Mary Gauthier Brings Sad Songs, Sense of Humor to Johnny D’s June 11

gauthier      Mary Gauthier – former Boston restauranteur, singer-songwriter of much renown, out lesbian for years – has of course spent lots of time in our fair state. When we talked, she was reminiscing about Provincetown which led her to consider her own position in life. “Provincetown is wildly creative,” she says. “Anything goes. It’s driven by people who have the audacity to be outrageous.” And this, Gauthier adds, is not her. “Oh God!,” she exclaims. “I couldn’t keep up with the characters in Provincetown even if I tried. I’m not even close. I go there to look normal – which makes it great because in Nashville I’m considered the eccentric.” The Louisiana-born former Bostonian is certainly not part of mainstream Nashville country music these days. She has nothing to do with those big broad strokes or crossover pop maneuvers. “I don’t even know what it is,” she says. “It’s this disingenuous crapola that’s spewed out of these studios, the McDonald’s of music.” You can call her an alt-country or country noir artist. Gauthier creates sharply detailed, intimate and oft-melancholic story-songs. Songs like “Blood is Blood,” and “Cigarette Machine” and “Karla Faye” float in a darker zone. She’s in a musical world inhabited by the likes of the late Townes van Zandt and Leonard Cohen, sometimes by k.d. lang, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. Gauthier is at Johnny D’s Wednesday June 11 at 7:30. Last month, Gauthier released her seventh album, “Live at Blue Rock,” recorded outside Austin, Texas. “People have been asking for a live album for a long time,” Gauthier says, “and I just wasn’t ready. My live shows weren’t good enough. My confidence level wasn’t good enough, my singing wasn’t good enough. In the studio, you get a lot of chances to sing it over and over. For me, listening to a live performance, I would go back and hear all the flaws. I really think it was one of those things where I needed to put in my 10,000 hours.” Gauthier calls herself, with pride, a journeyman. “To become a true journeyman,” she says, “you have to put in a decade. It’s doing the road work. It’s like a craft union; if you’re a welder you have to put in ten years before they call you a journeyman welder and you get to the top. I don’t think music is any different.” When she looks back on the path that brought her to where she is, Gauthier laughs at bit and says, “My story is just a b-movie, it really is, a made-for-television type little drama.” There was reckless teenage misbehavior. She was a runaway. There was jail and detox. She righted herself, went to culinary school, and opened a successful Southern Creole restaurant in Boston called Dixie Kitchen which she helmed for ten years. The problem? “I got arrested opening night of the Dixie Kitchen, July 11, 1990,” Gauthier says. Drunk driving. “I gave myself 72 hours after the arrest for the blood alcohol level to go down enough to say that I was sober. So I made my sobriety day July 13th, 1990. That was my last round of alcohol consumption. I didn’t know I was getting sober; I just knew that I had really humiliated myself this time. Something had to change, something had to give. I was ashamed, embarrassed, in trouble, and out of control. Somebody extended their hand to me and helped me. In retrospect, that was the beginning of my recovery.” She had been playing music all along, open mic night gigs. “But it took four or five years of recovery to get to songwriting,” says Gauthier, “and four or five years of songwriting to get the courage to say I need to do this full time to get good at it.” Her 1999 album, “Drag Queens and Limousines,” brought her to the attention of critics and fans in the folk and alt-country worlds. “That’s when I decided to sell the restaurant, move to Nashville and make it my life work to pursue the craft and art of songwriting,” says Gauthier. “It still strikes me as a bold and risky move. It was completely driven by my recovery. It kept saying, ‘You have to be authentic,’ and deep down in my heart, although I knew I could make a good living at the restaurant and I was good at the restaurant, my soul craved being creative in a different way, which was songwriting. “And so, I let that restaurant go. I basically gave it away. I walked away and went to Nashville. I didn’t care at that point. In order stay in recovery, one has to make sacrifices. I’d been poor before. I know how to do poor. I said I’ll just scale it back and start over until I go fully broke doing songwriting and I never have. I came into a little bit of money and have not gone broke. I’ve been able to continue to do this.” In 2011, Gauthier released “The Foundling.” One of the year’s best albums, it’s a somber and stirring conceptual work spurred by Gauthier’s adoption at birth, her subsequent angst and quest to find her biological parents. Gauthier says a “search angel” found her mother. They talked twice on the phone, but her mother refused to meet with her or identify her father. Gauthier’s birth was, and remains, a secret to her mother’s husband and children. “It was intense and it was terrifying,” Gauthier says, of both the process and the songwriting. “My mother was a victim of the times. And so when I found her, it scared the heck out of her. I don’t think she was able to deal with it the way I was, head-on; she doesn’t have a recovery program and she doesn’t have a support system. She thinks that I’m going to wreck her life and there’s nothing I can do about that.” Writing about that journey was both cathartic and painful. “It re-opened the trauma,” she says. “Adoption is trauma although people don’t talk about it that way. That [situation] had been making decisions for me my whole life and I wasn’t aware of it. It was subconscious. Writing allowed me to work on it, to identify some of the stuff, so it didn’t have to own me anymore. Naming things and bringing them into the light is a big part of healing.” The music Gauthier writes makes demands on a listener. “For me that’s a good sign,” she says. “A lot of times what people interpret as ‘sad’ is just real. The key to this thing, to me, is to find the humor inside the melancholy. And there is. The best comedy, there’s sadness around the edges, so I look for the comedy in between the songs.” Tickets: $18. Show: 7:30

17 Holland St., Somerville, 617-776-2004 www.johnnyds.com