Mary Gauthier Preaches the Power of Songwriting on ‘Basic Folk’

Mary Gauthier isn’t just a songwriter, she’s an artist with a mission. With a book about her story (Saved By A Song), her work with the non-profit SongwritingWith:Soldiers, 30 years of sobriety under her belt, and much more, Gauthier has a plethora of wisdom to share. 

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On the latest episode of Basic Folk, Gauthier and host Cindy Howes dig into the topics of life, love, teaching, upbringing, and how it all connects to the creative realm. 

Becoming a songwriter relatively late in life, it wasn’t until her 40s that she wrote her heart-wrenching concept album, The Foundling, on the trauma of being in the adoption system. She explains that it was an album that had to be made after seeing the wounds of childhood still present in her life. 

“I had to write it,” Gauthier begins. “And I had no idea that it would be extremely painful for people to listen to because I lived it. I wasn’t there anymore. It was kind of surprising to me that the reaction was pretty unanimous in that this is really painful. I thought I was telling a story that would explain some of what I mean by adoption and trauma.

“About being an orphan and about being also the child of four parents, how does that work? How can you have four parents and be an orphan? I was diving into a conversation that I thought it was time to have. So, you know, you put it out there and it lands or it doesn’t. People listen or they don’t. I go where the questions are, I try to answer them, and then I move on. I don’t stay there. So some people really found the record useful,” she says.

In this way, her music always strives to be raw and honest, while having little regard for critical acclaim. “Just write the truth and it will find its audience,” she says. For Gauthier, it’s all about artistry. Letting the commonalities of humanity shine through all the darkness. 

“I just think that’s where the good stuff is. In music, song, art—all art. Art is where we tell our secrets. But the trick is to get past the ‘I,’ and the ‘me’ and find the ‘we.’ There’s a universal inside of all of us, and I think that’s where great art is born,” she explains. “Where we connect with others, not just the specifics of my own struggle, or my own joy, but the universal experience of what it’s like to be a human being right here, right now, today.”

This idea also dictates her methodology when coaching new songwriters. “I just walk people to the place where they don’t know what they’re talking about anymore. And that’s where you get started. That’s where it starts. We don’t write what we know, everybody already knows what we know. And what we know, is the tip of the iceberg. It’s getting into the unknown where things get interesting,” Gauthier states.

Her take on creativity and allowing the struggles of life to be used proactively for the benefit of others is as inspiring as it is refreshing. Throughout the rest of the episode, she details her process when working with soldiers, what sobriety has taught her, body confidence, and so much more. 

Check out the rest of the episode on Basic Folk

Photo courtesy of Mary Gauthier.

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