Mary Gauthier, Jaimee Harris
Mary Gauthier began her songwriting career relatively late. At 35, after having been a successful restaurateur and gotten sober, she imbued her 1997 debut Dixie Kitchen with a deep sense of empathy and understanding, its characters driven to the edge of desperation in a quest for emotional redemption.
“I write when I don’t know what else to do,” offers the New Orleans native. “Empathy, I think, is the result. What happens when there is that gut level of honesty fueled by desperation is that people see themselves in a song and feel seen and heard and known, and the end result is they feel less alone and so does the songwriter. The point is to connect, and when you connect that’s where empathy happens and we see each other in a way that creates resonance.”
That philosophy is foundational to last year’s Rifles & Rosary Beads, her collection of co-writes with military veterans over the past five years through Darden Smith’s locally-founded SongwritingWith:Soldiers program. Although the album earned global accolades including a Grammy nomination, its effects resonate far beyond the songs.
“People who are struggling with trauma, as so many of our veterans are and as I have in my life, there’s this understanding on a primal level that if I try to write through it I could be okay,” she acknowledges. “That redemptive quality that songs and art in general makes room for is something that SongwritingWith:Soldiers has verified for me – songs and music as a lifesaver.
“It’s a paradox: Why do sad songs make us happy?” she continues. “There’s something about allowing yourself to be seen in that incredibly vulnerable way that brings joy. I think the joy comes from connection, in seeing ourselves in each other. Sometimes it ain’t pretty, but dammit, we’re doing the best we can here.”– Doug Freeman