Interview with Mary Gauthier

Louisiana native Mary Gauthier (pronounced go-SHAY) had several dramatic pit stops along the way to becoming a critically-lauded singer/songwriter. She came out as a teenager and ran away from home, spent her 18th birthday in jail, went to rehab, enrolled in Louisiana State University as a Philosophy major, attended culinary school, and then opened the first cajun restaurant, Dixie Kitchen, in Boston. The wild tales and rambling journeys make for great storytelling, and Gauthier has done just that since she began her songwriting career at the age of 35.

Gauthier put out four acclaimed albums (Dixie Kitchen, Drag Queens In Limousines, Filth and Fire,and Mercy Now) over the course of five years, and this week released her fifth record, Between Daylight and Dark, to rave reviews. She is currently on tour in support of the record, but recently spoke to about making the record, her songwriting process, and why she prefers Southern gentility to the alternative. When did you start performing your new songs from this album?
Mary Gauthier:
I work them into the show after I write them, just to see if they’re gonna hold up. Part of the process for me is getting them in front of people and seeing how the songs are working. So I’ll start bringing new songs into the set list right away, in fact, I’m already moving in new songs that aren’t on this record.

AE: Have you ever made a point of specifically including gay press into your publicity rounds, or is this the first time?
I think we did it with Mercy Now. And they signed me as an openly gay artist, and we’ve never been shy about it. If there’s been any resistance it’s because I’ve been characterized as country, and the gay market for country … there’s a couple of guys, but not many. Historically, it’s been perceived as a homophobic market, but I’m not country. I’m not country at all. I love country music and put some country songs into my work because I love it. But really, if I were to characterize myself, I would say that I’m a folk singer.

AE: I would have said Americana, because it blends folk, country, and rock.
MG: Well, it’s a very inclusive genre, which is problematic because it means you don’t know what it means. It includes Charlie Daniels and Solomon Burke, I mean, this is a genre? (laughs)

AE: Do you think the fact of that inclusivity and diversity makes it easier to be an out artist in that realm?
MG: I don’t know. I haven’t had a problem being gay. If people have a problem with me being gay, they don’t tell me about it.

AE: You’re not one of those people who had a big coming out event, because you were never “in.”
MG: Isn’t that cool, to be a part of that generation where you don’t have to come out because you were never in?

AE: It is, but it’s not just generational. There are artists your age or younger who haven’t had that experience. It’s also a choice. We’re you advised against being out when you first started in the industry?
MG: Oh I don’t take advice. (laughs) It was just never an option. I’ve never not been gay, so I think I’m very, very comfortable with that part of me. I mean I’ve got lots and lots of reasons to be in therapy, that’s just not one of ‘em! I’ve dealt with that. I dealt with that in high school. I’m comfortable with it, and that puts people at ease.

AE: You started making music at age 35, which is later in life compared to a lot of other artists. And it’s pretty hard to mess with someone when they are 35. They know who they are, they’re not going to stop being who they are. I wonder if that — in addition to your personality, of course — had something to do with it being a nonissue.
MG: That’s part of it. Being older, having owned businesses, own my home. But I think if I had started earlier it would have been the same. Having dealt with it in high school changes things. If you can survive that and not kill yourself, being a gay adult is nothing. But being a gay kid is a son of a bitch! Being a gay 15-year-old in the 1970s, in Louisiana … that was the thing to survive.

When I got the record deal I had dinner with the guy that runs the company, and I said, “Now you know I’m gay.” And he said, “Yeah.” I said, “And you know I’m out.” And he said, “Yeah.” And I said, “And you know that’s not gonna change, right?” And he said, “Mary, thank God for you. Do you know how many gay artists I have that lie about it? That’s the worst thing.” The record company doesn’t want me to lie. They choose to lie. Nobody tells you to lie. I don’t think people are aware of just how much people don’t give a shit about you being gay. It’s boring. Let’s talk about something interesting!

AE: I’ve never really understood how those artists who are singer/songwriters and who are working with autobiographical material very openly all the time can do that separation of “Oh I don’t talk about that. That’s personal. This is business, us talking about this music.”
MG: I think it’s internalized homophobia, though I don’t want to put labels on other people’s struggles and beat them with that when they’re already in pain. I’m not gonna do that. But I know for me there’s been all kinds of internalized homophobia that I’ve had to deal with and the layers of it are astonishing. Even when it comes to being an over-achiever, it’s like I gotta be better than to be equal. But that’s bulls—, it’s homophobia. You think of it as ambition or something, but there’s a driving force behind it that doesn’t feel like ambition. It feels like competition. There are lots of levels to that, it’s a complex thing.