Mary Lambert Talks “Secrets”, Finding Fame With “Same Love” & Madonna: Idolator Interview

Mike Wass | October 3, 2014 11:00 am

“I’ve got bipolar disorder, my shit’s not in order,” confesses Mary Lambert in the opening verse of hit single “Secrets”. She then sings about being overweight, gay and a bunch of other completely normal things that don’t get mentioned enough in pop songs. It’s this complete lack of pretense that makes the 25-year old the realest (and possibly the most endearing) diva on the radio.

I recently caught up with the Seattle-born singer/songwriter to chat about her debut LP Heart On My Sleeve (due October 14) and, as expected, she was an open book. Mary happily explained her new pop sound, talked finding fame as the featured vocalist on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis“Same Love” and spilled the beans about performing with Madonna at the Grammys. Read our Q&A after the jump.

“Secrets” is such a feel-good anthem. Was that your main goal? I wanted it to be human. I wanted to write an empowerment song about being yourself, but I feel like a lot of times we’re tied up in this ball where the image is still unattainable. There’s still a disconnect. I wanted the song to be an invitation for others to talk about that stuff as well.

Who decided to put B.o.B. on the remix? I think it’s important to have it be across all genres, and the possibility of it being played anywhere. I loved the rap instantly! I was the one who the entire time who was like, “We’re not putting rap on this! This is my first single by myself, I don’t want a rapper on it.”

“Same Love” is such a part of my artistic identity but I really wanted to do a song where it was just me, and they kept pushing me to have a rap feature. So I finally caved, and I didn’t like anybody who they put in front of me. The track with B.o.B came out of nowhere, it just ended up in my inbox from my A&R. It was something that I wasn’t expecting, that I loved.

You worked with some big producers. Was it scary to hand over your songs? It would be different if I wanted to make a confessional singer-songwriter album, but I wanted to make a pop album. I wanted this to be Mary Lambert’s Teenage Dream. I wanted something that had my voice, with hopefully every song being a viable single and have the intention of it being a pop record.

Have you already picked out the future singles? Sometimes I feel like this is the greatest album ever made, and I walk around my house feeling like Kanye West! But I think you have to be in love with your work, because you’re the one who’s fucking pimping it. I really love my cover of Rick Springfield‘s “Jessie’s Girl” — that was one of my favorite songs to work on.

I love the gender neutrality of the name Jessie, and then how many times in the gay community you often pine after someone who’s straight. It happens to the best of us, so I saw a parallel feeling. The lyrics are actually heartbreaking and beautiful. I love the line, “She’s loving him with that body, I just know it”… it’s so heartbreaking.

Has being so open about your sexuality ever been a hindrance to your career? I think it would be different if I didn’t come from where I did, so what I’m really known for is being very out and having my sexuality being the focal point. If anything, it was do I want to have a song that has female pronouns in it. I don’t want to alienate the gay community, but I want to make sure that I’m making an album that spans all demographics and hits all different kinds of people. I think “Jessie’s Girl” for me was a nod to me being, “I’m still gay!”

Which artists did you look up to when you were growing up? I loved Jewel — that was the first album I ever bought with my own money and was the reason I picked up a guitar. I first started playing guitar when I was 9, started playing piano when I was 7. “Foolish Games” was the first song I ever learned how to play on piano. She just resonated with me.

My family was really poor and my family was very dysfunctional. I was playing in coffee houses when I was like 13 and singing these very heartbreaking songs. I always try to explain that I think with the capacity of sorrow comes the capacity for joy, so I know that I’ve experienced a lot of trauma and sadness in my life – but with that, I’ve been able to experience the exact other extreme.

Who are you influenced by now? Katy Perry for me is someone whose career I feel I connected to. Her big song was “I Kissed A Girl” and my big song was “Same Love,” and just watching her documentary and hearing Teenage Dream… that was the kind of album I wanted to make in my voice.

Tori Amos is another, that’s why I sought out Eric Rosse because he produced her records. I love Sara Bareilles, and there’s also all these newcomers like Sam Smith, Echosmith — I listened to their whole record and I really loved it. I really love 5 Seconds Of Summer too! They’re so cute! I feel like a mom sometimes, they’re just so adorable.

Did you think “Same Love” would be that big? No, there was no way. When I wrote the song, I was living in Seattle – which is a very progressive city. I held hands with my girlfriend and I was never terrified, when I came out I didn’t have any issues. I had a battle with my relationship when I went to church, but I never had an issue being gay – that was never a hurdle for me.

So writing a song about it was more of me exploring different ideas and me living a contradictory life of me being a Christian lesbian. But it didn’t feel like anything groundbreaking, I didn’t see it that way.

How did Macklemore find you? Well I do spoken word, and we’re both from Seattle. At the time I was doing a lot of competitions and I won the Seattle Grand Slam. At the time I was writing a lot about being a Christian lesbian and my friend Hollis, who sings on “White Walls”, she was also in the poetry community and knew [Macklemore] and Ryan [Lewis]. They had been stuck on this song and really ran out of options, they used every possible favor to get the song done and it was not happening.

So she [Hollis] was like, “Just try my friend Mary.” So she called me and said I had three hours to come into the studio. So I took a shot of tequila and said, “Ok, what do I want to tell the world about being gay?” And then I wrote it. I was listening to my voice memos from the first day we recorded it. [Plays recording for me]. This is terrible!

How did it feel to become famous seemingly overnight? It was nuts! This is something I’ve been working towards my whole life, and at the time I had just finished college, I was at Cornish College of the Arts for music and composition, so my plan was to be a music teacher. It’s funny because you’re always the same person, and when I was working at the bar someone from the local radio station came in — before “Same Love” — and I put one of my songs on the speakers.

And they liked it, and that stayed with me for a week. I was freaking out, like I couldn’t believe it happened. That’s the exact same feeling I had when I found out I was singing with Madonna at the Grammys. But that emotion is the same, you’re as excited as you can possibly be but every step of the way — you’re you. You’re just in different circumstances.

Ok tell us about working with Madonna. We spent a lot of time together! We had a lot of rehearsing to do, and we were just trying to figure out how to orchestrate the whole thing. I think the producers of the Grammys put it all together. They didn’t tell me until the last minute because they knew I would tell everybody, because I don’t know how to keep my mouth shut!

I was at a Starbucks when I found out. I checked my email and was like, “Holy shit!” We had four rehearsals together, and we really hit it off! I feel like we’re not best friends, but if we were at the same house party and she had an extra beer, I would be the one she would give her extra beer to.

What are your memories of the actual Grammy performance? It was beautiful, I feel like it was the exact right time for all of it to happen. I was an emotional wreck leading up to it as a member of the gay community, just how impactful the performance was going to be. It meant so much to me being a lesbian. It was also a time for me when I was just about to leave the Macklemore tour and do my own thing with the making of the record, and so that was the final chapter.

It was one of the last times that I sung with the guys, so it was like two years I spent with this family… it was a really emotional couple of days. It was actually at the dress rehearsal where I was crying because I couldn’t get through the song, and Madonna had her cut-off leather gloves on and she comes over and wipes the tears off my face. I stopped breathing, I freaked out. I haven’t washed my face since!

Have you already fallen for Mary? Let us know in the comments below.

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