Driving west somewhere outside Salt Lake City on a desolate desert stretch of I-80 for a series of shows in West Marin and the Bay Area, the Australian singer songwriter and former Stinson Beach resident Audrey Auld expressed genuine excitement at returning to her old haunts after a year of living in Nashville with her husband. “I’ve certainly never felt such a sense of belonging. It’s very heartwarming,” said Auld, referring to her place in the Northern California music scene. “Our first year in Nashville, our mantra was, ‘Sure ain’t California!’ We miss being part of a close-knit community. We miss the beauty of the land.”
Human connection is important to Auld, and the theme comes across, creatively and technically, in the acoustic country and folk tracks on her recently released “Come Find Me.” For albums, she selects songs that resonate with live audiences. “The ones that people come up to you and ask about,” she said. “That’s all that you want as a songwriter is someone to get you. You want to express the common human experience [and] you want to distill that in an artful way. It’s making meaning of being alive.”
Auld also tries to preserve the human element in her recording process by shying away from auto tuning and other technological reworking. “I liken it to organic juice,” Auld said. “I do it as live as possible. You just wanna capture the performance. Anybody can make a sound perfect. You wanna feel the thing that you channel when you perform.”
As part of her mission to connect with her audience, Auld has performed songs and held music workshops in untraditional venues, ranging from San Quentin to homeless shelters, where people might really be hankering for some inspiration. When she was told she would not be allowed to dole out anything to the inmates at San Quentin, she gave them the gift of a song titled “Bread and Roses,” named after the organization that she partnered with to bring live music to the prison.
“I’d bring more than I could hold/ In these two hands,” she sings. “If I could bring you anything/ I’d bring a meadow full of flowers /Hummingbirds and dragonflies/No fences for miles.” The gentle lyrics and lilting melody could move a listener to tears. And it did: some of the cold-hearted convicts were crying by the end of the performance in the exercise yard.
Not all of Auld’s material is so tender. Some songs, like the spoken-word Jon Dee Graham-inspired “Petals” and guitar-picking Johnny Cash-influenced “Nails,” feature edgier material like self-destruction and dancing on graves. “I personally like albums that are diverse stylistically,” she said. “I don’t want to hear the same thing over and over and over. I’m just going to record my best songs.”
Auld is not fond of the inauthentic material produced by market-driven contemporary country music artists and does not yearn for fortune and fame. She loves the sound of classic country and jazz legends Hank Williams and Peggy Lee and, much like her influences, she makes music that is true to her own vision, not to the expectations of a mainstream audience.
“I think it’s important as a musician to have a very clear and personal definition of success,” Auld said. “I think it’s very important to find what makes you happy personally and going for that… It’s a good life. I get to travel and play music. I feel successful.”