INTERVIEW: Mary Lambert’s Merry Greetings

INTERVIEW: Mary Lambert’s Merry Greetings

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Photo: Deborah Stewart
Photo: Deborah Stewart

Mary Lambert’s voice deserves its own zip code. She can fill an arena with her fiery-yet-tender vocals – and she did when she made a guest appearance at Key Arena in December to sing the chorus to “Same Love,” the gay-rights anthem that catapulted her, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to international fame. It was the hometown finale in support of “The Heist” record.

“If not for that woman, we would not have that nomination,” said Macklemore to the sold-out crowd, referring to the Song of the Year Grammy nomination for “Same Love.”

The crowd roared in approval chanting, “We love, Mary!” She clasped her hands in appreciation as her green, sequined gown sparkled in the spotlight.

The spotlight is well-earned and will shine even brighter in 2014. Lambert is confirmed to perform next April at the 24th annual Dinah Shore Weekend. Nicknamed The Dinah, it is billed as the biggest lesbian event in the world. Her single, “She Keeps Me Warm,” was released last summer and is based on her past female loves. It is a taste of her first, full-length album scheduled for release in May 2014. Seattle fans can get an early preview at her upcoming, February 1 concert at Showbox at The Market.

The Cornish College of the Arts graduate had a busy year. A few highlights include singing alongside Jennifer Hudson at the MTV Video Music Awards, a New York Times profile and being named to Out magazine’s “OUT100” list. Before embarking on the 2014 whirlwind, she shares with The Seattle Lesbian how “Same Love” changed her life and others, the best place in Ballard to buy shoes and her favorite Christmas carol.

You were invited to perform at The Dinah in April 2014. Congratulations! Do you already have plans for your performance?

It’s so great! I’ve never been there (Palm Springs) and I’m really excited to be a part of it. It’s an accomplishment.  It’s up there in terms of things I’ve always wanted to do. I feel really privileged to have been asked. It’s still so far away that I don’t know yet about specifics yet. Hopefully, my record will be out.

Can you tell us a bit about your full-length album? How would you describe it?

We’re switching it up a little. The single is already circulating and hits national radio on December 17. The EP is released at the same time. We’ve taken some older songs and are rereleasing them. I’ll be working on the album in February and March and hopefully have it out by May. I think it’s going to do well. I have some more songs in the works that I’m really excited about – totally new stuff. I have a good feeling about it and I’m excited for everyone to hear it.

For your single, “She Keeps Me Warm,” was there a specific person that inspired the song?

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What’s cool about it is that song was crafted over a couple of years, so there were different moments from different relationships. In that sense, it’s easy to sing and not have to feel too touched. Some parts were written about one person, other verses about someone else. I have loved and been loved in really great ways. Honestly, it’s a way of honoring that. I want it to be a song that resonates with everybody. Love is universal.

You performed “Same Love” with Macklemore, Ryan Lewis and Jennifer Hudson at the VMA Awards. What was that experience like?

It was out of body!  All this has happened in a year and half. I almost have to create an alternate person and remind myself – yeah, I belong here – even when I don’t feel like it. I was in the green room before the show and Jennifer Hudson was asking me, “What do you do with your voice in this part?” Shut up! Jennifer Hudson is asking me questions?! I voted for you (on American Idol) from my couch with my mom when I was 16!  She was incredibly kind and I loved talking to her.  What was really cute was I had shoes made for me by Hourglass Footwear in Ballard. They made a replica of my tattoo on the shoes. Jennifer loved them! So, Jennifer Hudson bought shoes from Ballard!

You’ve described yourself as a femme lesbian thanks to your sense of style – such as your rocking shoes from Ballard! Do you embrace that role?

Yeah, but I don’t think I ever intended to. I was on tour with Macklemore and I was wearing these cute little dresses and boots and our tour manager said, “Mary, you have to start wearing gowns. You’re an icon now.” I laughed, but she was serious. I don’t think of myself like that, but I guess I get it. Actually, four years ago I went to my first lesbian bar. I was so excited! But no one thought I was gay. It was like pulling teeth – no, really! I’m gay! What can I do to prove it to you?! Now that I wrote a gay anthem, I think I’m set for life.

Speaking of that song, are there stories of people sharing how much “Same Love” means to them?

It seems to happen on a weekly basis. The most common one that happens is people tell me it helped them come out to their parents. There was a girl in Austin (Texas) who sent me a detailed message. It was well written and poignant. She came out to her family and her mother was upset, but they just didn’t talk about it. She had a girlfriend and they’d been together for a year and half, but her mom refused to meet her. She was driving with her mom from Austin to Dallas. It was a long car ride, but totally silent. She played the song for her mom. I’m going to get chocked up talking about it. Her mom started crying and told her that she didn’t understand, but was going to try harder to understand because you’re my daughter and I’m going to learn. Just give me time to figure it out and I’d love to meet your girlfriend.

It was that car ride of silence and then listening to the song that made that conversation happen. Those conversations are happening all over. It’s not that the song accomplishes it, but it’s a catalyst in people’s lives. There is no greater gift than being a part of that.

Do you feel that music has a special way of impacting people?

100 percent. I think a really beautiful song has the power to do that. I think sometimes we think that if it touches on something social or political, it has to be hokey – like, war is over, someone with a terrible voice playing one chord on a guitar. There is a stigma that social and political songs can’t be artistically beautiful. I think “Same Love” accomplishes its goals in all aspects.

What do you foresee as the next big social and political issues for the LGBTQ community?

I think the trans(gender) community has been kind of pushed aside through all of this. We need more visibility and focus for the trans community. I’ve seen some really dear friends struggle, especially in the workplace. I think a lot more can be done in terms of the law and social norms.

You have a show February 1 at the Showbox.  Any teasers you can offer fans?

Pyrotechnics, fireworks – no! It’s going to remain intimate. No matter how big the shows get, I want it to be intimate. The label is talking about when it blows up (album sales), we’ll do an arena tour. I absolutely don’t want to do an arena tour. I want to be performing at venues like Showbox. It’s important to me to have that closeness. It’s always going to be emotionally intense. For the show itself, there will be new music, too.

The holidays are around the corner. Are you looking forward to any special holiday traditions? What is your favorite Christmas carol?

Yay!  I love Christmas so much that I’m obsessed. I just moved into a new apartment and the first thing I did was I bought a little Christmas tree. It’s just boxes and more moving boxes and a little Christmas tree! I get to be home for eight whole days and I’m so excited. I’m taking my family on a ski vacation. I don’t want to just buy them something. I want to spend time with them. One of my family’s Christmas traditions is that Christmas Eve we open up pajamas, which we all wear that night. They’re matching and it’s hysterical! We don’t know ahead of time what they are.

For Christmas carols, my favorite is “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or “Silent Night” because my mom and I sing it as a duet.

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