Over 17 years and seven albums, Mary Gauthier has earned a reputation for baring her soul in song. The Louisiana-born singer-songwriter has just released her first studio album in four years, “Trouble & Love.”
Gauthier used the end of a relationship and her own heartbreak as the basis for the songs on her new album. Just about everyone has experienced the feelings of sadness, despair and hope she writes about, which makes her songs accessible. It also explains why artists as varied as Jimmy Buffett, Tim McGraw and soul legend Candi Staton are among those who have covered her earlier tunes.
One of the new songs, “How You Learn to Live Alone,” received a lot of attention even before the album was released. Hours after Gauthier finished writing the song with collaborator Gretchen Peters, it was snapped up by the television show “Nashville.” On TV, it was sung by actor Jonathan Jackson. Not that Gauthier saw him sing it.
“I was working that night. I’m actually not one to revel in it, I’m more interested in what’s ahead," she said. "I want to move forward and keep writing, I think.”
This is Gauthier’s second career. She was a chef and co-owned a restaurant in Boston before she started writing songs at age 32. What brought her to change her life so drastically?
“I got sober from drugs and alcohol when I was 29. And that opened up a whole new life for me," she said. "What it did was put me on track with what I should have been doing all along. I was a songwriter at heart all along, but I was too messed up.”
Now, Gauthier devotes a lot of time to teaching others how to write songs. Her students range in age from 17 to 70.
“Everyone has one thing in common—they’re hearing voices," she said. "And the voices they’re hearing are saying ‘sing.’ ‘Write songs…you’re supposed to be doing this.’ So I just help them to have faith in the calling and believe in the voices.”
“It blew my mind that I actually had the desire to start writing, because I never in my life expected to be a songwriter,” said Amy Sue Berlin of Austin, Texas, who sat in on one of Gauthier’s songwriting workshops two years ago.
Berlin had no intention of becoming a musician, she just wanted to see how Mary taught. She was traveling with Gauthier, working at the musician’s merchandise table. But she had never thought of music as something she could do herself. But that all changed after hearing Gauthier talk about truth in songwriting.
“One thing she said is that there’s no substitution for saying exactly what you mean," Berlin said. "It seemed like a very obvious point, but it really set me free.”
Gauthier will be spending the next year touring the world in support of “Trouble & Love” and will be presenting songwriting workshops along the way.