KEXP Q&A: Mary Lambert

photo by Dave Lichterman

Mary Lambert, who sings the beautiful hook on the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ song about marriage equality, “Same Love”, recently released her solo EP, Welcome To the Age of My Body, on Capitol Records. KEXP caught up with Mary as she was in Los Angeles preparing for the Grammy Awards, where “Same Love” was nominated for Song of the Year. We had a chance to chat with her about what’s been going on this last year, her hope for the future, and what winning a Grammy would mean.

The final word on your new EP is “Reborn” and it comes across so powerfully. Can you compare the feeling you had recording that to the feeling you had recording “And I can’t change...” for The Heist?

I feel like something happens to you in the studio and that’s the role of the producer to get those emotional elements out of you. When I did “Body Love, Pt. 2”, though, it was really hands off and I was kind of in my own world. We only did two takes for my vocals – it was really poignant for me at that point: I had broken my ankle not too long before and I couldn’t walk for two months. I was on a knee scooter and I gained a ton of weight. I was okay but I felt stagnant and I couldn’t work. So it felt really timely to track that finally.

I think every time I record a song I am trying to access those emotions and what’s relevant to the piece. I think “Same Love” was in a similar vein. I was struggling – I wanted to write a song about being gay, but every time I tried it felt contrived. It felt forced in a way, not who I was. So when Ben [Haggerty] and Ryan [Lewis] asked me to come in – when they sent me the song – I was floored. This was what I wanted to say!

All of it adds up to the universal idea of love. I was finally able to provide that unifying element in the context of love. It’s a super emotional process. When I’m in the studio I’m really focused on the performance, hoping what I’m delivering is genuine, but I’m also considering the vocal nuances. I’m a bit more technical in the studio. But in the moments before and after recording the song, I’m like, “Hold shit, this is really important to me!”

After I did “Same Love” I definitely cried, just thinking about how important it was and if this gets big it could really do something good and I want to be a part of that.

The new EP has a lot to do with loving and appreciating one’s self, particularly about one’s own body – can you explain why this theme was so necessary for you to explore?

I’ve spent so much time in my life internalizing a lot of pain and rather than taking it all internally or becoming militant and angry about oppression and frustration, I think it’s important to recognize a third alternative: to look at trauma and adversity and try to find the beauty in it, the beauty of vulnerability, in exploring hurt, in exploring grief, in exploring joy. I wanted it to be a reclamation of my body, of femininity, of being gay, of accepting trauma and sadness.

The EP to me is something I wanted to explore as a human. Each song is a different aspect of a human experience but said in a vulnerable way. I hope that people take way from my sets, from each song, not something only that’s sad, but an exploration in vulnerability and not being jaded.

What have you experienced on tour that’s informed your songwriting? What’s been the biggest surprise?

I think the biggest surprise on tour is that I’ve forced myself to make time to write. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do that at first. Some people can plan out two weeks and say, “I’m going to spend time in the woods now and write!” But on tour I don’t have a choice – if a song wants to come out, it’s going to fucking come out. Whether I want it to or not. If I don’t get to sleep, I don’t get to sleep!

Are you working on new material now?

Yes! I’m working on a full-length. It’s sounding so good! I’m so happy! We’re forming all of it right now but the skeleton is coming together. We’re looking at spring or summer for a release date, though I’d like late spring.

What was the best photo you took in the last year?

Oh shit! I really do like the album cover to Welcome to the Age of My Body. I did a shoot with Deborah Spencer, she’s amazing! She did a shoot of me where I’m in my VMA dress. I feel like it really captures my intensity.

What is it like to produce music for a major label with your friends?

Some of the songs for the new EP were things I’d previously recorded but recut. Some of the music was so important I wanted to release it under a major label.

The new record will be material recorded in L.A. I don’t know how many of my regular players will be on it. What’s important to me is I get full control working with the producer, Eric Ross. It’s a discussion between me and him. He has players he likes to work with so it makes more sense often to use them here in L.A. But I love that I can chart my tour however I want. I want to take all my friends with me! That’s important to me and I feel really supported on the label in that way.

What are some of your favorite places to have a meal when you’re back home in Seattle?

I love food and I love Seattle food! I love Ivar’s – the clams on the pier. I love Tutta Bella in Columbia City. I love Bitterroot in Ballard. If I’m going to have a bourgeois dinner I’m going to go to Crush. I also love Tilt and Golden Beetles. Oh, and Umi Sushi!

What is the scariest thing being on stage in front of so many people? What’s the best?

I think one of my favorite things is putting myself in the position of a fan. We’ve all been fans in the front row saying, “I’m pretty sure she looked at me! I know we had a moment!” So in my head, I’m saying, “I’m having a moment with you, did you know that?” and seeing the connection and seeing how much it means to people. That’s huge!

The scariest thing? Well, if I’m wearing heals, I’m terrified I’m going to fall. On the area tour there was a crack on one of the stages and my heal got stuck. I was lie, “Fuck! I’m going to break my neck!” but I made it out alive and everything’s okay – I’m still here.

So you’re in L.A. now at the Grammys. What’s that like for you – are you thinking about winning Song of the Year, are you trying to keep it out of your mind?

It’s in my head – I’ve been practicing my acceptance speech since I was six years old! I think it’s really important for me to stay focused and to make sure my priority is giving the best performance possible, when performing. If we do win, it’s proof that it’s well deserved. I want people to believe that we deserve it.

But you want to win, for sure. What I really try to do is take myself outside of my experience and put myself in the perspective of an audience member watching and I think that if the song won it would mean a lot to a lot of people so I hope we win for Seattle, for the gay community and for civil rights.

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