Prizm News / November 2, 2017 / By Erin McCalla
The lesbian singer and songwriter is enjoying her work and embracing her role-model status as she brings her concert tour to Columbus.
By Erin McCalla
You can tell that Mary Lambert smiles when she talks. She’s open, thoughtful and present in conversation as we discuss her latest EP, “Bold,” performing with Madonna at the Grammy Awards and the joy of recording with her mom, Mary K.
Lambert will perform in Columbus on Wednesday, Nov. 8, at the A&R Music Bar in the Arena District. It’s part of her “Everybody Is a Babe” tour with transgender, non-binary singer/songwriter Mal Blum and a lineup of spoken-word artists that includes openly gay World Poetry Slam champion Buddy Wakefield.
Let’s talk about “Bold”!
Yeah! It was a such a milestone for me to make the EP. It was the first time, I think, that I had had a clear vision of what I wanted to communicate with the world, and I felt really validated as a creator and an artist, and as a musician by producing some of the tracks myself and really calling all the shots. I didn’t get that experience previously.
Making “Bold” was like what I had always hoped making music would feel like. It’s easy for the business of music to get in the way of actually making music, or enjoying it. I think this is the first time that it really felt fun.
How did you come up with the name for your “Everybody Is a Babe” tour?
I think I tweeted that a couple of years ago. I think the original tweet was, “Everybody is a babe, except for mean people. They are not babes.” [Laughs] But that was hard to put on a poster.
I think it’s meant to be cheeky and fun, but it’s also a large part of my messaging, that no matter where you are from, or what you look like, or what we are like aesthetically, everybody is worthy and valuable and beautiful, and everybody should be celebrated.
You are a role model not only for the LBGT community, but for plus-size women and people who struggle with mental health. That’s a lot of hats to wear. How do you cope with that? Is it hard sometimes to be that person?
Yeah, I think that sometimes I have a bit of… I wouldn’t say identity crisis, but I used to have a lot of fears about being so vocal about all the parts of my identity.
I think the world encourages people to be digestible and to be easy to understand. And the world doesn’t really reward people for being complicated. Socially we’re told that in order to be likable or loved, it’s important to be understood. And the best way to be understood is to be simple.
“I used to have a lot of fears about being so vocal about all the parts of my identity. I think the world encourages people to be digestible and to be easy to understand.”
But I think when you start cutting out parts of yourself, you start living a half-life, and you’re not able to embrace the complexity of life and the complexity of your own identity. I think I used to be like that. I used to want to fit into a very specific category of person.
I think “Same Love” was a real departure for me in my understanding of people’s acceptance and people’s willingness to embrace differences.
Then I started being more vocal about being a Christian and a lesbian, and then I started talking more about my mental health and then sexual abuse. And then my being a fat person. And realizing there is an accepted way that we talk about trauma, or an accepted way we talk about being fat. It’s OK to be fat if you’re trying to be thin [laughs], or if you are apologizing for being fat, or [act like] you owe people something.
It’s allowing yourself to be exactly who you are and trusting that people are going to see you and love you as you are.
People still have an emotional connection to “Same Love.” I just saw that you are going to be performing it with Macklemore in Australia. Do you still feel a spark when you sing it?
Absolutely. I think I always find a new reason to sing the song.
It’s easy to get comfortable. I live in western Massachusetts, and it feels like the lesbian capital. So I get really comfortable. Like, I’m never scared to hold hands with my girlfriend; it’s never a thought. To go from that to realizing that gay marriage is still illegal in Australia, that being a gay person is illegal and punishable by going to prison in other countries.
It’s so weird to think that there are still people who are like, “No, I don’t believe you should have equal rights.” I try so hard to be like, “Where are you coming from? What is this experience like for you? How did you get here?” I have such a hard time seeing it from another point of view.
But I think that’s part of the journey, and I’m really nervous for that performance, honestly. It’s 80,000 rugby fans from Australia, and I’m gonna be a fat girl in a glitter dress singing about gay rights in a country where it’s highly contested. [Laughs] We’ll see what happens! It’s a double whammy if it doesn’t go well. If there is booing, I’m gonna have my own artist ego go, “Oh no, I’m bad.” And also, “Humanity is really terrible.” But I’m hopeful!
[The show went on on Oct. 1, despite efforts of marriage opponents to stop it. Read The Advocate’s coverage and watch the performance here.]
