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No More Alone: A Conversation With Mary Gauthier

By Dale Henry Geist

Photo Credit: Alexa King Stone

Mary Gauthier’s ninth studio album, Dark Enough to See the Stars, her follow-up to 2018’s Grammy-winning Rifles and Rosary Beads, was released yesterday, June 3rd, and, while Gauthier’s characteristic seriousness remains in full force, it’s leavened here by generous portions of pure joy.

I’m at least as big a fan of Gauthier as a person as I am of her as a songwriter – and I’m a major fan of her as a songwriter. She clearly regards art as a higher calling that requires her – and allows her – to remain connected to the pursuit of deeper truths. I’m always down to talk with someone who lives in that realm. I caught up with Gauthier by phone, at the home in Nashville that she shares with her partner, singer-songwriter Jaimee Harris.

How are you doing?

Doing great, thank you. Super ready to get back to traveling and working, hoping that this – COVID permitting – is the kickoff of a really big year. I’m hoping to get in front of a lot of people and put this record out into the world in a big way.


A Honky-Tonk of Our Own

Your albums tend to be a story of your personal journey. Is that true of Dark Enough to See the Stars as well?

Oh definitely. Which isn’t to say that everything is literal, but definitely when I write a record, it’s about what my experiences have put in front of me. How do you write anything else?

So I think of you – and I think this is a reasonable characterization – as a poet of pain. As you say in concerts, if you’re waiting for the happy ones, just keep waiting. [Both laugh.] But this one starts off with three tunes that really do seem to be coming from a place of gratitude…


…and they’re expressing joy.

Yeah. That’s the truth. That’s how it is.

The first one, “Fall Apart World,” is, I think, the first of your songs where you’ve referred to your lover as “girl.” Is this something you thought much about?

I sure have. And I do believe that’s the first time I threw in the female pronoun. I tended for most of my career to talk to “you.” And I did that with intention. Not that I’ve ever been in the closet, I haven’t. From my very first record deal, I’ve always been out, and never ever have I been… Well, look at me, I look gay. I look like what I am and that’s cool. I don’t have a feeling either way about that.

But I wanted my songs intentionally to speak to both women and men, and both gay and straight people. So I was real careful for what? 10 records, to try to use language that was inclusive of everyone. And that didn’t come from a place of fear or hiding or closet, it came from a place of intentionally wanting to reach into as many hearts as I possibly could.

This time I’m just in love so much with Jaimee that the time has come for me to just say it. That this woman is just everything to me. And I think I’ve… how would I put this…established myself enough so that I won’t be pigeonholed for doing it. That I’ll still keep the listeners. There’s a lot of colors on the rainbow flag. I want everybody. And I don’t think I’ll lose listeners over it now that I’ve used gender. There’s not many people who would listen to me and not know that I’m a gay woman. That said, I never wanted to make that something that we even had to talk about.

It’s not like you were out there trying to make a statement, and to have your music be all about gayness.

No, because there’s not a lot there for me. It just a matter of fact. I’ve been out since I was 14 years old. What’s more interesting to me is being human. And the human heart and the complexity of all that. And yet, this one is romantic love like I’ve never experienced and it just felt right to say, “You’re my girl.” And I couldn’t say it better than just say you’re my girl. Plus it rhymes with world.

So these are love songs, then. I noticed a little phrase that you repeated in “Fall Apart World” as well as “The Meadow”—’No more alone.

Yeah. It’s huge. I think this love is sustainable. It ebbs and flows and renews itself. When it gets thin, it gets thick again. And it feels long term to me. And I never felt this way about any… Every relationship I’ve ever had has been pretty treacherous and touch-and-go, and this feels completely different.

When I opened up your book (Saved By A Song) again recently, there was a passage that really struck me: “The core belief that I carried way down was that I was unlovable. There was something inherently wrong with me.” It seems like when you were able to say, “No more alone,” and say it with conviction, some kind of healing has happened.

Yeah. There’s some kind of healing that’s happened through music and song and hard work and transformation. And it feels like a feeling too big to keep inside. I got to sing it.

From that trilogy of gratitude, you transition into a couple of songs that really seem to be about grief. And I don’t know about you, but we’re about the same age, and I’m starting to lose people.

I’ve lost so many people. It started with David Olney dying on stage at the 38 Songwriter Festival in January, 2020. Then we lost John Prine and then people that were in my life personally that I’ve known for years and years… Justin Townes Earle died. Other songwriters died, people I got sober with died. Ralph Murphy, who was a bit of a mentor who worked at ASCAP. He helped me for years. I spent so much time at his dinner table in the holidays. He died. Just so much grief. And if I had to characterize this record, it’s about understanding the importance of love in the face of so much loss and grief.

Midway through the album, the title track offers hope. Mostly it’s dark; it’s dark and getting darker. But there’s a glimmer of hope. Followed by “The Meadow,” which also seems to be about hope.

