Dishing Secrets: A Q&A with Mary Lambert

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Spoken-word artist and singer-songwriter Mary Lambert emerged from small Seattle clubs when she was chosen by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis to write and perform the chorus to their gay rights anthem, “Same Love.” What Mary created was so poignant and resonant, that the song became a huge hit and Mary a star. But when she did her own shows, fans rallied to hear “Same Love,” yet she doesn’t rap, and didn’t do it. Instead she created a new song around the chorus, “She Keeps Me Warm,” which became an iTunes hit.

She graduated from Seattle’s Cornish College of the Arts, and self-released one EP, Letters Don’t Talk, in July of 2012, followed by her debut book of poetry, 500 Tips for Fat Girls in January of 2013. Subsequently signed by Capitol, who hooked her up with producer Eric Rosse, now comes her first full-fledged album, Heart On My Sleeve, which features the tremendously infectious and compelling single, “Secrets,” which is rapidly ascending the chartsAmerican Songwriter spoke to Mary about the unlikely launch of her career, and about the new album.

The new album is really wonderful.

Thank you! I am very proud of it.

Before we discuss it, though, I wanted to ask you about the song “She Keeps Me Warm.” You broke through by writing and singing the great chorus to “Same Love.” And then you wrote a new song around that chorus, “She Keeps Me Warm.” Which was beautifully created. But an unusual songwriting job, to write a new song around a chorus from a different song. So how did you manage that?

It happened a couple of different ways. I was real active in my solo career, but I wanted to leave “Same Love” as its own piece of work. But I was getting all these new fans who came to my shows and wanted to know why I wasn’t playing “Same Love.” I felt like I was letting people down, and I didn’t want to let anyone down! So I decided to use the chorus that I had written, and pair it together with an old song I wrote about five years ago. I didn’t like the chorus to that song, so it all actually seemed to fit. I liked that it was a love song, and it gave a different energy to the chorus.

People came to the shows and were so excited to hear that song. And at first I thought I wouldn’t record it, that it would be just for the shows. But then I got a lot of requests from people who wanted to use it for their weddings.  They wanted to walk down the aisle to “Same Love” but they didn’t want a rapper on it. So I felt obligated to record it.

It was an awesome opportunity that there was such a demand for this song, and it’s a part of me, so I wanted to explore it. And I’m glad that I did. And it also got me attention from the record label, which was great. I signed with Capitol Records. And I got to move on from that chapter. I really wanted to make sure that I was honoring what “Same Love” stood for, but not beating a dead horse. I wanted there to be that space. I also want to show people that there are other things I have to offer in terms of my artistry.

Well, that is evident from this new record. But that is interesting that those verses are from a different song, because the new verses are so realized. They fit so well – musically and lyrically.

Thank you! No, it’s an old song.  It used to be called “Baby.”  The chorus went minor, and it had a different feel to it, and a post-chorus. It was a much different song.

Did you consider including it on the new album?

No. I think it was important for me to make a statement outside of “Same Love” or anything associated with it. It was time for a new chapter. And I felt really good about that decision.

This is a great new chapter. “So Far Away” you wrote with Marie McDonald, Benny Cassette,  and Eric Rosse. How did that come together?

It’s hysterical you’d start there. That was the track I had the most difficult time writing. Eric came up with the chord structure and piano part. Benny put on modern feeling drums. He comes from the hip hop world.  And they presented me with that track and I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to write to it. And Eric said, “Just try.” I came up with a hook I was happy with. There were multiple times I wanted to throw in the towel, and I was crying, and said, “Let’s just give it to Miley Cyrus! Let’s give it to somebody else. I don’t want to sing it.”

It didn’t feel like me. It was quite a departure from my music. Going from my first EP to “So Far Way” is a big leap. And I was already so stressed out of my comfort zone. So I had to keep coming back to myself to see how I was gonna be comfortable singing these songs live, and really believing in them. So to do that, I went through a different process, and I was more insular, and let myself write by myself, and come back and present. And then we’d all work together. But it was definitely hard.

I am surprised to hear that, because so much of your soul seems invested in the song. A line like “Kiss me like the world is gonna disappear” is so much who you are.

Yeah. It was hard. There were a lot of lines that we had originally that weren’t me. We went through so many different lines. We spent days on that tag alone. It was so painstaking. And I was yelling, “I hate this song!” Because the line everyone liked was not grammatically correct, and that was driving me nuts.

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