Singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier’s latest offering Rifles and Rosary Beads is up for best album at this year’s Americana Music Awards. It has all the hallmarks of a classic Gauthier creation – haunting melodies, emotive vocals and searingly honest lyrics – but there’s one difference.
On the new album Gauthier doesn’t draw on her own life experiences (of which there are plenty) but instead tells the stories of US war veterans and their families.
All the songs on the album were co-written with soldiers and their spouses, with the support of Songwriting With Soldiers, a charity that believes songwriting can be a catalyst for change and a crucial first step in the healing process.
Each song reveals the personal struggles service men and women face in the field of battle and after returning home. The War After The War reveals how living with someone who has returned from serving can put a strain put on a relationship.
Bullet Holes In The Sky is a bittersweet reflection on the mixed emotions of being a veteran.
Many veterans say the process of sharing their story and having an influence in its retelling was life-changing and, in some cases, life-saving.
iSing spoke to Gauthier about songwriting, talking to an audience and Trump.
How did the experience of collaborating with soldiers and their families differ from working with professional songwriters?
I had to learn how to write fast. And listen, hard and deep, to what the persons soul was trying to tell me. Find the music to match that, and bring it forth simply, without fear. I’ve learned plenty from working with the veterans. I will continue to co-write with the soldiers – I love it.
You’ve described your songs as being a lot smarter than you are. What did you mean by that?
Songs seem to know the future, they are often prescient. Predictive. They come in to show me the way, point to things my conscious mind cannot see.
Many singers feel self-conscious when chatting to a live audience in between songs. How do you approach this?
I talk to the audience as if they are an old friend that I’ve been missing. Works like a charm.
You’re a vocal critic of Trump. What did his election say about America?
I have no idea what it says about America. I also am not sure he was actually elected. I believe the election was stolen.
Do you feel the political climate has changed since his election?
All I know for sure is that there are good people everywhere, doing their level best to fight the darkness of nationalism and populism and racism, and I support them in my music and in my heart. America has always been a dream, and we will soon find out more about whether or not the dream will come true.