Interview with Mary Gauthier

Interview with Mary Gauthier

Mary Gauthier is a Nashville-based Americana/Country/Folk Rock/Folk singer of songs that elbow you in the gut, and then catch you as you are falling. They feel your pain. They’ve been there and then some. Gauthier was one year old when she was adopted from St Vincent’s Women and Infants Asylum. Thirty five years later she wrote her first song. Over the years she struggled to cope with the void left from her adoption. This, and the sense of estrangement due to her sexual orientation, led to drug and alcohol addiction, arrest and rehab. The same woman also managed to drag body and soul from that addiction; she went on to study and then opened her own restaurants. By 35 years of age she had an untapped reservoir of life experience to pour into her music. She writes unsparingly honest songs about where she is or where she’s been, and I wondered if that ever makes them difficult to perform. “I do not re-live the things I sing about” she explains, “when I sing them, I move on, and the songs take on a new meaning, sometimes they don’t even feel like they are about me anymore. I am no longer that person who wrote the song after a while. Life is blessed in that way – we grow, we change, we move on.”

Mary works with a group called ‘Songwriting With Soldiers’ which describes itself as offering “our participants a unique way to tell their stories, rebuild trust, release pain, and forge new bonds.” Gauthier explains: “We raise money from private donors, and corporate sponsors. We pair up 4 songwriters with 15 veterans in a retreat centre. The songwriters sit with the vets, and we write their stories into a song. It’s a 2 day event, and we write fast and hard, no time to mess around.” “The process is one of empathy and compassion, and we do not judge. We just listen, and write. I know for sure that trauma is a wounding that removes a person from the group. A song can help bring the person back into the group. Songs generate resonance and connection. This is why writing songs with people who have had deep trauma is so powerful. It re-connects lives to themselves, and to others.”

This sets me thinking. Northern Ireland is a traumatised society. We are coming out the other end, but we are just at the beginning of that journey. Would this work be relevant here? “Absolutely, yes! Songs are empathy machines. They are devices that open up the heart. Writing songs about what’s real, and being vulnerable in the writing, helps heal trauma. There are so many songs that could and should be written in Belfast. I am sure that the songs will come, it’s what artists do. Your artists will rise to this occasion, and tell the story that needs to be told to help heal their own trauma. Belfast is moving into the future, in so many ways it is not the city I first encountered 15 years ago when I first came over.”

She has a simple response when I ask why she keeps returning to Northern Ireland. “The audience is there for the songs I write, and I am grateful.” On her website she lists her Top 10 Lessons From 2014. One of those lessons is ‘There is no such thing as an ordinary life.’ I had to ask what she means. “I am amazed at how fragile, and beautiful life is. I am growing older now, and I see many things I did not see when I was young. Human lives are a blessed gift, and each one of us has been given a short period of time here to do with it what we will; become parents, make art, create beauty, write songs, we have the chance to create much while we are here. Nothing ordinary about that.” Another lesson from 2014 is that ‘Songs are more than songs–they are the great human connectors of our time’. This harks back to that work she does with ‘Songwriting With Soldiers,’ but what exactly does she mean? “Songs are what feelings sound like, and they capture me when they show me how I am feeling, tell me who I am, and fit me into the human puzzle, particularly when I am unable to do this for myself. The greatest songs go the deepest, and pierce the veil, allowing us a glimpse into the divine. Sam Stone by John Prine, Mother by John Lennon, those are the kind of songs that matter, last, and explain the human heart.” You have a chance to hear this for yourself. Real Music Club is bringing Mary Gauthier back to Belfast on 10th May for the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival. Tickets are available from

Cara Gibney


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