she’s very proud of. “The hard thing about this record was trying to make it into a cycle of songs that added up to a story,” Gauthier describes. “I didn’t know what the story would be going into it, I had to let the songs come and then I figured out how to turn them into a story. I didn’t have a beginning, a middle, and an end in my mind, I just knew I needed ten songs that were going to fit together in some way so that it would be a concept album. I’ve never written like that before. I’ve always just written ten or twelve songs, recorded them, then put a record out. It was mysterious to me how it was all going to fall into place.”
For Gauthier, writing songs is a very natural experience. “Songs start with inspiration,” she tells me. “It’s always the inspiration first, then the music and the words come together generally at the same time. But the first part of any song is the inspiration to write it.” So where does Gauthier draw this key ingredient from? “I get inspiration from all different kinds of places,” she reveals. “I never know where it’s going to come from, whether it’s the newspaper, an overheard conversation, out of thin air, out of books, movies, or conversations I’m having. It just comes from a myriad of sources and I never know what’s going to inspire me. There was a news story about a woman that was executed in Texas a few years back and that ended up inspiring a song. I just don’t know.” She pauses, then continues. “Inspiration is all strange if you ask me. Where it comes from is extremely mysterious.”
When Gauthier hits the road, and she does so often, she makes sure she works hard by playing in a different city almost every day. Despite the grueling schedule, the soft-spoken folk singer has no trouble finding the gall to get onstage night after night. “This is what I want to do,” she says adamantly. “I chose to do this and I love it. It sustains me. I can sometimes drive too long and be cranky physically, but when I plug that guitar in onstage it just all goes away and I’m there for the songs and the audience. I’ve got this reservoir of strength that goes pretty deep. For me, there’s never been enough shows. I always want to work much more than the agents can keep me busy. I love being out here doing this- it’s what I was born to do so I want to do it.”
Though she loves to tour, being away from home for such long periods of time can still get hard for Gauthier, so there are a few things she makes sure to bring along when she’s on the road. “An important part of my travels is to try to keep it healthy,” she explains. “So I’ve got to have good quality food, a lot of green stuff. Also, I can’t do without really good coffee. Even though I drink decaf, I like it to have a lot of flavor. I’m a coffee roaster at home. I’m into it so I’m really, really in touch with quality. I know it’s really important to drink a cup of coffee very soon after the beans have been roasted. If they’ve been hanging around a while, it’s just a bummer.” Gauthier’s background also plays a part in her travels. “I’m a chef you know, so I need to find good quality food,” she admits. “I’m a ‘foodie’. If I have to choose between a really good meal and a nice hotel, I go for the crappy hotel and a good meal.”
Gauthier’s been in the music game a long time. She’s met a lot of other veteran musicians and talented artists, but says that none of them have really given her any advice on how to survive in the industry. “Musicians don’t generally give each other advice,” she states. “Most musicians are pretty easy-going, we don’t walk around giving each other advice. A lot of times just a knowing look is a really cool thing. It’s good to get a compliment from people that you hold in very high esteem. I’ve worked with some of the greats, but they haven’t given me advice. We can commiserate and talk a little, but there’s nothing I can think of that’s been an advice type of thing.” She stops to think. ” Who takes advice anyway?” She says laughing. “We don’t listen to anybody. We do what we want to do- that’s why we’re musicians.”
For Gauthier, the more fans she garners, the better and there’s no one in particular that she necessarily desires to fall in love with her music. “It’s been my experience that the writers and musicians that I appreciate oftentimes are responding to what I do too,” she says. “There’s a mutual respect that tends to happen and I’ve been really lucky with that. Maybe that’s just how it works. I would not name names in that category, but I’ve experience some of that and it feels really good to know that someone whose work has been important to you is listening to your work too. That’s really cool.”