Smartists: Mary Lambert

(Published on Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls)

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s 2012 release of “Same Love” was a groundbreaking moment in music. It was the first time that a song about gay rights made it onto the Top 40 charts, and for the single’s featured singer, Mary Lambert, it was the moment her life changed forever. Lambert remembers when she first realized what an impact it had.

“I was [performing with Macklemore] at WaMu Theater right after the singles from The Heist were released. There were 8000 people there. My last show had been maybe 80 people, and the solo show before that was probably 15 people. There was this moment I remember having backstage; I wasn’t sad and I wasn’t happy—it was a complex feeling like there’s no turning back. I remember thinking, even if I did want to continue being a bartender on Second Avenue, I can’t,” she said. Since then, Lambert recorded a solo album, Heart On My Sleeve, and signed to Capitol records—a dream come true for the singer, who’s been through a lot in her twenty-six years.

Lambert grew up in poverty, and early-on, suffered verbal and sexual abuse. She also struggles with bi-polar disorder. Music has always been a buoy for her. “Music was a means of survival and gave me a beautiful way to channel a lot of sadness and frustration and depression at a young age. I have been going through healing since I was a child,” she said. Lambert hasn’t let the traumas in her life harden her. In fact, she looks back on her childhood with the sort of search-for-the-silver-linings perspective her complex pop songs possess. There were happy times too, she says, especially when she was writing and sharing songs with her mom.

“My mom’s a singer-songwriter as well… She would write these really genius songs about taking the trash out. She’d just come up with them on the spot and she had such a gorgeous voice, it was just like, ‘Oh my god, mom’s such a genius,’” Lambert said.

Lambert emulated her mom for a while, until she began teaching herself piano and finding her own melodies. She eventually went to Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, where she studied composition. Lambert’s songwriting focuses on “connection through vulnerability.” Her songwriting is personal and often centered around cultivating self-acceptance and healing. Take for instance, “Secrets,” a single off her most recent release.

“That [song] was the first time I really publicly said I have a mental disorder… and then the next day I was like, ‘I have a truth hangover.’ But, I think the best way to achieve connection is through vulnerability, and the best way to encourage vulnerability is by being vulnerable yourself,” Lambert said.

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As a result, a connection between Lambert and her fans has sprung up in unexpected and powerful ways.

“[One message I remember] in particular, was from a girl who emailed me on her first night at a rehab center for eating disorders… Her friend had shown her [my song] ‘Body Love,’ and it was a catalyst for her to check in to rehab for Anorexia. At the time she was 85 pounds,” Lambert said. “I am so proud to be a catalyst in peoples’ lives that have been affected by my music, and [part of what helps them] find strength within themselves.”

Last year, Lambert was on tour for 315 days, and though she is obviously energized and excited about her career, she often has to step back to re-center herself.

“For that year, it was really intense; I lost my voice a lot, I ate terribly, my body felt bad… I had just met my partner and it was hard—you start a relationship and you can’t even provide that foundation. One of the things I really wanted was a garden… I wanted to grow vegetables.”

She says she’s been able to regain the balance, or “grow all parts of her garden,” through ensuring she makes time for things she loves. For example, Lambert always gives herself two days off during the week so she can spend time home with her girlfriend, Michelle Chamuel; garden; write poetry; or do whatever else her heart desires.

“It’s important to… have a really well-balanced life. If you focus on your career all the time, you’re missing a whole chunk. You’re really missing out on true fulfillment,” she said.

Lambert is just now beginning to record a new album, which she plans to entitle Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across. She says she’s been doing a lot more classical composition for this album, and is incorporating more of her poetry into the final product. Additionally, Lambert is also working on a second collection of poetry (her first chapbook can be purchased here), and designing her own fashion line.

Though her solo career is taking off, Lambert still feels close and grateful to Macklemore and his message. She says she bawled her eyes out (in a good way) when Macklemore released his controversial single, “White Privilege” last month.

“Macklemore resonates so much with me. That’s part of our bond, we’re both storytellers and both vulnerable people in our art, and in every song he’s genuinely being himself,” she said.

For more on Mary Lambert visit her website. Check out her newest video for “Ribcage” below:

Photos by Autumn de Wilde.