Between Daylight and Dark Mary Gauthier
“Another day, another night.
Another night, another day
We want to go home
We can’t find the way
-- Can’t Find the Way,” Mary Gauthier
In the case of Mary Gauthier, four words are worth a thousand pictures.
Between Daylight and Dark, her new Lost Highway album, finds her aiming her compass at the sky and searching for home. It is from this longing for home that this group of songs has emerged, and they fill Gauthier’s new album with both hope and anguish, with faith as well as fear.
Mary Gauthier knows these places well, having traveled through a night that had stretched into years, from a turbulent Louisiana childhood through odd juxtapositions of accomplishment and devastation. The result is reflected in the music, starting as a trickle of songs almost from the moment of her sobriety and swelling into the stream that fed her first two self-released albums (Dixie Kitchen, Drag Queens in Limousines), an indie-label release (Filth and Fire), and her stunning Lost Highway debut (Mercy Now).
Acclaim has followed Gauthier. Mercy Now was continuously “discovered” and lauded in the two years following its release, earning mentions on a score of year end “best of” lists in ’05, including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and No Depression. The album even received a benediction from Bob Dylan, who included one of its songs on a playlist for his XM Satellite Radio program.
Gauthier’s evolution as a songwriter continues on Between Daylight and Dark, though the scenery has changed. You have to look closely to see the difference, but it’s there, like a flower pushing through rubble: an intimation of hope, a trace of sunrise in the troubled sky. It’s in the understanding that even as a lover departs on “Before You Leave”, Gauthier sings, “the light that used to shine behind your eyes gets brighter as you walk away”. In the weary wisdom bestowed by love on “Same Road,” Gauthier knows that “when you flirt with the shadows, darkness snakes under your skin” – yet even here, there’s hope: “The only way back home is to let the light of truth come in.”
“I’ll never get rid of that wild-child, going-to-jail, crazy-adolescence story,” she admits. “But I’ve moved way past that thing. I’m ten years into songwriting. I’ve finished my fifth record. I’ve been a sober woman for a very long time, for many years longer than I wasn’t. I’ve matured – and my writing has matured. And I am learning how to allow myself to be vulnerable, to step out on a ledge and hang there, as an artist, and as a woman; to allow my writing to expose parts of me that I have always feared showing - . my softer side, my fragility, my needs.”
Gauthier has always been a unique lyricist, with an ability to illuminate even moments of devastation and despair in beautiful hues. That gift is evident throughout Between Daylight and Dark, though her perspective has shifted somewhat. “As a writer, I’m figuring out what my job is today, in this instant,” she explains. “What I did yesterday does not matter. I am more in the moment. I know instinctively when I’m onto something, and then I have to chase that feeling down until I find what it is I need to say in the song. My songwriting changes as I change, and though it’s odd to admit it, I discover a lot about who I am in my songwriting. I can see how I’ve changed by looking back at how my songs have changed. The songs on this record are a little more fragile, a little more tender, and a lot more hopeful.”
Her performances on Between Daylight and Dark reflect her growth not just as a songwriter, but as an artist. Unlike Mercy Now, which was assembled layer upon layer, with each part recorded in sequence, Between Daylight and Dark was cut live, with only an occasional solo or vocal snippet added afterward. Just as important, she gathered her musicians from a pool of players who know how to go deep into a song, being familiar with the creative process from the inside.
Begin with Joe Henry, whose songwriting credentials are well established. With Henry handling production, Gauthier invited musicians like Greg Leisz, Jay Bellerose, Patrick Warren and David Piltch to Henry’s basement studio in Pasadena, with an aim to making an album unlike any she’d done before.
“Everybody was in the same room,” she recalls. “The vocal room is isolated, but there’s a big glass window on either side, so I could watch everyone and they could watch me. It was a performance, which meant that we all knew when we got it, in real time. It was a live performance with an intuitive band, and we all knew when we locked it in. You can just feel it.. I learned a lot by doing it this way.”
On one cut, a bona fide legend joined the ensemble. “Joe mentioned to me that he had done some work with Van Dyke Parks,” she says. “I said, ‘ if you could have him come over and play, that would be unbelievable.’ So he did, and I was thrilled to meet him. ‘Can’t Find the Way’ was a great track for him. On the surface it’s about what happened with Hurricane Katrina. Under that surface, it’s a lot of people’s story: we want to go home and we can’t find the way. It’s about being human.”
During the five days it took to cut Between Daylight and Dark the focus stayed on the song: From the thigh-slap beat that Bellerose dreamed up for “Last of the Hobo Kings” to the desert-wide spaces that frame the notes on “Snakebit,” everyone’s performance started with the song, not just with the groove or the chord changes.
“All the guys played with a lyric sheet in front of them. For this record, I wanted the band to do one thing really, to create an environment for the words to enter the listener’s heart. These musicians understood that ultimately, I’m absolutely about the words. It was thrilling to work with a live band that took my lyrics in and then brought them to life with their live performance.”
“No more running away. I’ve made up my mind to stay. I’m gonna stand my ground, stare my demons down …”
-- “I Ain’t Leaving,” Mary Gauthier