The Queerty Interview

Mary Lambert On Writing A Gay Anthem, Singing With Madonna, And Watching Queen Latifah Marry Gay Couples

mary lambertLast Sunday the supremely talented Mary Lambert performed in front of her largest audience yet when she sang the chorus of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s anthemic “Same Love” during the Grammys telecast, which developed into a duet with Madonna and, even more famously, a mass wedding officiated by Queen Latifah. It’s impossible to overestimate the influence the performance had on a global audience who perhaps had never expected to witness a same-sex marriage. The out performer has spent the past months on tour with the rap duo and performing solo shows around the country to support her EP Welcome To The Age Of My Body, a lilting collection of Lambert’s own compositions, including “She Keeps Me Warm,” a full song that evolved from the haunting chorus on “Same Love.” Currently at work on her first full-length album, Lambert recently chatted with Queerty about performing alongside Madonna, growing up with a lesbian mother and writing a song that’s become an undisputed LGBT anthem.   Your lyrics are very confessional and you’re very candid when you chat with the audience between songs during your live shows. Is there anything that’s off limits or that you won’t reveal about yourself? [Laughs] That’s a good question. I just left an interview and I felt like I gave too much of myself and I’d never felt like that before. I’m actually in the process of learning to set a balance now. There are some things in my life that I want to keep private and sacred, especially if they involve other people. But it’s important to have discussions about abuse and mental health and rape and body image. Those are all very important things to talk about. I don’t expect everyone to be as vulnerable as I am but the only way there can be solutions to these problems is if we’re honest about [these issues]. You were raised Pentecostal, which follows a very conservative religious doctrine. What sort of homophobia did you encounter? Because of the nature of trauma and coping mechanisms there’s some of my childhood that I have massively blocked out. One thing that I do know is the reaction to my mom in these situations. One thing I did understand is that we had a lot of really close friends in the church and we had a great community in the church, then when my parents go to divorced that community was shut off. I remember not seeing any of the church friends anymore. We were shunned. I remember my mom being really, really depressed. I remember thinking it was the most ridiculous thing. I remember from an early age that I wanted to be a champion for all things good. I found an Evangelical church in high school so I looked thorough different patterns in my relationship with Christianity. Do you still consider yourself religious? I still consider myself a Christian, but to me it’s more of a personal journey than anything else so I don’t talk about it super openly. I have divine moments with God and those often happen through music. I definitely think my relationship with the Christian community has shifted, but not my relationship with God. Your mother is also lesbian. What was it like growing up with a gay parent before you came out yourself? It was never weird to me. I think it’s that way for a lot of kids with gay parents. It’s only weird because other people make it weird. I started standing up and telling people they couldn’t say gay with a negative connotation. I remember being in fifth grade and saying “You can’t use ‘gay’ in a derogatory way.” [Laughs] How did the kids react when you admonished them? Oh, they started calling me a lesbian. Of course some of the kids were cool, but in general I was a total weirdo. I was just a weird kid anyway. I know a lot of people say “I was so awkward” and they’re usually not. I was really, really weird. [Laughs] I was one of those kids that talk to themselves. I didn’t own a pair of jeans until I was 15. I only wore stretch pants every day. Looking back now I was way ahead of the game. It was never an option to me that I could be gay because I’d never met anyone my age who was gay. As soon as I realized it I thought, Oh my God, could I really be gay? Is this a thing? I had journal entries from when I was 13 in which I wrote, “I might be gay. I am attracted to women. I do like kissing my friends. But to be in a relationship would be too weird.” Then when I was 17 I met a girl and thought Oh, OK. I’m fascinated by the dynamic between a mother and daughter who are both lesbian. How did you come out to her and what was her reaction? I thought it was going to be really easy. I went home one day and said “Hey mom, I’m dating a girl now and I’m gay.” There was no real coming out process for me. I never felt it was a discussion I needed to have. I had previously expressed that I had feelings for a friend of mine but I was really shocked by her reaction because she was upset. She said “I think you’re going through a phase and I think it’s really dangerous for you t come out right now if indeed you are gay. I think you should wait until college. Over time I understood her motivations. She just didn’t want me to get hurt. She was just concerned for my safety. She was also relieved that I wouldn’t get pregnant. [Laughs] And you two are obviously still close because you took her to the Grammys. Yes, she was my plus one. We’re still close and we were close then, too.

