10 Questions with ... Mary Lambert
September 29, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Mary Lambert first came to the attention of the world for writing the chorus to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' song "Same Love." This led to the song becoming a double-platinum hit, and a Grammy Award Nominations for "Song Of The Year" and "Album Of The Year." Mary also performed "Same Love" with the group on the MTV Video Music Awards, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Colbert Report, and eventually on the 2014 Grammy Awards.
Lambert then signed with Capitol Records releasing her EP, "Welcome To The Age Of My Body," with the single "She Keeps Me Warm," which peaked at No. 2 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter chart. Her current single, "Secrets," is currently approaching the Top 10 at Hot AC radio.
This was followed by a full-length album "Heart On My Sleeve" which is scheduled for release on October 14th, 2014.
1) Have you had time to really catch your breath and let all that is happening really sink in? Are you just in awe right now?
To be totally honest, I haven't really had time to catch up. And I think that I've been in sort of a survival mode the past few years. I am doing what I feel I am supposed to. I am doing what my body and heart are telling me to do. I just trust it and so far that method has worked for me.
I wonder if there's going to be a point where I'm like, I should maybe think about doing this before I do it. I've been able to claim a little more time to be at home with my family so that's been good. There's no one else that's going to make time for you. You have to claim it for yourself. So it's all a learning lesson and I feel like I'm learning a lot. It's a good problem to have that people want a piece of my time.
2) You had a huge hit with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis with "Same Love". How did this collaboration come about?
Well, I do spoken word and that's kind of how I met them. I was really active in the Seattle spoken word scene and I won the Seattle Grand Slam Champion which does not mean that I'm very good at breakfast.
At that time, I was really exploring the dichotomy of being a Christian lesbian, what that meant and fitting in. And I felt like I was this walking contradiction and I wasn't really supposed to exist or be happy about it or be able to talk about it. So up until this point, a lot of my writing was about that.
I had a friend that was good friends with the guys, and they were sort of stuck on this song. And she told them, you know Mary is an awesome songwriter as well. You should have her in. So she called me out of the blue as sort of a last resort. They had tried everybody else and weren't totally happy so they just felt, "what do we have to lose?"
"They sent me "Same Love" and I wrote the chorus in about two hours after I took a shot of tequila!
and then I recorded it that night."
3) Did you ever imagine this song would go on to be as big as it did?
Never. I thought that it was going to be big for Washington, and sort of the start of my career and propel that. But it's just a stepping stone for me as a career move, because honestly, for me, coming from a metropolitan city like Seattle, I came out when I was 17 and it was never a big deal. I never felt like my sexuality was a hurdle. There were times that I felt uncomfortable holding hands with my girlfriend in different cities in the suburbs. But in terms of living in Seattle, I felt safe and I didn't feel scared. It wasn't something I had to worry about. So writing a song about it didn't feel that much like pushing the envelope. And I think it was only when I realized that it was a global hit and in the rap world too.
That as a concept really hit for me and once I realized this was sort of an anthem that Australia was using when they were passing gay marriage, and the UK was using [the song] when they were passing gay marriage. I was just like, "Holy shit, this is like a massive song!
It's just crazy to think that the song that I spent the least time writing and worrying about ended up being this big hit! I think as the weeks progressed, the whole process and my new life became less about my career and ego as opposed to the idea that music can affect social change. That to me is what I've always wanted to accomplish ... to be a healer and affect change in a positive way. This song is complete evidence to me that that is absolutely possible and I can't have a career not based on ethical music. Not that some music isn't ethical.
"I mean, I guess I don't believe that every artist needs to be making social justice with their songs, but I do believe that every artist shouldn't be making music that hurts the world.
4) Let's talk about your performance at the Grammys. What was it like being on stage, singing your lyrics with Madonna, while Queen Latifah officiated the wedding ceremony of 33 couples in a live global telecast. It was incredible! Please describe what was going through your head at the time?
To me, this was sort of the amalgamation of all the weeks, all of the touring, and all the tears and beauty of that song. It was a culmination of all those things stirred into one moment and it was really emotional.
I was so emotional during Grammy week. I couldn't wrap my head around it! I'm even crying now ... I just couldn't wrap my head around the fact that I got to be a part of something so incredible. Not just in terms of my career, but as a member of the gay community and I got to be part of such an incredible night. I think about the effect that this song has on people, and it's easy to start feeling entitled or like a martyr, or "look what I did."
I mean, I get E-mails all the time, people telling me that the song really helped them come out, or that they were able to segue to telling their parents they were gay after playing the song. That is so tangible, that is tangible change and it was a moment of proof and I was a fucking emotional wreck the day of the Grammys. I cried collectively for six hours the day before.
I just feel lot. I feel everything all of the time. But the actual day of the Grammys, well, I don't tend to talk about too much because that's when I'm on as a performer. It's important to me that I give the best fucking performance I can possibly give. I have not mastered crying and singing yet so I have to make sure that I pull it together and still be in touch emotionally.
5) I recently watched your video for "Secrets" and I have to say that there is something so charming and playful about you.
No, I'm really a bitch!!
No you aren't! So how involved were you in the creation of the video and talk about the people that were in that video?
Oh cool! What a neat question! So the treatment was sent over by Declan Whitebloom and he did Taylor Swift's "Never Getting Back Together" video which is one of my favorite music videos. I think it was sort of something that I wanted to use as a template for "Secrets," just that sort of phase one shot sort of effect. It was mostly all him, and I just added a bunch of additions. What really sold me was that he wanted me to be the therapist and the client. That was my selling point. I was like - "We have to do this. That is going to be hysterical!" And just the idea, because I'm clinically bipolar, so for me that's already a thing in my head. I'm already so analytical.
