Interviewed by Chris Manson
Mary Gauthier is well-known to many of the locals, particularly those that attend the 30A Songwriters Festival every year. She’s been a featured performer for most of the festival’s nine years. Her latest (excellent) album, Rifles & Rosary Beads—released January 26—is a collaboration between Ms. Gauthier and military veterans. She spoke to us from Nashville.
Discover more at MaryGauthier.com.
So, what do you write first? The music or the words?
They come together.
Just kidding about that first question.
That’s what people always ask, along with “Who were your influences?”
Congratulations on the new album. How did the idea of collaborating with veterans come up?
I’ve been working with Songwriters with Soldiers for about four years. The organization pairs veterans with songwriters. Darden Smith approached me.
Tell us more about the organization. How does it work?
You can learn more at their website, SongwritersWithSoldiers.org. It’s five years old this year, and over 400 songs have been written with veterans from Vietnam forward. It’s a nonprofit that does incredibly beautiful work.
Are any of your other songwriter friends involved?
A lot of them—Darryl Scott, Beth Nielsen Chapman. There’s a list at the website. Some of the very best songwriters in Nashville do this.
Had you done much collaborating prior to Rifles & Rosary Beads?
Yes, I’m a big fan of co-writing. I do it a lot.
“Brothers” certainly feels like the right song for the right time.
That was right out of their mouths (of the song’s co-writers Meghan Counihan and Britney Pfad)—they lived it.
That was Howard Rains. He’s a songwriter as well. He did a beautiful job. He did it for a piece in No Depression magazine, and I bought the rights. He’s a genius.
I’m sorry I missed you at the 30A Fest this year, though it was nice to run into you at the Gretchen Peters-Rita Wilson-Chris Stills show in Rosemary Beach. Any highlights for you this go-round?
Oh, it’s always so much fun. Rita’s a friend of mine, and she’s been really involved in the Nashville community. She’s very committed to improving her songwriting. I enjoyed being with all the songwriters. I had a show the next night at the Town Hall, and I love it. The festival has gotten bigger, but it’s still intimate.
Kathy Mattea did an extraordinary rendition of your song “Mercy Now” at the festival.
She does it beautifully.
Bobby Bare recently recorded a couple of your songs, too.
He recorded “Mercy Now” as well and “I Drink.” The video for “I Drink” is stunning—you gotta look that up. It’s jaw-droppingly great. It’s the opposite of what you hear on country radio.
You offered hand-written lyrics for sale on your website recently. This seems like a particularly good way for artists and songwriters to generate revenue these days, aside from endless touring. Record sales seem to be a thing of the past.
Tech stole the business right from under us. There’s a lot of music out there, but they’ve made it impossible for many songwriters. There is some legislation that’s helping songwriters, but I haven’t had time to look into it.
A few years ago, you mentioned you were working on a book. What’s the current status?
I just signed a big book deal with St. Martin’s Press. The title is Saved by a Song. I have a lot of work to do in my free time (laughs). I’m sure it’s gonna come together.
When I first met you, you had mentioned a project involving some unrecorded songs by the great songwriter Harlan Howard.
That’s on hiatus. Too complicated, copyrights. It would take a team of lawyers to make it happen. Too much legal bullshit, can’t deal.
I enjoyed seeing you on Sarah Silverman’s Hulu show recently. Any other television appearances on the horizon? I would love to see you as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live.
I’m not sure I’m the right person for that. I’m a folk singer. That’s not really my goal, being on TV. But I liked being on Sarah’s show—it was like being at her house.
I have a feeling you’re moving on up in the world. Used to be I could email you and get a quick, direct reply. Now you have a go-between.
That’s very important. I have so much coming at me right now.
Do you still do all your social media—tweets, etc.?
I have some help, but you can tell it’s me when it’s political (laughs).
What’s next? Heavy touring in support of the album, I’m sure, but what else?
I’m flying to London today. Europe, east coast, west coast, just confirmed 20 dates in the Netherlands. The little folk singer that could, going all over the world. It’s not huge but wide.
I have to ask—what are some of your favorite hangouts here in Northwest Florida?
It’s always such a whirlwind. Gosh, you know, that’s a hard question. The guys at the record store (Seaside’s Central Square Records) are good to me. I love to spend some money there. The wonderful woman that makes the jewelry (Allison Beach Crafts). I try to support the people that support the songwriters. It’s been an incredible seven years doing 30A. It’s a giant love fest.
Have you heard any good music lately? Is there anything you’re looking forward to in 2018?
It would appear everyone on earth has a new record coming out this year. All my friends. I think it’s gonna be a huge year for music. I’m excited about the possibilities for artists. We have a lot to say.
I’ve been enjoying Rod Picott’s new record (Out Past the Wires), he used the same producer I did for Rifles & Rosary Beads, Neilson Hubbard.
Thanks again for taking time to chat. We hope to see you around these parts again very soon.
Me too. I gotta get back and do a show there. Thank you.