Yes. It’s about someone who’s just struggling so hard to stay. And is probably going to stay, but it’s not easy.

Once again you get this ‘No more alone.’ No more alone. You get to a certain age and this becomes the most important thing.

Oh my God. Yeah. And you know what? It takes what it takes, but I am so glad that this is happening now. And that my understanding of what it takes to sustain it, and the value of it, is mature. I’m not a kid and I’ve never had this before, and I’m going to do everything in my power to keep it. Meaning I have to value it and treat it like gold every day. Because it is. It is.

I want to talk about “About Time”— an interesting song because it’s challenging to say what it’s about, but what it’s saying to me is that as time moves on, things change, the things that we love disappear, but we do have memory as a hedge against that. Was that your intention?

Yeah, I think so. This is one of those songs that the songwriter, me, had something in mind and then time went by after I wrote it and I started playing it and I started to go, “Whoa, this means so much more than I was aware of.” People have come up to me with tears in their eyes after I played that song and it becomes about mortality and knowing that your beloved or yourself, one of you is going to go first. But there’s also just [the feeling of] missing someone in there. I wrote it when I was on the road heavily when Jaimee and I first got together, and we just couldn’t be together for months. And I was like…I don’t want to count the days because it’s too many days. And that original meaning has deepened tremendously as people have told me what it means to them. The song, if it’s any good at all, it’s always smarter than the songwriter. If it’s a good song, the original meaning can be transcended over and over again.

The closing track. “Till I See You Again,” feels like a benediction. I was reminded of Dylan’s “Forever Young.” In your book, you cited “Forever Young” as a song you admired.

Yeah. It is a benediction. It’s a prayerful song. It’s a song of hope and a song of faith. And embedded in “Till I See You Again” is this notion that I get to see you again! And that’s huge. And on good days I believe it, and on bad days it’s hard to believe. But there’s a faith element to that song, and singing it helps me believe… I would say that I was inspired by “Forever Young” to write “Till I See You Again.”

I want to ask you about the genesis of the album and its relationship to the book. Did you start on the record right after you finished the book or was there overlap or…

It’s really non-linear. I had some songs. I got a book deal. I started writing the book. I put the book in the forefront because they paid me to. And I let the songs sit, and then we entered a pandemic. I finished the book, I got back to the songs. I wrote a bunch of new songs. So I toggled between songs and book. The title track actually was a song I’d written for a record I put out called “Trouble And Love.” And it just didn’t fit on the record, it didn’t feel like it was done. So it’s been hanging around for quite a while.

And then when the pandemic hit I realized that the song is really about grief. Not divorce. Not that kind of grief. It’s the kind of grief that happens when you lose someone to death. Then, the understanding that in that loss, the reason it’s so painful is because there was love. Then to go full circle, this is how the song finally got finished, is when I realized, Aah, but I don’t have to let go of that. That love is permanent. It was given to me, I get to keep it. It’s still here. It’s not gone. The person’s gone, but the love that was given to me so freely is still here. And I still have it and I can conjure it up.

That is kind of a miracle, isn’t it?

Pretty mind blowing. Yeah.

It’s a gift freely given that you never have to let go of. And also, inside that mature understanding of love is this idea that what matters then is the love that I give. Because that’s all that’s going to remain of me, is the love that I give. Maya Angelou said it perfectly and brilliantly and better than I ever could, but that’s the reality of our lives. What remains is the love that we gave.

So I put the book to bed in 2020, and it came out in 2021. Then I could focus on songs. And of course this was during the shutdown, so I was pretty productive, I think.

It seems like that’s a thing that you’ve always been able to do. Your lifeline is these songs. So when all else fails, if the world is falling down around you as it seemed to be in 2020, there’s always that place that you can go and find sustenance.

Yeah. Songwriting is attached to purpose. So I go back there over and over again, and it’s always there. It’s such a beautiful thing to be an artist, to be a songwriter, and to reach for it and it’s always there.

Is there anything else that you would like to talk about as we head into Pride?

Yeah. I guess I’m an elder. I’m 60. I’ve seen an awful lot of highs and lows around being a gay person in the United States of America, and in the world, actually. And I would say that we’re in a pretty treacherous place, but my sense is that we’re going to keep moving forward, and I have a tremendous amount of hope. I’ll flip the TV on and I see a Black lesbian as the press secretary giving us a briefing from the Oval Office. We’re going to get there.

It’s never been easy, it’s not going to be easy. But I don’t see us going backwards without a giant push to bring us forwards. And there’s just been so much momentum around gay marriage, protecting the whole spectrum of gender rights and embracing that idea pretty quickly. I believe that there is way more momentum on our side than we even know, because…love. Love wins.

Once you’ve seen a lesbian couple in a car commercial, how do you go back from there?

Who else is going to sell those Subarus? [Laughs]

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