Trouble & Love'
Award-winning troubadour Mary Gauthier performs, discusses new album at the Grammy Museum Monday
By Bliss Bowen 04/16/2014
Like the Southern writers with whom she “deeply resonate[s],” Mary Gauthier is keenly attuned to the power and nuances of words. Perhaps because the Louisiana-raised troubadour’s bio is studded with eye-grabbing words that hint at the complexity of the life that informs her widely acclaimed writing: Adopted. Teen runaway. Jail. Addiction. Chef. Arrest. Rehab. Sobriety. Award-winning songwriter. Integrity.
That last word is one for which Gauthier is renowned. While other artists capitulate to pressures to be more upbeat, Gauthier has stubbornly remained faithful to her truth, no matter how dark it may be.
“I don’t feel I need to be upbeat for audiences, never have,” she says via email during a UK tour; she’s referring to live performance, but that reflects a core belief about her music. “I just need to be honest. I really don’t like upbeat unless it happens on its own. Intentionally happy upbeat cheerful songs depress me. I can’t relate to them. I prefer a wild ride. ’Cause that’s what my life has been.”
Audiences have responded to Gauthier’s honesty since 1999’s breakthrough album “Drag Queens in Limousines,” and Jimmy Buffett, Blake Shelton and Candi Staton have recorded her songs. She’s commanded a loyal following with each subsequent release — including 2005’s “Mercy Now,” which landed high on many year’s-best lists, and 2010’s “The Foundling,” which chronicled attempted reconciliation with her birth mother. The forthcoming “Trouble & Love,” scheduled for release June 10, peels back more layers of emotional skin.
Carefully sequenced so tracks unfold like chapters in a novel, the melodic eight-song cycle bares shifting perceptions and wounds from a life-changing breakup. One of the most poignant tracks is “How You Learn to Live Alone,” which fans of ABC’s “Nashville” may recognize; as rendered by actor Jonathan Jackson (“Avery Barkley”), it was a gut-punching highlight of the show’s second season.
“I spent more time sequencing these songs than I spent recording the entire record,” Gauthier says. “It mattered deeply to me to tell the story in the right way, and have the events unfold in the right order. I did my best to present the songs as a whole story, a collection of chapters that end up as a book, or ... an album. I am an album artist, always have been.”
Because the material demanded exposed-nerve vulnerability, she elected not to rehearse with her band before recording — resulting in free, soulful performances that approach gospel transcendence during “Oh Soul” and the hopeful “Another Train.” “We simply played them a couple times with the two-inch tape rolling, and kept the best take,” she says. “No punches.”
“I played a couple of them in front of audiences [before recording], but …they were hard to play … emotionally. But I look forward to taking these songs onstage now.”
Mary Gauthier performs and takes part in a Q&A at the Grammy
Museum, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Downtown LA, 8 p.m. Monday; $20. Info: (213) 765-6803. marygauthier.com, grammymuseum.com