You performed on the Grammys with Madonna. Has anything topped that performance-wise?
No, that for me was like… I think I knew as it was happening that this is the greatest performance moment of my life and I’m OK if this is the peak. This is a great peak to have! [Laughs]
I just remember really trying to take all of it in and trying to remind myself not to take any moment for granted. And I don’t think I did. I think I did a really good job of being present and seeing it for what it was.
At that time, I was really emotional just thinking of the impact of performing such a powerful song with all the gay couples getting married on the Grammys telecast. I guess I was just thinking of 17-year-old me watching the Grammys, feeling a little less alone.
Let’s talk about the spoken-word element to this tour. What came first? That or your song, “Lay Your Head Down?” Did you record this and then think, “We can do more. We can expand on this”?
That’s how I met Macklemore, actually, doing spoken word. It’s been deep in my blood since I discovered it when I was 18. And I started doing competitive poetry; I did slams until I was about 23 or so, and the spoken-word and the hip hop communities are pretty closely related. So that’s how we originally met.
I’ve tried to keep an element of spoken word in a lot of what I do. I have a piece called “Body Love” that was on one of my first EPs, and then I have a little bit on “Heart on My Sleeve”, and then “Bold” has “Lay Your Head Down”, and my next album will have a lot more spoken word as well. I’m working on a collection of poetry right now. I just signed a book deal for poetry, which is really great.
There are so many spoken-word performers and artists in my life that have inspired me beyond belief, not just as a writer but as a performer. Just seeing some of these spoken-word artists pour their guts out on stage with eloquence and authenticity and impeccable storytelling, and there’s nowhere for them to hide.
Sometimes I’ll hide behind my guitar or my keyboard, and they are just naked on stage telling their honest truth and talking about things that are uncomfortable or really close to their hearts. That bravery is something that I crave and I have shaped my art off of.
So I invited mostly my friends [laughs], but they are like my hero friends. I grew up listening to them like, “Oh my god, this poet was incredible!”. And having them as artist friends is pretty surreal. You know how some people are like, “Oh! Mariah Carey!”? I’m like, “Anis Mojgani!”
Another touching song off “Bold” is “Love Is Love.” Do you feel like that might be the next LGBT anthem?
My mom wrote that song!
Oh! So Mary K. is your mom! I was going to ask about how a song could feature yourself! (The track lists Mary K. Lambert as a featured performer.)
iTunes even flagged it. They were like, “You can’t feature yourself.” And I was like, “It’s my mom!”
My mom wrote that song for her wedding. She married her partner of 17 years this past summer. I was pretty much done with the EP, and it was like, “Damn. It’s missing one element.” And I had sung that song for their wedding, and I’d always wanted to record something with my mom. She’s the reason I’m the artist I am.
Growing up listening to her play the piano into the night and write out her own heartache and love, and being an example of what art can do and how music can move people and heal, it was really gratifying to have her in the studio. I produced that track, too. So doing vocal production for my mom was really surreal.
One of my questions was going to be who would you like to sing a duet with, but it sounds like you did it. But I’ll still ask: Other than your mom, who is on your list?
I would love to do a song with Sarah Bareilles. I love her. I would love to do a song with Jewel. She’s who I grew up listening to; she’s one of my favorites. I’d like to do something with Drake! I think we could make something cool! I also love Kendrick Lamar.
You and Michelle Chamuel (runner-up on “The Voice,” Season 4, in 2013) are together. Do you just sing together all the time?
Yes. Actually, we do! [Laughs] But we don’t sing seriously. We sing joking songs. We make up songs all the time.
Do you ever want to sing seriously with her? Or record together?
We are talking about making a holiday album together. Which I think would be really, really cute. We have collaborated quite a bit. She’s an amazing producer and mix engineer. She produced and co-wrote “Hang Out With You” (on “Bold”), and…she remixed the last track. So she’s all over that record as well.
Speaking of being all over that record, is “I’d Be Your Wife” a not-so-subtle nod to her?
[Laughs] I mean, yes! That was a song I recorded long ago, and I just kind of sat on it. I was really glad to put it out into the world, because I think people really like it.
Erin McCalla is a freelance writer.
Mary Lambert will perform Wednesday, Nov. 8, at 8 p.m. at the A&R Music Bar, 391 Neil Ave., Columbus, 43215. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at promowestlive.com.