A conversation with Mary Gauthier Part Two
Part Two: Recording and touring with ‘The Foundling’
By Douglas Heselgrave
In the first part of this interview, Mary shared the story behind the creation of the songs on ‘The Foundling.’ This time out, we discussed getting dropped by Lost Highway, working with Michael Timmins and how to play these songs without leaving her audience ‘bleeding on the floor.’
DH: So, we’ve talked quite a lot about the events that lead up to your decision to write an album about your quest to find your birth mother. What I’ve been wondering about is how you got the project off the ground. The songs are so personal and your approach to your story is so unflinching. Please forgive me for this, but if I was a record company executive, I don’t think I’d start seeing dollar signs dancing in front of my eyes when I heard you pitch this as an album concept. So, did you just approach the folks at Lost Highway and say you had an idea for a concept album about adoption?
MG: Yeah I did
DH: How did they react?
MG: I got dropped. (laughs)
DH: I don’t mean to laugh, but I remember when I first heard the copy of The Foundling your publicist sent me thinking ‘this is brilliant ‘– but who would have the guts to put it out?
MG: Yeah, I got dropped by Lost Highway. When it happened, I thought, y’know, how poetic. What a perfect thing. This is my project. I should own this thing. And not be on Universal. I should own a record called ‘The Foundling’. This should be mine. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved being on Lost Highway. They did so much for me and they were wonderful, but they did what they could for me and with this project, it was time for me to move on.
DH: Yeah, they did a lot of promotion for your last CD, Between Daylight and Dark and I think they did everything they could for you within the parameters of what they do.
MG: Yeah, they helped me tremendously. They’re downsizing and laying off people because they don’t have the budget anymore. This isn’t going to be a blockbuster by any means so I own it and we put together a distribution deal with Razor and Tie. Actually, it’s worked out perfectly because I want to take responsibility and for this one to be mine.
DH: It’s a trend I’ve noticed a lot in the last few years. With the access the Internet gives,a lot of people from John Prine to Ani Difranco and other independent acts like Burning Spear have found it preferable to release their own music to make sure that it gets the attention it needs.
MG: I’m going to take the risk and reap the benefits. Lost Highway did a lot as far as raising my profile, so that I have a chance to make some money at this. They were more than helpful – they really moved my career forward. My only reaction is one of gratitude. So, it’s all worked out fine. They didn’t buy into the idea of ‘The Foundling’. In some ways I don’t blame them – like you said I’m sure if I was on the other side, I’d be going ‘we need to sell records here.’
DH: You’ve worked with some great producers on your last few albums. Did you think of approaching Joe Henry or Gurf Molix for this one?
MG: I don’t think either one of them was the right guy for this job. Michael was the right person.
DH: So, how did you and Michael Timmins hook up?
MG: I approached him. My manager manages Cowboy Junkies in addition to me and he suggested that it would be a really interesting pairing. So, I went to Toronto and talked to him and played some songs for him, and I really liked him. I thought it was a brilliant move on my manager’s part and it worked out quite well for me. I really enjoyed working with Michael a lot.
DH: It sounds as if he gets what you were trying to do. He created a really interesting sound. It’s an atmospheric turbulent sound that still manages not to be overbearing or encroach too much on your music. He’s a lot less imposing than – say Daniel Lanois who shares a similar interest in deep moody soundscapes. Michael seems like he listened very carefully so that the soundscapes subtly echo the emotions of the songs. Did you talk him through each song or was it a case of intuition?
MG: Oh yeah, he’s really intuitive. Plus, the Cowboy Junkies sound is something I resonate with. I like it. The studio experience was most respectful and professional. Mike is a great producer, and a gentle soul. I trusted him and that’s all it took. With trust the right environment was created to capture these songs.
DH: I think I can hear Michael Timmins’ guitar and his sister, Margot’s backup vocals. Were all the Junkies featured on this one?
MG: Yes, that’s Michael’s guitar work and Margot’s singing. The fiddle is Tania Elizabeth who used to play with The Duhks. Now, she’s playing with me and will come out with me on tour.I was also lucky enough to have Garth Hudson play keys and some accordion.
DH: Now, this isn’t an average record of songs. How did you go about recording them? They feel very live and loose even though I know a lot of work went into capturing them.
MG: We just went in and played ’em several times. We kept the best version of each cut, and moved on. They feel live because they are live. There are very few punches and very few changes added from the best live takes.
DH: Did you feel vulnerable or frightened committing to these songs with other people around you in the studio?
MG: It wasn’t frightening because there was trust. I felt safe, and I was safe. It was really kind of beautiful. A sacred space vibe was created. It was a wonderful experience. When you know the people you are working with have your back, it’s not so hard to be vulnerable. It gives you permission to go out on a limb and try stuff.
DH: So, how about touring on this album? Is this going to be a ‘Foundling’ show? How do you plan to work these songs into your concerts?
MG: Well, I come out on stage and I have two people with me. I have a Canadian fiddle player, Tanya Elizabeth who used to be with the Dukhs, she’s out with me. I have a friend of mine – Ed Romanoff playing guitar and singing with me. The three of us come out and play some older stuff, and after a handful of songs I just tell a quick version of ‘The Foundling’ story and ask the audience if it would be okay if we just play the whole thing. Most audiences are really enthusiastic about it and want to hear it. I just play it cover to cover.
DH: I can’t imagine hearing it any other way. It could be dangerous messing with the running order. You could really bum out your audience if you weren’t careful.
MG: Yeah, there’s no other way. I don’t want to leave anybody in a lurch –and like I said, I don’t want to leave my audience bleeding on the floor. I’m really looking forward to getting out and playing. We’ll be doing at least one Canadian festival, and I really love playing in that part of the world.
DH: I’ll make sure to get out and hear you when you play on Vancouver Island.
MG: Yeah, thanks again for such a wonderful write up where you flattered me so deeply, but really got what the record is all about. It’s a record that really has to unfold inside of a person, and I’m deeply grateful that you chose to write about it. I can’t wait to meet you this summer. By that time, I’ll have figured the whole direction for this show out. It’s something I’m very excited about.
DH: Thanks again, and good luck.
This interview also appears at www.restlessandreal.blogspot.com
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