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Mary Gauthier: a phoenix rises from the filth and fire

By Clarissa Sansone, July 2002

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About spending her 18th birthday behind bars in Kansas City, she says, "That sounds so much more romantic than what actually happened." What actually happened was that Gauthier had been working at a car wash in the dead of winter in Kansas City and had stolen something "minor" from one of the cars. She spent only one night in jail, but the day she was arrested happened to be the day before her 18th birthday.

The experience did little, if anything, to quell her adventurous nature. When her parents eventually brought Gauthier back to Louisiana, she only stayed a couple of months.

"Then I stole the car again, and that was it," says Gauthier. For what kind of exciting escapade was she bound? "I went to college," she says, but first she "got a really bad job.

Her work experience in Baton Rouge wasn't all bad, however. She found herself working in a restaurant where her employer agreed to pay for her schooling at Louisiana State University if she continued to work for him.

"All I've ever done is work in the restaurant business," says Gauthier (Kansas City car wash aside). In fact, once she "moved to Boston to get away from Baton Rouge," Gauthier attended the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. "I was in management. That's why I went to culinary school," says Gauthier, "to learn how to run a kitchen." She seemed to have been doing a pretty good job on her own, however. "I already owned a restaurant when I went to school, and then we opened another restaurant," she says.

The restaurant she opened after graduating was the Dixie Kitchen in Boston. The menu, not surprisingly, featured Southern and Cajun dishes.

Four years ago, Gauthier sold the restaurant to pursue her music, and, as is her wont, hasn't looked back. Although she has been writing and playing music since her aunt gave her a guitar when Gauthier was 14, leaving behind the restaurant business wasn't an easy decision to make. "It was really scary," Gauthier says. "It took about a year to decide."

At that time, Gauthier says she had "written two records' worth of songs.

In fact, she has released two previous records: "Dixie Kitchen," named for her restaurant, in 1997, and "Drag Queens in Limousines," which received much critical attention, in 1999.

The songs on "Filth & Fire," says Gauthier, were two years in the writing. Of the music on her latest, she says, "Hopefully, I'm getting better at it; hopefully, my writing is maturing.

When looking for a producer for her latest, friends and Austin residents Slaid Cleaves and Ray Wylie Hubbard introduced her to Morlix.

After meeting Morlix, Gauthier says, "I just knew it was rightÉI wanted Austin on the record.

While songs took Gauthier two years to pen, the album was made in one month, and she notes that "the actual making of it was one of the easiest things I've ever done.

She credits Morlix with making the process a fluid one: "it was just a natural flow," says Gauthier. "I didn't tell him (Morlix) a thing."

The self-described "unemployable person" (Gauthier says she has a problem with authority figures) and the one who felt she never quite fit in has found a new career and a new community.

"I guess the 'thing' is starting to happen, whatever the 'thing' is," says Gauthier, positing that it's a "cumulative effect" of all her hard work.

"It's really really wonderful," Gauthier says of her burgeoning success. Of the place to belong that she has constantly sought, she says that "music has really provided me that community.

"It's given me a group of people I finally fit in with...a bunch of unemployable bums who don't want a job."

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