Speaking of the Grammys, how did you come to write “She Keeps Me Warm,” which began as the chorus of “Same Love?”

I wrote the chorus specifically for “Same Love” and I kept getting asked to perform it at shows. But I’m not going to rap, I’m just not going to do it. I’m not going to perform to a track. Rather than do that I crafted a song around it. It wasn’t my plan to record it. I wanted to separate myself in some way but the demand was such that when I did it live in a radio station then it went crazy. People wanted it for their weddings. There was a hunger for the other side of it. I thought it was appropriate and I wasn’t trying to ride any coat tails. I love performing the song and it means something to me so it’s a win-win.

What inspired the lyrics?

There have been different incarnations. I wanted to write a love song that was applicable of those first butterflies you get when you meet somebody. I wanted it to resonate with everybody. I watch romantic comedies all the time — I’m obsessed. I watch The Bachelor. The bottom line is that they’re feelings of love and attraction. I love love. I think straight people love love, too. I don’t think they realize that they love any kind of love. Hopefully the song resonates in that way. Even though it’s a different context the principal is the same. And then the chorus is familiar but I wanted it to have a double meaning — I’m always going to feel this way. I’m always going to be attracted to her.

At the Grammys you got to perform the “Same Love” chorus as a duet with Madonna. Was she already familiar with you and the song?

Yeah, which was crazy. She knew the song. I’m still processing what that means. That’s my life now.

Did you two chat?

Yeah, totally. We had two days of rehearsals together. I consider her a friend now. I was very emotional, not just from the song but from the fact that people were getting married during the song and Madonna was singing my lyrics. There was a moment when I was crying and she wiped my tears away. She’s wonderful.

What was your take on Queen Latifah? What was her mood like that day when officiating the marriages?

Oh my God, she was ecstatic. She was beautiful and has such a glow about her and has such a beautiful energy. We didn’t have rehearsals with her, just the dress rehearsal. I met her briefly. She was wonderful.

You’re dating Michelle Chamuel, who was a former contestant on The Voice. What are the challenges of dating another singer?

For me, the distance is difficult, but I think that’s true for anyone. At the end of the day we’re both very focused on our careers and that makes for an awesome relationship. I think it’s because we both understand each other in that way.

You’re working on a full-length album. What can you reveal about it? Will there be any surprising departures or collaborations?

I hope there will be some collaborations. I’m still sorting that out. I’m extremely proud of the album. I’m beyond excited. I can’t wait for it to be released so people can hear what we’ve been working on. It’s a really distinct different sound. I don’t have words to describe I’m so excited about it.

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  • DShucking

    Okay. Where are all the trendy hipper-than-thous to tell us we shouldn’t like her because she’s popular?

  • balehead

    Where’s all the money going to this “Gay Anthem” has made?….

  • balehead

    Awareness without action is just ego….

  • rbettenc

    Hail to her and her personal journey with God.

  • SteveDenver

    She looked and sounded fantastic at the Grammy’s. Too bad about the religion: dump the American tradition and explore other belief systems, then explore life with NO fables or superstitions.

  • alisonPandora

    I can’t personally speak for Macklemore i but I can tell you that Mary has been an amazing role model, activist and catalyst for girls, women and the lesbian community. She donates her time and talents to numerous local and national charities and fund-raisers around the country that are raising millions of dollars to fight for our rights, Mr. Balehead.

  • balehead

    She donates her “self promotion” you mean…..

  • Matt1961

    I’m happy that she’s getting the attention that she has worked hard for. The fact that she’s also a lesbian is just icing on the cake imho.

  • Charlie in Charge

    @SteveDenver: You can be religious and deeply authentically happy. It sounds like she has something that works for her. No need for you to be an evangelist.

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