Mary Lambert is good at two things; crying and singing. Nowhere is this better reflected than on her debut EP Letters Don't Talk released in July of 2012. As a performer, Lambert exemplifies the traditions of a singer/songwriter while melding a background in spoken-word. Her status as a formidable unsigned artist was cemented when the lesbian singer-songwriter paired up with the internationally acclaimed hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis to help write and sing their revolutionary single, 'Same Love". The track, in honour of gay marriage, has led Mary to tour nationally with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, allowed her to reach millions by performing live on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, VH1, and garnered tens of millions of views on YouTube.
Mary is also revered as an accomplished spoken word artist, competing in Russell Simmons' 'Brave New Voices" in 2008 (filmed on HBO), and is Seattle's 2011 Grand Poetry Slam Champion and the 2012 Northwest Regional Slam winner.
Question: How did the collaboration for Same Love come about?
Mary Lambert: Ben (Macklemore) and I ran in similar circles. We had a mutual friend, Hollis Wong-Wear (singer/songwriter of 'White Walls') who thought I would be perfect for the hook on 'Same Love'. I had been a vocal, gay activist since my teens, and this song was everything I stood for. Ben and Ryan had the entire song finished, except for the chorus. I think they had been stuck on it for a couple months. Writing it was effortless, since the song was so true to my story. I kept coming up with different vocal lines, and was shocked that they used every idea I had.
Question: Why was it important for you to honour same sex couples and gay marriage?
Mary Lambert: Oh that's easy. I'm gay! I want to get married and have the same rights as my friends and family.
Question: How does it feel to hear Same Love on radio stations, worldwide?
Mary Lambert: Unreal. It recently started playing on the hip-hop stations here, not just the alternative stations, which is huge for it to be accepted in that genre. Everytime I get in my car, it's playing on a station. I remember the first time I heard it from start to finish; I was on my way to sing at a gay wedding. It felt so full circle, I had to pull off the road and cry a little bit. Knowing that it's reaching people globally, is something I have yet to comprehend. I know it's happening, but I don't believe it quite yet. I feel like the luckiest human being alive.
Question: What's is it like touring with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis?
Mary Lambert: The whole crew is like family. There's a massive lack of ego with Ben and Ryan compared to other major artists. It's commendable, and it makes touring really effortless. We're all in it together. One time I was really hungover and kept saying, "I'm tapping out! Can I just opt out of this show?" But you can't! This is my job now, and there's no calling in sick. It's hard to do a different show, in a different city every night for months, but at least I get breaks! I get to come home for a month or so, and then fly out to do TV, special shows or festivals. I can't imagine what everyone else goes through. It takes a toll on your health. I think I had bronchitis for 6 months this year! It's an amazing thing watching Ben perform. The energy and passion he puts in to every show is superhuman. One time he got food poisoning before a show. He was throwing up right before he performed, killed the show, even though he was extremely pale and sick, and then resumed throwing up afterwards. You can't fake that; he's a true performer and loves what he does. Both of the boys are unbelievably kind and would do anything for the crew. So much love in our group. I feel silly complaining about anything during tour, since it's such a gift and an honour to be where I am. Hearing thousands of people cheering like crazy for 'Same Love' or singing my lyrics with me makes everything worth it. I have to pinch myself. This is my life!!
Question: Can you tell us about performing on the Ellen show?
Mary Lambert: Oh man, what can I say about Ellen? She's THE gay icon. My parents flew out to the show to watch the taping, and it was such an incredible rush to perform. I had to block out the idea that it was going to be visible to millions of people. That's scary, you know! It was also pretty amazing to see a demographic that I wasn't used to performing in front of (older women that didn't usually listen to hip-hop) really enjoying the song. It was a huge honour, and something I'll never forget. Definitely a bucket list check.
Question: How would you describe your music?
Mary Lambert: Songs to cry to, songs to sleep to, and hopefully songs that share vulnerability. I ask that of my fans; to make themselves vulnerable. I experiment with a lot of sounds and ideas, primarily mixing poetry and music. Integrating the two is something I want to continue to do.
Question: Do you write your own songs? What's your inspiration?
Mary Lambert: Yes! It's actually difficult for me to play covers. I'm working on it though! Writing is second nature. For me it's often provoked by something that's affected me deeply, something I want to share or that I feel people can relate to. While writing is a very personal, intimate thing, I also believe music connects humanity, so I try to write songs with universal ideas.
Question: What music/artists do you listen to when you are not playing your own?
Mary Lambert: I have really talented friends. I think people are just catching on to the idea that Seattle has a crazy talented music scene. We haven't really been on the map since 90's grunge, but there's so much incredible music here. When I'm not listening to my friends, I have a constant cycle of Feist, Beach House, Lemolo, Kendrick Lamar, and Robyn.
Question: Was there a moment you contemplated throwing in the towel?
Mary Lambert: Never. I know that I was born to do this.
Question: Do you prefer performing live or recording?
Mary Lambert: Definitely performing live. I thrive off of an audience's energy, whether it's making them laugh or making them cry. There is something sacred about recording though. You're capturing one moment in time, and often it's of an artist's truest self. A real honesty.
Question: What/who was your inspiration to go into the music industry?
Mary Lambert: I think it was my mom. She's an incredible singer-songwriter, and is so hardworking. She's always supported me in whatever I wanted to do. When I said I wanted to hold off of graduate school to bartend part-time and record an album, she helped me every step of the way, (sometimes that meant sending me home with bags of groceries).
Question: What is the biggest challenge you have faced along the way to your musical success?
Mary Lambert: Hmm. I'm bi-polar and an incest survivor. At times in my life, this has devastated every aspect of my well-being. Being so self-destructive and not really caring whether I was going to live or die the next day, really screwed up parts of my future. I have a much better handle on it now, than I did several years ago, and I'm grateful every day for the support of my friends and family. Music has been a saving grace my whole life.
Question: What's a typical day like?
Mary Lambert: Every day is different. I have been lucky these last couple months to take a break from bartending, and focus on my music career. Often I'm writing music, answering emails, planning shows, recording new music, and learning how to take care of myself. Sometimes I'm travelling to perform 'Same Love' in front of thousands of people. I also practice my technical piano skills for about an hour a day.
Question: What has been your favourite part of becoming a music artist?
Mary Lambert: Being on a platform to change the world. That's bananas.
Question: If you could collaborate with another artist, who would it be?
Mary Lambert: Feist, James Blake, Bon Iver, and duh, Beyonce.
Interview by Brooke Hunter