On July 17, the hit music video “Same Love” was nominated for the MTV Music Video Awards as “Best Video With a Social Message.” The song achieved platinum status and has become something of a gay-rights anthem, making rapper and music artist Macklemore a household name.
But much less is known about Mary Lambert, a key collaborator and vocalist for the song’s notorious chorus. Lambert’s emotionally charged lyrics such as “I can’t change—even if I tried, even if I wanted to” and “not crying on Sundays” have immortalized the song, infusing it with soul and lending a sense of intimacy to its subject.
Twenty-two-year-old Lambert released her new single, “She Keeps Me Warm,” on July 30. The song has already reached the number two spot for Singer/Songwriter on iTunes.
Lambert is a Seattle-based singer and songwriter. A trauma survivor and former member of the Pentecostal Church, she creates songs that are emotionally driven and haunting, and cut straight to the core. The lyrics have depth and substance, and her melodies are not only memorable, but absolutely beautiful.
Truly, she is a remarkably gifted young woman—definitely one to watch, or listen to.
On August 4, Lambert gave 429Magazine an exclusive interview.
429Magazine: What is your process when writing music?
Lambert: My partner and I live together, and oftentimes, I just sort of start fiddling around with something on the piano. If I get really engrossed, if something is kind of taking over… she’s very respectful and she goes into the other room and lets me have my space. It can be hours… sometimes I cry. Sometimes it’s overwhelming. I never force myself to write.
429Magazine: When did you start playing music?
Lambert: I started writing songs as soon as I could really talk, and as soon as I could start forming melodies. I think one of my first songs was to my Polly Pockets. A lot of my first real serious songs were when I was in sixth grade. I did a talent show because I’d been learning guitar on my own, and I played this really depressing song. I think the chorus was “hush little babe, Momma’s gonna buy you a brand new life.” [Laughs] It was really depressing.
429Magazine: I know you’re a spoken word poet. Do you tend to write your lyrics first or the music?
Lambert: You know, it’s really different for every song. I feel like every song has a different journey… One of the most important things is that the words don’t feel contrived, and they’re not cliché—they’re just one with the melody.
429Magazine: How did you get involved with Macklemore?
Lambert: We had a mutual friend, Hollis Wong-Wear—she sings on “White Walls”. We were in the poetry community together, and she was helping them [Macklemore and Ryan Lewis] on the album, and they were stuck on this ‘gay song.’ [laughs]So I went in the studio and recorded it… it was pretty amazing.
429Magazine: How has your contribution to “Same Love” affected your career?
Lambert: Since the song has taken off, my career is in a place I never would have imagined. I mean, as an artist you hope to be on a big platform and have a ton of people be able to hear your music. At the same time, you want to change and impact people. Really, I think it’s been the biggest opportunity… I just don’t want to take it for granted.
429Magazine: What do you think about when performing?
Lambert: I really try to be present and make sure that I’m being really aware of how the audience is feeling, and that I’m completely genuine. I feel like I’m just totally transparent when I sing. I don’t know how to not do that. I definitely wear my heart on my sleeve, and I just put myself in the most vulnerable place possible because I just want to connect to everybody.
429Magazine: Who, or what, is your biggest inspiration?
Lambert: Probably my mom. She inspires me to just keep going, and to knock on all the doors possible. As far as inspiration for writing goes, it’s probably my partner. She’s always there and she’s very helpful and, you know, it’s hard not to write about someone you love very much. It’s hard not to be inspired at every moment.
429Magazine: Your music is very expressive and raw. That would be difficult for a lot of people. How do you do it?
Lambert: I think writing is a very spiritual thing, and not to sound hokey or cheesy, but really there have been moments where I feel like there’s divinity coming down and channeling through me—that this is the only way that I can really express this relationship that I have with God. Of course these are emotions and things that I am in need of catharsis for. It’s just moving, and it feels like there are things inside of me that normally, a person would explode because there’s so much going on in my head. I’m able to let that out through creating. I feel very fortunate to have that outlet.
429Magazine: Do you believe being gay has affected your style or your career?
Lambert: I think previously, it did. I was really conscious of the fact that I didn’t want to alienate anybody. I avoided female pronouns and really focused on keeping it as a universal love and making sure that everyone could relate to a love song and it wasn’t just for one kind of relationship.
My poetry was a different story. That was very much expressing my identity as a lesbian, as a Christian, and as a trauma survivor. But when they asked me to do “Same Love”, I felt like it was a very different situation. I felt like this was an opportunity for me to express my sexuality in a way that wasn’t contrived. So I decided to say, “she keeps me warm” because I wanted to express that, first and foremost, I’m gay, and also that sort of warmth is a universal feeling. I thought that would resonate with people.
What really gave me strength was the fact that all women, of every age, were singing “she keeps me warm” at the top of their lungs. They didn’t care that it was a female pronoun; they got that it was about love. I feel like it’s the same way for the gay community. We watch romantic comedies and we sing songs about heterosexual couples—it doesn’t bother us. It’s because we get that it’s about love, and I think maybe gay artists forget that maybe the straight community would feel the same way. I think that sparked this part of my identity… to say, “She’s wonderful, she is the love of my life,” and not be self-conscious about it. But in that sense, I don’t feel like I’m a big, gay artist. I think, at this point, I’m just being honest with my identity.
429Magazine: Tell us about your new single, “She Keeps Me Warm.” Was it written about anyone in particular?
Lambert: Well I wrote the chorus for “Same Love” specifically for that song. But I was getting a lot of requests at my shows to sing “Same Love” and I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to play the track, because I felt like that would be tacky, and I didn’t want to do it a cappella and rap or something. So I fused it with another song, an older song that I had written. But it’s gone through a lot of transformation. I feel like whereas the chorus is definitely written to my partner, the rest of the song is really about that first love, that really exciting part of a relationship, which I think translates to many of my partnerships.
429Magazine: Do you have any advice for hopeful musicians?
Lambert: You know, there are people that say it’s fifty percent talent and fifty percent about networking. I would say it’s similar to that. It’s really about who you know and what connections you’re making—but it’s not just about schmoozing connections. It’s about being really genuine and really kind to people, even if they’re not going to push you further in your career. If you’re just a good person, that resonates with people. If you’re talented, then that’s what kind of brings you up.
429Magazine: What can your fans expect from you in the future?
Lambert: Probably more crying. [laughs]I’m releasing a video for “She Keeps Me Warm” this month. I want to release a video for my song called “Body Love”—that’s the next item on my agenda.
429Magazine: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you?
Lambert: I really want to connect with everybody that I run into… and it’s so cheesy, but I love humanity so much. I just want to make… [laughs]This is so Miss America—I want to make the world better. I see flaws, and really terrible things happening in society that I feel like I have solutions to, and I want to repair them. Maybe it sounds kind of like a martyr, but I really want to make an impact.
A live recording of “She Keeps Me Warm” can be seen here.