so, concept albums have always been intriguing to me, despite being a singles kind of girl. i like the thought that every song goes together, that they serve best when in order, and that each piece is part of a bigger whole. not all albums are like this – in fact, a lot of times when i listen to an album, i think, was this even recorded around the same time?
mary gauthier, a singer/songwriter, has crafted a concept album based on her history of being given up for adoption as a baby and her quest to find her biological family. the foundling, which spans a number of musical styles ranging from folk to to hints of R&B to country and twinges of traditional waltzes, tells its listeners a story that is, at times, heartbreaking to listen to. there isn’t a neat, happy ending where which mary finds her birth mother and they have a fabulous reunion (as chronicled in the bittersweet song march 11, 1962), but instead, it shows a woman transformed by the experience of exploring who she is, where she came from, and how love exists no matter what a person may go through.
in the song, the orphan king, she sings:
hail the orphan king
superhero of suffering
like moses and batman and james dean
i still believe in love
i really wish i could share with you the touching mama here, mama gone, which is about her mother giving her up:
a tiny heart is beating
what a beautiful, haunting song. i love it.
mary was kind enough to answer a couple questions for me about crafting the foundling:
how you met heather: “The Foundling” is such an intense, personal album. What was the writing process like for you?
mary gauthier: It took me two years to write The Foundling, and 45 years to get to the point where I was able to write it. It was very challenging, and stretched me as a writer. Writing a concept record is like writing a musical or a movie, the songs must lock into each to each other and move the story along. And yes, the story is personal, but it is also Universal, and I very much wanted to nail down the Universal aspects of my story. No easy task!
how you met heather: As a listener, I tend to gravitate towards songs that tell stories. As an artist, what kinds of songs/music are you drawn to? Does this influence your writing?
mary gauthier: I like good writing, no matter what genre it’s in. I listen to the words, the words are very important to me when I am listening to songs. So just about any song that has great lyrics will grab me, and yes, influence me as a writer. I think the highest compliment a writer can pay to another is to say I should have/ could have written that. It means they really get it.
here’s one of the songs from the album – it takes you straight to new orleans, the city where mary’s story begins:
fellow socal peeps, mary will be in town this weekend, in santa monica, if you want to check her out!