Mary Lambert, of ‘Same Love’ fame, looks forward to PrideFest

Gregg Shapiro, Contributing writer

Out singer/songwriter and performance poet Mary Lambert owes her meteoric rise to her collaboration with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on the groundbreaking rap song “Same Love.” A YouTube sensation and hit single, the song was Grammy-nominated. It was performed live during the Grammy telecast amid a mass wedding that included same-gender couples. Shortly after that groundbreaking event, Lambert released the Welcome to the Age of My Body EP. It featured “She Keeps Me Warm,” an expanded version of her contribution to “Same Love.”

I spoke recently with Lambert about her rising career.

I’m sure you’ve been asked about your Grammy performance with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis a million times already, but what was the experience like for you? It’s a life-altering experience. Performing for that many people and being nominated for a Grammy is pivotal enough for an individual. But what the song stands for and what I’m singing about and what I’ve written, that to me is more gratifying. The actual content and the social impact (were) life-changing for me. I feel so fortunate that this is the song that will be remembered for years to come.

Your religious upbringing plays a role in your artistic life. What kind of an impact do you think your work is having on conservative religious organizations like the evangelical church in which you were raised. I’m not sure if it has. I feel like I’ve been out of touch in terms of those actual communities. I have been working with some churches. There are churches that have reached out. I do think that Christianity and the whole evangelical sect are undergoing a shift right now. But I don’t know if I am solely responsible for that. I do feel that there is a shift toward the idea of gay marriage. 

“She Keeps Me Warm,” the full-length song that grew out of your “Same Love” collaboration with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, is featured on your Welcome to the Age of My Body EP. How did you decide what to include? I wanted to make the EP an introduction to who I am. I wanted “She Keeps Me Warm” on there. “Sarasvati” is on there, too, and that’s very confessional, a deeply emotional song to sing. “Body Love” is on there — and that’s an encompassing idea of what I do. 

The EP opens and closes with the spoken word tracks “Body Love: Part 1” and “Body Love: Part 2,” putting your poetic skills on display. Who are some of your favorite poets? I have so many! I was fortunate enough to do a little stint with Andrea Gibson, who is one of my favorite poets. Buddy Wakefield and Shira Erlichman, too.

Like Beth Ditto, you have become a body image advocate, most recently launching The Body Love Campaign. What can you tell me about it? The Body Love Campaign is something I feel very strongly about. It’s just the idea of self-worth and self-care and propelling that in our culture, when our culture is so invested in breaking down women. Women (are) asking for validation from men. I don’t think it’s anybody’s fault, but I think it’s perpetuated by both genders. Something I really wanted to attack was  that it starts before you are 16 or 17. That was the peak of it for me, when I felt pressured to be somebody that I wasn’t and then feel really guilty about it. I wanted to make a declaration of “you are beautiful, just the way you are.” But I didn’t want to smooth over it the way a lot of other people do. I think it’s about girls’ self-harming, drinking heavily and escapism because of the pain of our bodies.

Have you started on a full-length album and, if so, will the songs from the EP be included on it? We considered that. But I want the full-length record to be a new body of work. I want it to be really fresh and state where I’m at right now in terms of my career and what I’m creating. We have a single that will be released in June, and then the record will be released in the fall. I couldn’t be more proud of what we’re making. I wanted to retain the emotional content of what I do, but I wanted to make a commercially viable album. I want to hear these songs on the radio, so I’ve fused those ideas together. I couldn’t be happier with it. It sounds like magic.

You are the queer voice on Gavin Degraw and Matt Nathanson’s upcoming summer concert tour. What does that mean to you? I hope that I represent (the LGBT community) well. I’m trying to. It’s really flattering. I never intended to be an activist. I just wanted to write songs about things I feel strongly about. I’m flattered with the recognition from that viewpoint. I love my community. It’s going to be an awesome tour.

Have you performed at other Pride festivals? Not a lot, but this year I will be. I’m looking forward to Pride season. I’m excited to come to Milwaukee. I’ve never been.

On stage

Mary Lambert performs on the Miller Lite Mainstage on June 7.