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Connoisseurs of music requiring a few extra wine bottles, or repeated hits from a joint, will eat up Mary Gauthier’s latest. Her fifth aching album, dealing with loss, letting go and longing, finds her comfortably rooted in the sad songs that have drawn her comparisons to Lost Highway Records labelmate Lucinda Williams. “Between Daylight and Dark” (due Sept. 18) is a heart-wrenching project, beautifully written and painfully real. Just don’t expect a whole lot of daylight.
Between The Lines: Do you feel you’re creating intimacy with others when you express your vulnerability?
Mary Gauthier: Intimacy is impossible if you’re not being yourself. I see this a lot in the gay community. People are afraid they’re not going to be accepted for who they are. These are feelings based in the fear of rejection – from our family and friends, from our church. To overcome these fears, we try to be the best at everything: to get the most attention, to be the most attractive, the most successful. There is incredible pressure to not be real. The result is that we become isolated. How are people going to connect with you if they don’t know who are? They don’t know you; they know the mask. We don’t call this internalized homophobia, but it is.
BTL: This record was recorded almost completely live: a different process than your others. It’s definitely a more spontaneous – and potentially less perfect – method. Was it something about the new songs that made you want to try this?
M.G.: I’ve been playing gigs for 10 years, and it’s taken all of that time to get comfortable enough with my voice to be able to sing live in the studio. You know, it takes confidence to be exposed. If you’re insecure, you’ll do overdubs. In the past, I’ve allowed people to see the rawness, but I tried to perfect that rawness. I’ve started having a certain humility about what I do – allowing myself to be what I am instead of trying to be more than I am. I’m coming to terms with exposing what’s there.
BTL: I’m interested in this idea of having humility about what you are and what you do. Can you talk a little more about that?
MG: I’m at my strongest, my most genuine, when I come from a humble place. I’m not greater or less than I am. I’m just exactly who I am, with all the flaws and imperfections. We miss what we are by trying to be greater than we are. This is a spiritual practice for me, but most people look at me and think, ‘What the hell is she talking about?’
BTL: How has this new perspective affected your songwriting?
M.G.: In the past, I’ve had the propensity to rewrite and rewrite. I’ve been known to take two years to write a song. For this album, I wrote the songs pretty quickly. Spontaneity can only happen when you allow yourself to be vulnerable.
BTL: I’m going to play devil’s advocate now, based on what you just said. So, does this mean that you don’t care if you don’t sell a lot of records?
M.G.: Sure, I’d like this record to sell. But whether or not people respond to it, nobody can take away the fact that I was able to make this record. I may be punished for making the record I did -meaning nobody buys it – but at least I made the record I wanted to make.
BTL: Speaking of vulnerability, the song “Please” really lays bare the need for the love of a romantic partner.
M.G.: When I was writing that song, that’s what I was going through. I was obsessed because I was on the road, all over Europe, and I just wanted to be back with this woman. I didn’t know how it was going to go until I got back to where she was. You know, obsession is a powerful thing. People kill people because of it. It’s deadly. I’m actually embarrassed by that song. I’m not presenting myself in the best light. I’m throwing it all out there – and then running in the opposite direction.
BTL: I know that “Can’t Find the Way” is about Hurricane Katrina. Did you experience that first hand?
M.G.: No, I didn’t. It describes someone else’s experience. I was going to write a whole series of songs, but I realized I wasn’t the person for the job. I’ve been away from Louisiana for too long. I wanted to make myself an insider, but I’m not. The song is ultimately about homelessness, whether it’s literal or metaphorical. I know that feeling. It’s not a stretch for me.
BTL: Do you have a lot of lesbian fans?
M.G.: I would say maybe 20 percent on any given night. You know, I don’t know if my fans think of me as gay. I may make some slight little jokes about it, but I don’t see it as something that’s a part of what I do, even though it’s a huge part of what I am. I don’t write gay songs – I just write songs. On the other hand, I’m not a feminine woman, and sometimes I feel like I’m walking around with a pink triangle on my forehead. I’ve never really known how to position this.
BTL: The title of your second album is “Drag Queens in Limousines.” It’s also the name of a song on the album. That’s a pretty controversial title for someone based within the Nashville music scene.
M.G.: It was definitely daring to call a song that at the time. It was even more daring to portray drag queens as outlaws. It was a big ol’ country song celebrating drag queens. I had straight men in cowboy boots singing along. It made being on the outside seem cool, just like the outlaw image of Willie Nelson.