Last year, two budding hip-hop artists (aka Macklemore & Ryan Lewis) needed something to complete their pro-gay marriage anthem, "Same Love." Luckily for listeners, that something turned out to be singer/spoken word artist Mary Lambert, who provides the beautifully haunting vocals on the chorus. Over the summer, the song has been getting a lot of radio play thanks to the Supreme Court's rulings on gay rights as well as performances on The Colbert Report and the upcoming MTV Video Music Awards.
Now the singer is stepping out on her own. She has spun the chorus' lyrics into a new track, "She Keeps Me Warm," which is earning tons of Internet buzz. Lambert talked to us about writing about her relationships, why she's the American version of Adele, and her intense love for Tegan & Sara.
Out: How much did you contribute to the development of the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Same Love"?
Mary Lambert: The bulk of the song was already there. The whole music was there. But it was all blank. The choruses were blank. They didn't know what they wanted. Actually, when they sent it to me, in place of a chorus it was [Diana Ross'] "I'm Coming Out." It was really bad! So I was really excited to get on it and hopefully elevate it. So I just spent about two hours working on it, doing my best to encapsulate what [the song] means in of a couple lines. It was nerve wrecking. I wanted them to pick me. I thought I was being auditioned. I came up with four choruses and they were all used.
Prior to "Same Love," did you ever think about the potential political ramifications of your music?
I never thought I would write a song like this. I wanted to write a song like this, but every time I attempted to write a gay rights song or socially conscious song it just felt contrived. I wanted to make sure that I was being completely authentic throughout the whole song. To make sure that what I was saying not only was completely truthful to myself but also resonated with people. It has never been a question to me about what the ramifications might be. That's never a question when I'm writing. I'll deal with that later.
The chorus, which you turned into "She Keeps Me Warm," is very different from "Same Love." How much of the new song was developed when you wrote initially the chorus?
What had happened is, I was doing enough solo shows at the time that people were requesting the song. I took an old song and I used the chorus [for "Same Love"] with it. I felt that it was another side to "Same Love," and I think what resonated with people on the chorus is that everybody wants to have someone to keep them warm. Everybody is who they are. You know, I am who I am who I am. I wanted to craft a song around that idea that attraction is universal. You know those giddy feelings that you get when you meet someone new and you're really excited about a new relationship. I think this provided a great context for it. I am really pleased with the result. I am really happy.
Did you have a conversation with your girlfriend about the "She Keeps Me Warm" (and how much of it was influenced by your relationship with her)?
She's a wonderful person to present my art to. She's so supportive of everything that I've done. We've been together about three years and in the first year of dating I wrote this song about my ex. It was very raw and I played it at the show. I said, 'Is that okay?' She says, 'That's beautiful. That's your art form and that's what you do. I respect that and whatever you need to do to have that I'm never going to take it personally when your art form needs to be fostered in any way.' She's so supportive about everything.
For those who are unaccustomed to your music, what should they know about your sound?
I write really vulnerable songs. I write songs to cry to. My shows are usually 200 people silently weeping. You could hear a pin drop and everybody's crying. I am an emotional writer. I feel like I really bare it all. I don't hide anything because that's the way you connect to people. I think human connection is one of the most beautiful things we have on this Earth. As much as I can, I want to foster that and encourage that for my listeners. And have that for myself as well.
So what you're saying is that you are the American version of Adele.
[Laughs] I don't know why I get that a lot. It's really, really flattering.
What can fans look forward to on your new album?
I'm really excited about a variety of what I do, whether it's spoken-word or a softer palate or really powerful vocals. The piece that really ties it all together is the lyricism and I really hope that translates. I want to release a single within the next two months. I want to record a new video for "Body Love," which is a poem I have about body image. … So I'm really excited to release some stuff that people aren't expecting or aren't used to.
I read that you are opening for Tegan & Sara.
I could scream! I could die! I'm going to die!
What does opening for an act like Tegan & Sara mean to you?
Seventeen-year-old baby gay Mary is dying. This is the biggest dream. I'm going to do my absolute best not to fan girl. Every time that I've met them and we've hung out or we've talked, I'm really playing it cool but in my head, I'm like, 'I've thought about you in bed so many times.' … I think they are heartthrobs! I can't even contain myself. Also, I just want to give the absolute best performance I have. I'm taking my string quartet with me. Hopefully it will be something like, 'Wow, we can't live without Mary Lambert. We have to take her everywhere.' Then we become best friends, wear pajamas and hold each other's hands (just platonically).
You are a total fan girl.
I really am!
Have you seen their performance with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis?
Yes. It was really sweet, they asked for my permission. I was like, 'Shut up! Of course you can.' I thought it was a really, really beautiful performance. I think they embodied it. I didn't feel threatened or anything. They made it their own. It was really flattering.
You are performing at this year's MTV VMAs. What are you looking forward to most?
I'm just so excited about performing and I'm excited for this song to have an even larger audience for people who are not aware of it yet. I want to have provide a really moving performance. I want it reach people and I want to change people's hearts. And I want to try to hold Beyonce's hand. There's just a lot of things I want to do. I want to wink at Justin Bieber.
Do you have a favorite music video?
I love Tegan & Sara's "Call It Off." I just watched it this morning. … I sound like the worst fan girl!
Fans can catch Mary Lambert's performance at the MTV VMAs on Sunday, August 25. In the meantime, watch her live performance on Seattle's KEXP.org below.
[Photos: Deborah Spencer]