INTERVIEW: Welcome to the Age of Mary Lambert
It’s early December at the tiny club The Mint in Los Angeles, a week or so before singer / songwriter and “Same Love” collaborator Mary Lambert would be nominated for a Grammy along with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for their mega-hit about acceptance. Sparkling in a red Christmas dress out performer Lambert takes the stage and deftly guides her audience through an emotional rollercoaster ride that will have many laughing through their tears while taking in her heart-rending love songs, visceral poems, and often silly between-song banter. Her live performance of her hit single “She Keeps Me Warm,” a beautiful paean women in love, is enough to choke up her audience alone, but she's got quite the arsenal of emotion in her proverbial backpocket.
The Seattle native’s live performance mirrors her career this past year – a trajectory that surely must be the ride of her life. In just about a year “Same Love” has been risen to the tops of charts, been featured during a lesbian wedding on ABC Family’s breakout show The Fosters, and landed Grammy nominations. This September, Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson took the stage with Macklemore and Lewis at the Video Music Awards to belt the “She Keeps Me Warm” hook with Lambert. If that weren’t enough, Lambert was featured in the Sunday Arts’ section of the New York Times, an article she proudly displays at her concerts… And finally, she signed with the major label Capitol Records, a company that has not attempted to change her innately unique music or persona.
Earlier this week Welcome To the Age of My Body, Lambert’s first EP with Capitol Records, dropped with a new version of “She Keeps Me Warm,” and the intensely moving “Sarasvati,” along with the spoken word “Body Love.” In all, it’s been a very good year for Mary Lambert.
SheWired chatted with Lambert prior to the release of her EP. She touched on how she keeps it authentic in the face of all of her success of the past year, shared a beautiful story from a fan, and revealed just who was on her “list!”
SheWired: Congratulations on ‘Same Love’ and the Grammy nomination!
Mary Lambert: Thank you! I can’t really believe it!
You’re a bit of a fashionista… Did you immediately start thinking about what you would wear to the Grammy’s?
Oh I was already thinking about it…
So it’s all planned out?
Yes, I have an amazing designer – Helen Castillo. She did Project Runway. She was the girl with all the tattoos… She and I just really vibe and get each other. We’re working on a really amazing dress and it’s going to blow everyone away! That’s my plan.
You’ve had such an amazing year of firsts. Does any one moment or event stand out as the pinnacle?
It’s a series of things. I think the biggest thing is just the times that I get to talk to people. It’s a very tangible effect that you have on people. Performing in arenas in front of thousands and thousands of people that are screaming, “We love you Mary,” singing my lyrics back at me, is incredible and it’s addicting. It’s the utmost validation you can possibly get, but to be able to talk to someone in a very real, human connection that is affected by something that you’ve created artistically is awe-inspiring. I feel very privileged to be in that position and to be able to talk to them.
Do you have any particular moving stories of connecting fans who’ve been inspired by you?
There’s this one that really sticks out in my mind. I met this girl briefly in Austin. She was 21, she’d been dating her girlfriend for a year, she was super in love, and she was like, “My mom doesn’t accept me and we just don’t talk about it.” I signed an autograph for her and I went about my way. She sent me an email about two weeks later, and basically, her mom was picking her up from Austin to drive home to Dallas and there was a lot of silence in the car.
The girl decided, “I’m gonna play ‘Same Love’ for my mom. I’m gonna do it. I think it’s important.” She explained to her mom that she got my autograph and she was really inspired by me. And she put the song on, and her mom was immediately in tears, and the girl started crying too. The mom said, “I’m so sorry that I haven’t tried to understand and I’m going to try to understand more, and I would love to meet your girlfriend…”
(Pauses) I always get choked up…
They started this dialogue and the girl told me, “It’s the first time I felt like someone was on my side, and I just wanted to thank you for making that possible.” It’s just so touching. It’s those little conversations. It’s that song that’s opened up those little conversations. And we have, we have fucking changed it.
Thank you for sharing that. You mentioned the dichotomy of the work you’re doing – the mega-arena shows and the one-on-one conversations… This is all so new to you. How do you manage to keep it all in perspective?
The thing that I struggle with is, “How can I be present in my real life, in my personal relationships?” I give so much on a regular basis emotionally, especially musically. That’s what I want to do, but if I’m at the end of the day, too exhausted to even function and have a conversation with my mom, then I have to figure out how to balance both of those things.
As far as remaining true to who I am, I don’t know how to be any other way, and I think that’s what people like about my music. That’s just who I am. It’s me being just entirely vulnerable. I don’t feel like I’ll have that problem.
