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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at and a music writer for and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the WCHS TV show “207” to talk of course.

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Posted: April 9, 2018

Mary Gauthier’s collaboration with veterans yield stunning album

Written by: Aimsel Ponti

Nashville-based singer-songwriter Mary Gauthier’s been on my radar since she released “Mercy Now,” her fourth album, back in 2005. Gauthier’s music is many things at once: haunting, provocative and often quite personal.

In January, Gauthier released her latest album called “Rifles and Rosary Beads,” and it, too, is deeply personal and among some of her best work, which you’ll get to hear live Wednesday when she performs at Portland’s One Longfellow Square.

Image courtesy of In The Black

The record was co-written with U.S. veterans and their families as part of SongwritingWith: Soldiers, a nonprofit program started in 2011 by musician Darden Smith that brings together professional songwriters with wounded veterans and active-duty military.

“Rifles and Rosary Beads” opens with “Soldiering On,” which Gauthier wrote with Marine Jennifer Marino. “I was bound to something bigger/More important than a single human life/I wore my uniform with honor/My service was not a sacrifice/But what saves you in the battle can kill you at home/A soldier, soldiering on.” With a drums like thunder and violin like lightning, the song is huge and gut-wrenching.

Here’s a live acoustic version of “Soldiering On”

On “The War After The War,” Gauthier teamed up with fellow musician Beth Nielsen Chapman along with Ashleigh Smith, Robin Kaufmann, Rebecca Sakaki, April Rodriguez, Ximena Rozo and Christina Coyle, all of whom are either in the military or the spouses of service members. “Who’s gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war?/Landmines in the living room, eggshells on the floor.”

There’s not a single song on the album that isn’t profound and also musically excellent, as Gauthier’s vocals have never sounded better.

I spoke with Gauthier about the experience of making “Rifles and Rosary Beads.”

Q: What surprised you the most about the process of making this record?

A: What I continue to be surprised about is how positive the reception is. I made this thinking that people may not want to hear these stories. These are hard stories. We’re real quick to send our military into action, but when soldiers come back wounded inside and broken inside, that’s where our interest in them starts to fall apart. I carried that fear inside of me that people don’t really want to hear the true stories of what happens in war to a human being. These songs are written from the experience of the veterans. We may fictionalize some of it, but it’s only to point to the truth.

Q: Did you notice during the songwriting sessions something shift with the veteran you were working with, whether it be their posture or a facial expression or some kind of moment that signaled to you that they were ready to share their truth – some of which had never been shared before with anyone?

A: Oh, yes. It happened almost every time, and I think the magic is the music. We find the melody that matches how we think they feel, and for many of them, they haven’t had that understanding since they’ve come home, because they can’t articulate how they feel because they’re traumatized, so many of them. And, of course, you can’t articulate it, because trauma is ineffable, there’s no words. That’s the nature of trauma. The language of trauma is a scream. But the music gets in there and can get to the deeper story through melody.

Q: The accolades for the record keep pouring in. How does that feel for you?

A: It’s great because I get to share it with everybody. This is collaborative. This isn’t a Mary Gauthier record, really, this is Mary and all those co-writers and Darden and all of the people at SongwritingWith: Soldiers. I put it out there, my name’s on the record, but this is the most collaborative thing I’ve done.

Q: This project seems like it transcends politics.

A: What we’re talking about is the story of a human being’s experience at war, not the politics that drove the war.

Q: I can’t imagine anyone having criticism for this project. Has there been any?

A: Oh, I’ve taken some hits. I get it from the far left. They see it as part of militarism. They see it as supporting our veterans, as supporting the military industrial complex, they’re not able to pry it apart. I disagree, obviously. But I think, for the most part, people who listen get it. You can absolutely fundamentally disagree with the politics that got us into these wars, and I do and still support the veterans. What matters is the human beings in front of us are suffering, and as fellow humans, if we can help, we should help.

Q: In other words, being opposed to war and wanting to help veterans are not mutually exclusive right?

A: And they shouldn’t be, and if we can’t get people to that, we’ve lost all hope. This started with the Vietnam generation. They came home to rebuke, and they still carry that pain. I think the inability to pry the soldier from the politics is starting to come undone. People are starting to see that, while we can disagree with this but still embrace that, we’re getting there. I hope that this record will contribute to that understanding.

Q: Were there times when you were writing with these veterans that you lost it and started crying?

A: Yeah. We all did. As songwriters, we’re just a fellow human being bearing witness to awful stories.

Q: This is part of the gift that you’re giving them, really bearing witness in a very different kind of way. Are you in touch with any of the veterans you wrote these songs with?

A: I hear from them all the time. I call them my veterans. I’m in contact with my veterans a lot; they’re like my brothers and sisters. I love them.

Mary Gauthier

WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 18

WHERE: One Longfellow Square, 181 State St., Portland

HOW MUCH: $25 in advance, $30 day of show



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