NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) – October 2021 marked twenty years since Grammy-nominated artist Mary Gauthier moved to Nashville in pursuit of a career as a songwriter. She was 39 and eleven sober.
Gauthier, executive chef and restaurateur, co-owned three restaurants in Boston before moving to Music City. She recounts her foray into music and subsequent success in her new book Saved by a Song (St. Martin’s Essentials)
The book is part memory, part masterclass on artful songwriting that pierces and transcends. Each chapter reveals a new layer of vulnerability, showcasing a life that is equal parts grainy, heartbreaking, and miraculous.
Much of the trauma is generated by Gauthier’s own struggle with drugs and alcohol, which began at age 13 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her book begins with the story of an impaired driving arrest on the opening night of her second restaurant. She was 28 years old and lived in Boston.
âI was arrested and spent the night in jail, and in that jail cell I had what I can only call a spiritual experience,â Gauthier said. “I left my body and looked down and saw myself, which for an addict or alcoholic is a miracle.”
As she recovered from drugs and alcohol, she was encouraged to tell her story repeatedly to bring hope and healing to others. She explained how this exercise healed her and helped her overcome the trauma she had endured.
âYou have to make it into a story to make sense of it and that story becomes something that can be of service to others,â said Gauthier, who went into sobriety on July 13, 1990.
In the months following her decision to get sober, she began attending open mic parties near Berklee College of Music in Boston. The experience sparked something in her that had been dormant for decades: the love of music and song.
âMusic is what feelings sound like,â Gauthier said. âI was attracted to [music] because I needed to heal, but I didn’t know it. I used the music to make sense of [my story]. He removes the sting by inserting a goal. “
Gauthier’s work never shies away from pain, deep anguish, dependence and loss. She attracted an audience of people looking for raw truth in music.
Gauthier recorded three albums while living in Boston in the 1990s, but knew that a move to Nashville was necessary if she wanted to get into songwriting. So in 2001, she decided to leave the restaurant she co-owned with investors and move to Music City.
“When I said [the other restaurant owners] I wanted to be a full-time musician, they thought I was crazy, “said Gauthier.” The restaurant worked well, and we were making money! “
Gauthier gave his investors six months’ notice before leaving. After that, she wrote down each recipe and trained the next chef.
âI gave them the keys back and said, ‘You know, I’m out in six months,’ and I moved to Nashville in September 2000,â Gauthier recalls.
Shortly after moving, Gauthier marked a tour with Guy Clark, the late folk and country artist who released over 20 albums before his death in 2016. She spent two years on the road with him before earning a recording contract in 2003 on Lost Highway. Universal.
Since then, she has performed with Willie Nelson and his songwriter John Prine, among others. She received public praise from Bob Dylan and had artists like Tim McGraw and recently Dolly Parton recorded her songs.
She has recorded seven albums since becoming a full-time musician and was nominated for a Grammy in 2018. It featured songs written through her work with the nonprofit Songwriting with Soldiers.
His involvement with the group began as an invitation from Darden Smith, the founder of the group. He asked Gauthier to be part of a veterans retreat where 15 veterans and their spouses participate in a 2.5 day retreat. At each retreat, four songwriters join the group and help articulate the trauma of their experience.
“It’s a conversation [with a veteran] that develops into a bond and a trust, and sooner or later a title will fall out of their mouths, “says Gauthier.” I try to compose a melody that reflects the emotion they express. “
At the end of each retreat, Gauthier comes out with between 15 and 20 songs. In total, she has written nearly 70 songs with veterans and their spouses across the organization.
In January 2018, Gauthier released an album containing 11 songs written with veterans. Rifles and Rosary Beads became a song title, album title, and short film.
The album was critically acclaimed and culminated in a Grammy nomination in November 2018.
âMusic is what feelings sound like,â Gauthier said. “I’m going to make their feelings sound. That’s where the music comes from – it’s a mirror of the emotion they express. Songs allow us to express confusion so that it’s no longer confusing. Working through my own life traumas with music and song has helped me see that it can really help [people] in a way that talk therapy cannot achieve because we have a melody. “
Gauthier demonstrates honesty and thoughtfulness in every word – spoken, written and sung. She uses this gift to bring healing to others.
“By the way, I was alive. I should be dead. But I didn’t die. I survived and got sober, so I’m in the gravy boat. I can afford to take that risk. [of songwriting] because I am in bonus land. I have this other life that I did not deserve given to me. So that helped me answer the call. “