SXSW Preview: Mary Lambert
Two years ago, Seattle singer-songwriter Mary Lambert offered a longshot deal on Kickstarter: Donate $1,000 and join her at the Grammys if she ever went big. No one jumped on the deal, but in January there she was – flanked by Madonna on one side, Queen Latifah on the other – belting out the chorus of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ marriage anthem “Same Love.”
The song’s success helped Lambert land a major label record deal and now the out singer has a new EP, Welcome to the Age of My Body, which wrestles with body image and celebrates gay love.
Austin Chronicle: You’ve had a pretty crazy year and a half. Has it all sunk in yet?
Mary Lambert: No. “Same Love” was released last year and I was still bartending. There’s so much that’s happened in the last year that my body’s processing it a lost faster than my brain can. You find yourself going through the motions and you have to do it because you’re in the situation, but I still haven’t had a minute to adjust to this new sort of life that I have to claim. I have to be on and say, yeah, I deserve to be here and just try to rock it. Inside, I feel like I snuck in – like someone’s gonna tap me on the shoulder and tell me to get out.
AC: The culmination of the song’s success was the performance of “Same Love” at the Grammys with the mass wedding. It was emotional watching on TV so I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you.
ML: The day before the Grammys I cried for 12 hours straight. I couldn't stop crying because I knew how important this performance would be. I knew the social impact it would have. I felt like this was the most important performance of my entire life. It was just a dream. There was a specific moment in dress rehearsal when Queen Latifah was there and they brought the couples in for the first time. It was seeing the couples and seeing how much this meant to them and how beautiful it was. One of the couples mouthed “thank you” to me while we were rehearsing as they were walking forward and I started crying even harder.
After we did the song – I could barely choke the words out – Madonna looked over at me, and she’s got her cut-off leather gloves, and she literally stood there and wiped my tears. I thought, “What world am I living in right now!?” There’s no equivalent to a previous life, or bartending, where that makes sense to you. It’s a new reality and you just have to figure out how to adjust quickly. Every moment I just wanted to soak in and make sure I was being super present and not taking any part of it for granted.
AC: You’ve said you get lots of feedback from people whose lives that song has directly affected.
ML: I get a lot. I’m actually struggling right now, if I can be totally frank, to not skim through or be like, “Oh, it’s just another person whose life has changed from listening to the song.” How do you be present with each one and value each person wanting to share their story with you because it’s meant so much to them? It’s not just fan mail, someone that loves your music. It’s, “You’ve impacted my life greatly through this song and this has been a catalyst for my coming out and this massive shift in my life.” How do you take that in? It’s their strength that let them come out, but it’s incredible to be a part of their experience.
AC: Macklemore gets an enormous amount of scrutiny and criticism, be it about white privilege or queer folks saying he shouldn’t rap about queer issues. What do you make of that?
ML: The thing that bothers me about the criticism is when it’s said that Ben [Macklemore] is trying to speak for queer voices or silencing them with his privilege. I think he did an incredible job in the song to make sure he was only talking about his own experience. He made sure he was recognizing where he was coming from and who he was, and that he was coming from the point of view of an ally. He wasn’t trying to appropriate someone else’s struggle. The blame feels misguided to me.
AC: As a bigger than average and out lesbian, you’re not exactly the typical pop star. Have you run into any obstacles in the industry because of that?
ML: I’ve been so fortunate to be in the position that I am. I forget that I’m sort of an anomaly, that this doesn’t really happen in the industry. That a plus-sized queer woman who wants to talk about body issues and sexual abuse gets a major label record deal.
Waterloo Records: Thursday, March 13, 2pm
Official showcase: Friday, March 14, Victorian Room at the Driskill, 12:05am
Quantum Collective Southwest Invasion 2014: Saturday, March 15, Whole Foods Rooftop Plaza, 2:40pm
Official showcase: Saturday, March 15, Austin Music Hall, 8:15pm