So, let's see, what did I add? I added the bedroom scene in the beginning. Declan wanted to have a Chinese Dragon at the end and I said no!
I added the opera scene because I just thought it would be really funny to just have me thrust in this random-ass opera outfit.
We did an open casting in L.A, but a lot of my friends are in it, my grandma is in there, she's wearing a white shirt and she's adorable. My producer's assistant is in the band and there's a couple of girls from my "Body Love" music video that I wanted to bring back, because we started shooting and I was looking around and I talked to Declan and the team and I said, "You guys there's no plus size women here!" I would love all sizes. It's not that I only want plus size girls there but I wanted a variety. I said, "I just cannot have this video go up and be the only plus size women in here. I want everybody to be represented." So I emailed a bunch of the girls from the "Body Love" music video and I had them come in.
6) What does it feel like putting out a song like "Secrets" for the world to hear?
It's really freeing. Yeah, I think I care very deeply about humanity. I know that sounds really open, but I think that there are lots of people who are living their life with a lot of shame and guilt and embarrassment with different stigmas that we all live with. And I think everybody has got baggage, and everybody has at least one thing that they are ashamed of.
And as for me, I have like 20 things that I should be ashamed of, and I'm sort of like a walking stigma. You know, I could go throw a laundry list of things together that I used to feel bad about. Once I realized I was the only one that was inhibited and I was doing it to myself, and once I sort of let all of that go and just embraced myself for who I was, that was my path to self-improvement, eventual self-love and understanding my self-worth.
What I wanted to do was create a song that hopefully invited people to do the same and with that thinking, I think the only way you can really do that is by showing your vulnerable self first. I wanted to put the lens on myself first and then hopefully have this song be an invitation."
7) What are other songs on Heart On My Sleeve that you are excited about?
There are two that I am really excited to get in people's ears. And one of them is called "Rib Cage." We sort of modeled it after "Marvin's Room." I love really ambient tracks. So I really wanted to have something that with that sort of vibe. So I did a song about the downside of vulnerability and that reward for being open because you can get hurt sometimes. I invited two of my friends, Angel Haze and K Flay to get rap verses on it. I just felt like it was a cool concept. I really wanted this pro-female experience where it just happened to be three women and could be enjoyed by anyone. I wanted to make sure that just that this track was going to be dope as fuck. *Laughs*
The other song I'm really excited for people to hear is "Jessie's Girl." I just think that there are a lot of people at least one time in their life that pined after somebody that they shouldn't have or was out of their league or something. I think especially in the gay community. Many times, you'd be attracted to somebody that's straight. It happens all the time. And I also love the gender neutrality of the name "Jessie" anyway. I just felt that it was so fitting with the strings and it's so pretty I think its fun to perform too.
8) How has the tour been going with Matt Nathanson and Gavin Degraw?
I learned so much from that tour and it was an awesome first tour to have. It was a great tour for my band and I to really bond and get to know each other, get closer and it was an awesome chance to get to play "Secrets" a lot. The shows were earlier so I was playing at like 4pm to old people and babies, which was great because they are my demographic and we all cry a lot.
We are all crying and enjoying the music. It was good to be in that and not feel instantly loved. I think I'm really accustomed to doing my own shows because people are so excited about what I do with my poetry, and they are there for me. So this was an opportunity for me to find people outside of my fan base and try to see if I can win them over. I don't know if I succeeded but I had a really fun time performing.
9) Regarding the tattoo on your arm, what is the significance of it? Can you share the story behind it?
I have about two different kinds of flowers on my sleeve and I have pansies because I am Mary the 5th. I'm Mary Danielle, my mom is Mary Katherine, my grandmother is Mary, my great grandmother is Mary Lydia, and my great great grandmother is a Mary also.
Anyway, they all love pansies, and they all have always had pansies in their gardens. I don't have room or time for a garden, so I put it on my body. I told my grandma about it and she was like, "Well you'll have it forever. Next time, can you just get me a card?"
And then the other flower I have is the rhododendron and that's because that's the Washington State flower since I was born and raised in the Pacific North-West.
10) I think that your music is incredibly thoughtful and inspiring. What is one final message you would like to leave with our readers?
I always reiterate that I believe in the power of vulnerability and I believe in seeking empathy through vulnerability. The reason for all that is because I believe those things are a vessel connecting them to each other, and I think that humanity is suffering right now.
I think that we are disconnected from each other and as much as I can, I want to be a force of good and create beautiful music that I care about that's true to myself, that hopefully makes other people feel whatever it is there is to feel. I just want people to remember to feel.
Any new artists that you are really enjoying these days?
I'm obsessed with Echosmith! I think they are fantastic! I love that song "Cool Kids." I listened to their whole record and I think their whole album is really smart, and just not even for someone's age because they are so young, but wow! This is such a cool album. Of course [there is] Sam Smith's album. I die! I die over him! I just think he is so phenomenonally talented. Those are probably my top two right now.
Living or dead, who would you like to work with?
I have three that are in my head right now and probably not altogether. Natalie Mains, Kendrick Lamar and I'd love to do a song with Katy Perry. I think it would be fun! Oh and Sam Smith! I lied, that's number four!
When you aren't writing new music or performing, what do you do for fun? How do you kick back and relax?
When I am home which is very rare, I ride my bike a lot. I love to spend time with my girlfriend and my cat. People always ask me, "Oh what are you going to do on your time off, are you going to go on vacation." I say, "That's hysterical! I'm going to go in my backyard!"
I don't want to go anywhere, I want to lie around and watch "Pretty Little Liars"!! That's pretty much what I want to do. It's like a luxury to clean the house and buy groceries and cook dinner. I try to do those moments at home with my girlfriend and my cat.