A Conversation with Mary Gauthier (continued)
MG: And slowly but surely I wanted to write more than I wanted to cook. I started going to these open mics and trying out my songs on, basically, other songwriters. And it just became an obsession. Eventually I had my business partners buy me out. I took the money from the buyout and made my second CD [Drag Queens in Limousines], and hired a radio promoter, and hired a publicist, and put together what press clippings I had and tried to write a bio and get into the music business.
PM: That was a big step. And you had the business sense by then to say, "Okay, if I'm going to do this right, with my second record, I've got to get some radio promo and some publicity." Who did you hire back then?
MG: I hired Bill Wence in Nashville to do the radio. And I hired Ellen Giurleo in Boston to do the publicity. I met a woman at a Folk Alliance who was managing a couple of people, and I called her up and asked her if she would help with PR as well. And she grew into becoming my first manager. Her name is Marlene Baker.
PM: Oh, yeah. And Marlene, does she still handle you?
MG: No, I'm actually in between managers, and doing this record deal. I spent a few minutes with another manager, and that didn't work out, so I'm just sort of in between, and waiting on the deal to finalize, and then I'll figure out what's going to happen with management.
PM: Very interesting.
MG: But yeah, Marlene got on board, and I put the money that I'd made from the restaurant into production of the CD and hiring the people that you need for a CD release to have any success. And I hit the road. At that point I was making $50 a night and working anywhere that would have me, and just trying to figure out the business of writing songs, making CDs, and playing music for a living.
PM: So who produced that second album?
MG: The same producer as the first one, Crit Harmon.
PM: Oh, Crit Harmon did both of the first two.
PM: We may talk about Gurf Morlix [producer of Filth and Fire] a little later--but how would you characterize your relationship with Crit, and the way that he works?
MG: Crit and Gurf have a lot in common. They're both very, very kind, which I think is just vital. And they're very patient. They're both very, very talented. And they know how to talk to someone in the studio to get the best performance. I mean, just the slight raising of the eyebrows can cause a person like me to crumble.
PM: Go to pieces.
MG: Yeah. You look at me like I just sang bad, and I just--I can't sing again. It's probably not that bad now, but it was then, because I always have struggled with my singing voice.
PM: Because Crit was dealing with a much younger artist than Gurf was by the time you got to him.
MG: Oh, yeah. I was green, green, green. And I sang really, really pitchy. I didn't learn how to deal with that until much later on. I finally figured out I was singing too hard. I was pushing instead of letting it flow, and pushing always made it go flat.
MG: Crit was so gentle with me and so generous with the way that he handled me. He helped develop my confidence, and he helped me with the songs. Most of my best songs on the first three records were co-writes with Crit. And he was instrumental in helping me to grow.
And I really do think kindness is so important when you're dealing with such an intimate thing as someone's songs and singing, especially with a young artist who's not young. I got started at this at thirty-five.
PM: That's remarkable.
MG: So I was an old young artist.
MG: And I had known success in other areas of my life, but this was brand new. But given that I was still newly sober, by whole life was brand new. I went to my first detox when I was 15.
MG: I had struggled since I was just a little kid with the demons associated with drugs and alcohol, and alcoholism. But I felt like a baby in so many ways. Emotionally, I was a baby, and just raw. And these songs were pouring out of me. I wanted to chase it. I needed that man or woman who had the kindness and gentleness to deal with someone that vulnerable, and Crit was just perfect.
PM: It's no wonder that he gets so much work from so many good singer songwriters, I mean, if he's all that.
MG: Oh, yeah.
PM: So when you hit the road at fifty bucks a night and gigs like that, and you had some publicity and some radio promo, that second record, Drag Queens in Limousines, hit pretty good with the critics in Triple A Radio, did it not?
MG: All hell broke loose.
MG: I went from never playing with a band in my whole life, doing $50 a night gigs at coffeehouses trying to sing in between them making cappuccino to suddenly I'm on the main stage at the Newport Folk Festival, overnight, and main stage Strawberry Music Festival, Rocky Mountain Folk Festival.
PM: And how did it happen? Just a shitload of airplay?
MG: The record did it. What happened was, Bob Jones at Newport fell in love with the record. And once Newport books you as their new artist that year...
MG: I think these guys watch each other, I really do. The festival talent buyers. It's no coincidence that the same two or three people who get the New Artist slot at one festival get it at most of the festivals.
PM: Exactly. "We're getting on board here."
MG: Yeah. So once Bob Jones invited me, then they just fell like dominos, and I couldn't even believe it. When that call came in, I didn't believe it. I just said, "No, come on." "Yeah, yeah. You got Newport." And to me it was like God called and said, "You're not a sinner after all," or something.
PM: Yeah, "I love you anyway."
MG: Yeah! It's like, "You're forgiven! I realize there were some mistakes, but you're still a child of mine."
MG: It was just unbelievable. So then I had figure shit out really, really quickly. And there was Crit, once again, helping me put a band together, helping me to play with a band. He was my guitar player.
PM: Oh, really? He did Newport with you.
MG: Oh, yeah.
PM: And he was the band leader and stuff like that.
PM: He was a really valuable ally when you needed him.
MG: Oh, yeah.
And so how did Newport go? Was it a big success?