We’ll call you the Jennifer Lawrence of music… Keeping it real and humble in the face of fame.
Ahhhh! That’s so cool! She’s so cool!
Speaking of being true to yourself… You recently signed with Capitol records. Your music is so moving, so emotional, and some of it is dark. Are you at all concerned that they will want to shape you into something you aren’t?
You know what’s so crazy is that on the EP, they requested to have “Body Love” on it. And they also requested one of the saddest songs I’ve ever written in my entire life, and it’s because they get it. They just want to help me with my vision and my direction. When I first signed I was like, “Okay, I’m ready. I’m going to let them take artistic direction, here and here.” And then I realized they were sort of waiting for me. They were like, “How do you want to do the photo shoot? Or “What do you want to call the album?” And I was like, “Wait? I get to decide these things?” And now I know how to delegate what I want. I feel so understood. They sought me out because of my poetry, which is really incredible. They love “Same Love,” and they definitely wanted to capitalize on that, sure. But they also saw longevity in me and that’s, I think, why they wanted to sign.
That seems pretty rare to have spoken word on an EP for a major label.
“Body Love” is on the first EP and then “Sarsasvati” is one of the tracks on the EP, and that has a brief interlude of spoken word, and then the full length is going to have spoken word. They want it. When we were working on the concept of the EP they were like, “Can we have another poem in there?” And I was like, “Sure, of course you can have another poem major label!”
When you play live you inject this super fun, silly banter between emotionally brutalizing poems and songs. How do go from silly to so intense and vice versa?
I’m clinically bipolar, so for me, it’s a really natural state…
Wait. That’s not a joke? You are clinically bipolar?
No, no, I’m super bipolar (laughs). So what I like to do is, I really fuck with people and take them into my twisted brain. I also believe that there are two sides to everybody. Mine are just more extreme. No matter how happy I get, or how lifted I feel in my life, which, right now, I’m soaring, but I’ll always have a darkness, and I know that’s a part of who I am. I’m able to sort of handle that through writing. I’m channeling that darkness through my art. I can live sort of this healthy, happy life.
I also don’t want it to be an entirely depressing show. I don’t want people to go home and cry to themselves and feel really sad. Who said it? Was it Pablo Neruda? I don’t know who said it but, “With great joy comes great sorrow and with great sorrow comes great joy.” And I think that the capacity you have for your own sadness and grief can expound on your capacity for happiness and joy, and I think that’s very true. So I want to play with that.
How many copies of your New York Times feature did you buy?
(Laughs) I bought four and my mom bought 10, so we have a couple.
What was your reaction when you learned you would be singing with Jennifer Hudson at the Video Music Awards?
Oh, it was amazing! I was so excited. I voted for her when I was like 16 -- on the couch with my mom. She’s (Hudson) an incredible human being.
Do you have any dream duet partners?
There are so many people I want to work with. I really want to do a song with Feist. I love singing her songs, and I love the way she writes. I just met Melissa Etheridge. I would do a song with her, the Indigo Girls…
So, kind of retro…
Totally early ‘90s. I want to do a song with Carole King. And then I also want to do a song with Drake. I want to do a lot of collaborations.
You and Macklemore have had this simultaneous rise to fame. How has your relationship continued to grow?
People don’t realize how close Ben (Macklemore) and I are. He’s my big brother – and Ryan (Lewis) too – but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried on Ben’s shoulder. I just care about him so much, and I think he sort of sees me as his little sister too. He’s been with me this whole ride. I met him the day that we recorded the song and it was an instant, “Wow, I get you as an artist.” I respected him from the minute I met him with his storytelling. And I think spoken word is in the same vein.
I asked you about moving stories from fans, on the flip side of this – have you had any wild propositions from your lady fans?
(Feigns shock) What? They’re have been a couple of marriage proposals. There’s one girl who keeps Tweeting, “Oh, my girlfriend was on stage last night.” She’s very literally like, “I am her girlfriend.”
I feel like I’ve been there. I was there with Tegan, and now I’m opening for Tegan and Sara. It’s so funny. Tegan was my one person that I was allowed to sleep with in all of my relationships.
So you had a list of one.
Well, it was Tegan, and then Michelle Rodriguez.
You’re going to be playing the Dinah. Have you been before?
No, I’m really excited. In my head I was like, “Oh, this is just another show,” but this is a tadoo.
If you get a chance to swing by the pool parties it’s just thousands of women in bikinis or jog bras grinding and the beer is flying every which way…
Holy cow. That’s a giant fantasy. I'm excited!