On a recent whirlwind tour through Philly, Mary Lambert — the haunting vocalist on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis‘s “Same Love” — stopped by the Trocadero to open for spoken-word artist Andrea Gibson. During the performance, Lambert — not a mere pretty voice — shared some of her original poems, including a lesbian spin of Wheatus’ hit “Teenage Dirtbag,” and an exciting extended chorus of “She Keeps Me Warm.”
After the performance, I had a chance to slip back stage to ask her a few questions, where she gabbed about how she came to work with Macklemore, offered up some advice for struggling youth, and opened up about her battle with bipolar disorder.
How do you like Philly so far?
I’m really bummed, because I’ve only been in the city for 12 hours [at a time.] Last time I was here, I was on the Macklemore tour. I wish I could say more. I want to come here more often.
Right now, you’re probably most known for singing, but you’ve been doing spoken word for a while. Can you talk about your passion for that art?
Spoken word was something I found when I needed it most. I was in the peak of my bipolar disorder, which I wasn’t treated for. I attempted suicide. After all that I began looking into spoken word, and looked up the nearest place I could perform. I was at the maximum age for the youth slam that I signed up for. Interestingly, the first poem I ever wrote was about being gay in the church. I always thought, “How can you preach love and compassion with exception?” It kept going after that. I immersed myself in the scene, and that’s ultimately what got me on the Macklemore tour.
Is there a difference between Mary Lambert the singer and Mary Lambert the spoken-word artist?
There were differences. Back then, I was getting my Bachelors in music composition. And singing and spoken word are two very different worlds. People didn’t know I did poetry at all. I even went by different names. Mary D was my stage name as a singer, and I just used my full name for my poetry. I later asked myself, ”Why don’t I just put them together?” I used a sort of rap formula to put them together: spoken word with a song-like chorus.
Gotta ask: What was it like working with Macklemore?
He’s an incredible human being. He’s [like] my brother. We first met the day we recorded “Same Love.” We’re very similar as artists. He’s also very much a storyteller, and he’s his own biggest critic. He’s the one I text or email when shit hits the fan.
Where did you get the strength to work on “Same Love,” especially when you’d be working with a rapper, whose industry as a whole can generally be unwelcoming to the LGBT community?
As soon as I started writing songs I vowed to be as vulnerable and honest as possible. I could never write a song about being a gay Christian, because it seemed so contrived. But I knew this was my chance to write that without any sort of political motivation.
What has been one of the most touching or powerful moments you’ve experienced recently as your audience continues to grow?
I feel like it should be the VMAs, or singing with Jennifer Hudson, but it’s truly the emails and people coming up to me and sharing themselves with such vulnerability, and telling me that I made an impact. I don’t want to be a pop star, I want to advocate for change and have a deep impact. I get a lot of emails from girls with eating disorders, and one of the most touching moments was when a young girl told me that listening to my music helped her to eat.
Do you have any words of advice for people who might be afraid to share themselves with the world?
Vulnerability is what I always want to preach. As soon as we allow ourselves to be vulnerable we allow room for human connections.