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Mary Gauthier looks at life between daylight and dark

By Dan MacIntosh, October 2007

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Steve Earle was criticized for his "John Walker's Blues" song because conservative commentators mistakenly thought he was siding with a traitor. But, in truth, he was only attempting to illuminate what motivated this highly conflicted young man to act the way he did.

"I think it's the songwriter's job to get into the character and reveal the character's soul," Gauthier continues. "Then the people can decide. I don't want to decide for you; you can figure it out. I'm not a great preacher. I'm more interested in what moves a person to do what they do."

"Between Daylight and Dark" can almost be divided into two distinct parts: character study songs and personal songs. One of its best close-to-the-bone personal tracks is "I Ain't Leaving," which suggests Gauthier has finally mastered the nerve to fight rather than flee difficult situations.

"In this case the character, which may or may not be me - I am these characters, but then again, I'm not. We're all these characters if I did it right because we go through these situations. I think in this case, the character is not buying their own bullshit. Like, 'Okay, my excuses aren't holding up for me anymore.' That's were you get to the point, 'Well, okay, I've got to change.' And the change is, 'I'm not going to abandon myself.'"

This doesn't mean that you stay in a bad situation; it just means you leave for good reason, not just because you hour habit is to constantly run from your problems. "You can walk out the door in an act of not abandoning yourself," Gautier says. "In the past, that same walk was an abandonment of self."

It's the realization that you can move past your troubles with your head held high. "Tricky, isn't it?" says Gauthier of this whole, deeply psychological process. "That's why I love being a songwriter. It's forever interesting."

Whether we're young or old, the roads we travel in life don't change all that much. Sometimes it's just the direction we travel them. For example, "Same Road" speaks of how the same road that brings you to a loved one can also be the path that eventually leads you away.

"To be honest, I think that's the centerpiece of this record," Gauthier says. "That's where the heart of this body of work is. I think it articulates where I'm at as a human being. It articulates where all the characters I'm working with in my writing...there's a piece of them in there."

"There's really no way off," adds Gauthier, describing this road of life. "You're either coming or going. There's not a whole lot of sitting on the road. That song just holds up for me. There's something about it that I'm very, very proud of, and I can't even put my finger on it. It does that thing that all great things do, which is: You did write it before. You thought of this. The writer's job is to tell people what they already know. Or they just don't know that they know it. Or they don't know that it's a legitimate thing to know."

"The writer just turns the light on something that's already inside of you. It's familiar. This isn't foreign; this isn't an 'out there' idea. You've felt that, or you know that. The writer points it out and you go, 'Yeah, me too.' (Songwriters) turn the light on, and you see what was in the room all along."

Joe Henry, an excellent songwriter in his own right, produced "Between Daylight and Dark." "It was wonderful...these are predominately live tracks, (with) very little overdubs. We just played the songs a few times until we got it, and then we moved on to the next song. It was very quick. I can't say it was painless, but it didn't hurt."

"In a lot of ways, he was just so organized, and the band was so good that it was a simple thing. The songs were written, the band was great, and we all went in the studio together. I played it one time for the band, and then they all went into their particular spots to play their instruments. And we played it together a few times. After three, four times, five times, we had it. Then go onto the next song. Then we came back and maybe added a little bit here and there, like if Greg Leisz wanted to add another guitar on - you know, he couldn't play two at the same time. But there wasn't much overdubbing, not much at all."

Gauthier chose Henry to produce this project for many reasons.

"I knew his work, I'm a fan of his, and to be honest with you, I think he was the most enthusiastic," she explains. "He got me. When we talked to a lot to folks, you know, everybody was interested in working with me. Not everybody got it in the way he did. Some people would take the job, but I got the feeling it might be just them taking a job. Joe was always high on the list to begin with, but he was the most enthusiastic and the most articulate as to why he was enthusiastic."

Like Henry, Gauthier's music has a timeless quality to it. "We don't fit into a trend, which is a bad thing if you want to sell records, but a good thing if you want a career," says Gauthier. "Generally, they (the songs) are about the human heart and the human soul. They're not in a trend. Hopefully, that's what we've done. You're always going to be mapped into the technology you're using...the times that it was cut...you can't get out of that. There's going to be whiffs of that. But I tried very hard not to fit it into something on purpose."

"Between Daylight and Dark" ends with "Thanksgiving," about a family visiting a loved one in prison for Thanksgiving. In its unique way, it's a song about the ultimate test of true love. "To me, you don't know if you love someone until you love them when they're truly down," Gauthier explains. "To me that is courageous, and that's really love."

Gauthier is equally courageous, poking around some of the most unlikely places to illuminate truths about human nature. Her restless spirit has taken her from Katrina's devastation to the inside of a prison wall, and from daylight to darkness and everywhere in between. But natural curiosity prevents her from ever slowing down. And you just can't stop a wanderer like Gauthier.

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