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Q&A: Mary Lambert Spins Success of Macklemore’s ‘Same Love’ Into Issues-Driven Solo Pop

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(Credit:  Mike Ruiz)

(Credit: Mike Ruiz)

By Kevin Rutherford

Look at Mary Lambert go.

The Seattle singer-songwriter-poet has had a big 2013, propelled by her unlikely ascent into the mainstream — just like fellow Washingtonians Wanz and Ray Dalton before her — as a featured artist on “Same Love,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ same-sex equality anthem. Not only did the GRAMMY Song of the Year contender score Lambert some face-time on this year’s VMAs alongside J-Hud, the success of “Same Love” has spun off into Lambert’s own major label deal with Capitol Records.

This week, the former Seattle Grand Slam Poetry champion will release Welcome to the Age of My Body, her first EP with Capitol before tackling a full-length release next year. The four-song set confronts issues with body image head-on (“Body Love”) while spinning the chorus of “Same Love” into a bona fide song of her own (“She Keeps Me Warm”). Lambert spoke to Radio.com about the new EP and tackling issues not generally confronted in mainstream pop.

So now you’re a major label signee. Does anything change now with your music or your approach or are you the same Mary doing the same thing you’ve always been doing, except on a grander scale?

I think that was one of the reasons I agreed to sign with Capitol and not a different major label. Every other label I talked to was like, “We love your music, but we don’t know what to do with your poetry.” For me, that was kind of heartbreaking because it’s one and the same; that encompasses me as an artist, both of those art forms.

At Capitol, everyone we met with was like, “We love your poetry! We gotta have a lot of poems on the album!” And I was like, “Really?! Are you sure? …OK!” So I’m really, really happy with the decision that I made and this entire process has been incredible. I’ve been able to have total control of exactly what I want to do and have total support for that.

About the EP — could you tell me the where/when/who?

One of the songs ["Body Love"] was an older song we had already recorded about two years ago. It’s a poem that’s split and sort of sandwiches the EP. We recut it for this, which I think is perfect because it’s one of the songs with the most important message that I want to get across in my music, which is about body image and self-image and self-worth. The other tracks we cut in L.A. with Eric Ross. He’s my favorite producer in the whole wide world; he’s produced Tori Amos‘ records and Sara Bareilles‘ last record — he’s done a ton of stuff. I just had the feeling that he would get what I do and be excited about it. It’s been incredible working with him; we have very similar ways of approaching music and writing, so the process has been really painless and super fun.

Including the spoken word that’s on the EP — it’s like a mashing of your two worlds into one. You don’t see that often on a major release.

Yeah, I’m definitely a little nervous; you want to be like the cool kid at school and fit in and be popular, but sometimes that takes doing something different. I feel like there’s a capacity for people to get it and to enjoy it. I just want my music to be accessible and for people of any demographic to enjoy it, and I try to approach that in songwriting and in the way that it’s crafted. I love pop music and I want to be able to make pop music with depth, that’s maybe heavier.

I think we’re in a really interesting time in music, too. I think Lorde is a great model of doing something totally different, and it just totally shot off for her. I think that’s really cool. That’s inspired me to say, “OK, maybe we can do spoken word on mainstream. Maybe it can happen.”

The EP deals with a lot of issues — body image, LGBT rights, etc. — that we don’t necessarily hear in mainstream pop.  Some say it’s naive to think pop can move policy, while others say it can be done but there’s a thin line between championing and shouting. What do you think?

I think it comes down to being a storyteller and speaking from your experience. I’ve been inspired by being on tour with Macklemore and having Ben as sort of my older brother to talk about these things, because I relate to him a lot artistically in that he is a storyteller and all of his songs that have to do with social issues… he’s not approaching it from a point of view of, like, “This is what I want, this is my prerogative or my artistry.” It’s just something he wants to talk about.

I think that’s what it is. I think it’s trying to connect other people to an experience you had. You can’t do that just by being explicitly about the subject matter; the production of it and the musical ideas have to complement that. I think once all of that happens, there’s instant harmony. I think that’s why “Same Love” really resonated with people, because it was also really beautiful musically, and you want something that’s catchy and also is like, “Wow, this really making me think about some heavy stuff.” That’s what I want to do.

You’ve mentioned a book of poetry on Twitter that you’re trying to get published — 500 Tips for Fat Girls. How’s that going?

I’m in talks with a couple companies. I’ve had a good response, especially since the New York Times article came out, because apparently people that read read the New York Times article. It’s been really cool to have that dialogue — OK, this is what I want to accomplish — and it’s pretty much done, [but] I really want an editor. So I see it being published [in 2014], but I’m trying to make myself do everything that needs to happen in a way that I don’t kill myself, you know? I want to make sure I’m taking care of myself. So while that’s there, it’s also working being self-published, so I’m not in a huge rush to do it.

What happens now? Will there be a tour behind the EP before recording the Capitol full-length?

Definitely touring. We have a lot of shows in the works for the next couple months — and I love that, I love performing. I think that’s where the strength of what I do comes in because I’m such an energy-laced person, so for me the shows are an integral part of what I do. Then I’ll come in the studio and get stuff done; I’m going to take I think two weeks off and write. That’s another concept that I’ve never had before, devoting this time to writing, which is neat. I have a massive armada of songs that have yet to be recorded, so I feel like I’m in a great place for it.

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