10 Questions with ... Mary Lambert
October 14, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Mary is a Seattle-based singer and spoken word artist who worked with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on their track, "Same Love," from their album, The Heist. Since then, Ms. Lambert has been making a lot of noise. Her single, "Secrets," is out now and she will be releasing her album, Heart On My Sleeve on October 14th.
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'm doing what I feel I'm supposed to. I'm doing what my body and heart are telling me to do; I'm just trusting it and I'm just going and I haven't really stopped to think about it. 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 and 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 work 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. So I had a friend who 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 locally, sort of propel my career, but it was 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. 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 a hit in the Rap world, too ... that, as a concept, really hit home for me. And once I realized this was sort of an anthem that Australia was using when they were passing gay marriage, and the U.K. was using 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 amount of time writing and worrying about ended up being this big hit. And 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. And that to me, is what I've always wanted to accomplish. You know, 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. Being on stage, singing your lyrics with Madonna, as Queen Latifah officiates the wedding ceremony of 33 couples in a live global telecast, it was incredible! Describe what was going through your head at the time.
To me, this was sort of the amalgamation of all the weeks and 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 I was realty 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. And 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. And 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. I was a fucking emotional wreck the day of the Grammys. I cried like collectively for six hours the day before.
I just feel a 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. And 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. I'm always very determined to give the very best possible performance.
5) What does it feel like putting out a song like "Secrets" for the world to hear?
It's really freeing. Yeah, I care very deeply about humanity. I know that sounds really open. But that there are lots of people who are living their life with a lot of shame and guilt and embarrassment and with different stigmas that we all live with. And everybody has got baggage and everybody has like 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 and once I realized I was the only one who was inhibited and I was doing it to myself and once I started to let go of all that and just embrace myself for who I was, that was my path to self-improvement and eventual self-love and understanding my self-worth.
So what I wanted to do was create a song that hopefully invited people to do the same and with that thinking, the only way you can really do that is showing your vulnerable self first. So I wanted to put the lens on myself first and then hopefully have this song be an invitation."
6) How did the "Secrets" remix with B.o.B come about?
Well, I should tell you that I was very stubborn about not wanting a remix. And everyone on my label was like, "Mary, it will be cool. It's just a different version." And I kept saying, "I don't want another version. I want to do a song without a rapper on it!!" I just kept feeling like I wanted to do my song, my way. And then all the feedback that I got -- especially from the Pop radio side -- was like, "Well we'd really like to play it but maybe there's a Rap version."
I was like, damn it! So we started looking at different features and I was really particular. We went through a couple different ideas of who we could have and B.o.B came out of nowhere. I was not expecting him to jump on it. It literally just showed up in my inbox and I about keeled over because it was just so perfect. In that very first line, he's just so vulnerable. It's the exact right take on it and there were a couple people who just didn't get the right vibe, but he got the vibe. There were such amazing lyrics in there so I loved it!
7) 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. I mean, it was a great tour for my band and I to really bond and get to know each other and get closer and an awesome chance to get to play "Secrets" a lot. The shows were earlier so I was playing at 4p to old people and babies, which is great 'cause they are my demographic because we all cry a lot.
We are all crying and enjoying the music. It was good to be in that and to feel instantly loved. I'm really accustomed to doing my own shows because people are so excited about what I do and 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 sort of win them over. I don't know if I succeeded, but I had a really fun time performing.
8) 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. I have pansies because I am Mary the 5th. I'm Mary Danielle, my mom is Mary Katherine, my grandmother is Mary and 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 Northwest.
9) Any new artists that you are really enjoying these days?
I'm obsessed with Echosmith! They are fantastic! I love that song "Cool Kids." I listened to their whole record and their whole album is really smart, not just for their age, because they are so young, but wow ... this is such a cool album. And of course, Sam Smith's album ... I die over him. I just think he is so phenomenally talented. Those are probably my top two right now.
10) Living or dead, who would you like to work with?
I have three that are in my head right now and probably not all together. 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 rarely -- 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?" And I say, "That's hysterical, I'm going to go in my backyard!"
I don't want to go anywhere, I want to lay 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 cats.
Excerpted from an interview that appeared on our sister site, ALL ACCESS MUSIC, by Leah Adams. Read the entire interview here.