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Mary Lambert Has Her Heart On Her Sleeve

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Singer Mary Lambert became an international sensation with her sweet vocals on Macklemore’s ‘Same Love’, and has been winning fans over worldwide. Graeme Watson spoke to her about poetry, religion, mental illness and her new album.

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Let’s talk about poetry. When did you first start writing?

I think I was always writing poetry. I started writing lyrics when I was about 8, poetry came soon after that, when I was about 9. To do actual spoken word and performance poetry didn’t really start until I was about 18.

What was it like the first time you did spoken word?

The first time I did it, it was for a slam. The nature of slam poetry is that it’s a competition, you get arbitrary scores for your art, which some people have a problem with. Actually, for me, I’m really competitive so it lit this fire beneath me to create the best work that I could, because I’m competitive and because I wanted to create.

People loved it and the culture of slam poetry is very vibrant and loud so people are cheering for you during the middle of your poem, which isn’t like normal poetry readings where you sip on tea and you’re quiet and you golf clap, but for spoken word it’s loud and if people like what you’re doing they’re going to let you know.

It’s one year on from the Grammys, how do you reflect back on that?

It’s kind of insane. My life is insane and I don’t know what I did to deserve the things that I’m doing but I’m just going to try not to fuck it up. I’m just so excited about what I do. But the Grammys were just like this moment in my life that I felt like everything that I’ve worked for was for that moment and it was really emotional and it was everything that I’ve ever wanted to do.

Come on! These were bucket list goals all at once: Perform at the Grammys, be nominated for a Grammy, how about a platinum hit? Perform with Madonna! Stick up for gay people!

How did doing Same Love come about?

It was kind of because of spoken word. Spoken word and hip hop and rap music are closely related. I had a friend who actually sings on White Wall and she was very supportive of my work and a very kind person and at the time in my poetry I was exploring being both a Christian and a lesbian and was feeling sort of like I didn’t belong in either realm. My gay friends were like “why are you continuing to go to a church that doesn’t like you?” or associated with a religion that doesn’t care for you, and people in the Christian community would ask “how can you be gay and still be a Christian?” and I’d be like “How can you be a bitch and still be a Christian?”.

So I was exploring all of that in my poetry. Macklemore had been working on this song and my friend reached out and said Mary, you’d be perfect for this song! It was kind of a last resort when they called me up. I’d never met them before. They were like we’re just gonna send this to you, you have 2 hours then we’ll see you in the studio tonight to see what you’ve got. So I took a shot of tequila and I was like “BUSINESS”. Then I wrote the hook.

How do you feel today about that balance between Christianity and sexuality?

I still identify as a Christian and I still identify as a lesbian. I think the Christian community has some retribution to make for the gay and lesbian world, and even still there’s a documentary coming out called ‘Love Vs Hate’, but it’s from the Christian right, saying the gay community hates Christian people. People are really angry. I grew up Pentecostal and I had a lot of people around me saying “You’re going to hell” and “You’re a sinner”. Even my close friends would say “we love you, we just don’t want to see you go to hell”. Which is super misguided and awful and no one should ever go through that, but at least I understand the intention and the intention is love. I do believe there is love in the messaging, at least from the Pentecostal side. They would say like “love your gay friends! Just don’t partake in it!” I think it’s a spiritual journey and I don’t believe in listening to some dude telling me what the bible is or what Christianity is.

Tell me about recording your album:

It was fun! I was really excited to make a pop album because I had originally intended to be a politician and I wanted to change the world and I thought legislature would be the way to change the world and I’ve come to find that pop culture is a really good way to have a large impact. When I did Same Love, it really taught me that with vulnerability and intention and thoughtfulness in creating music you can create an impact.

You touch on things we don’t talk about enough in society: mental illness, sexual assault.

I don’t know what the answer is but I know I want to be a part of the solution through vulnerability and that’s my goal. I guess it’s conversation right? We just have to talk about that stuff, we just have to talk about it in the right ways… it’s really important to just make it more visible. Instead of just watching it on the news, talking about it in our daily lives. It reminds me of when you were in elementary school, you know when you’re talking to your friends at a sleepover, you’re telling them your secrets, you’re telling them everything and it feels awesome because you’re learning about this person and I never lost that hunger. I have this insatiable hunger for connection and I’m just trying to do that on a wide scale when it comes to sexual violence or mental illness or body image or gay rights, I care so deeply about it because it directly affects me. I think the world is hurting and I’d like to be the band aid.

Graeme Watson

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