“How are you guys? Are you ready to cry?”
Mary Lambert will be the first person to tell you that she has a lot of feelings. But the rollercoaster of emotions injected into her music is one facet that makes her live shows so memorable and electrifying.
“I like to invite other people to feel,” said Lambert before taking the stage at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg on Oct. 20. “There are times onstage where I will be crying through a song or a poem — even [ones] that I wrote five years ago. I find a new reason to perform every night.”
That’s not to say that Lambert’s shows are complete sobfests. Fans who saw Mary’s Music Hall gig experienced a kaleidoscope of moods that ranged from upbeat and bubbly (her self-acceptance anthem “Secrets”) to, yes, heart-wrenching and tender (her self-acceptance anthem “Body Love”). Compared to the more upbeat offerings of fellow AmEx Artists in Residence Rixton and Betty Who, Lambert’s opening set proved to be the evening’s heaviest, but also its most cathartic.
“I’m compelled by the quest to make the world better,” she said. “I used to walk around with a lot of guilt and shame. I see a lot of people walking around with the same [feelings] I had. But when you lift those walls up, we really are allowed to see each other in such a beautiful way. If I can encourage other people to do that, that’s all I want to do my whole life.”
Watch Mary discuss the passions behind her music in the video below, then read her extended Q&A and head to AmEx AIR’s YouTube channel to watch her full performance.
You recently kicked off your first official headlining tour. How does it feel?
I did do a headlining tour two years ago, but it was solo. Now I have a crew that I hired. And my own bus! It feels really, really good. My training wheels are off. And I love that I’ve been doing these shows and people are singing the non-singles. Like “Oh my God, you know my lyrics? That’s so cool!”
What’s it been like going from being a total DIY, unsigned artist just two years ago to being signed with a major label and working with AmEx?
I think no matter how you think about your music, you’re ultimately in the music “business.” I think you have to be business-minded in some sense. And for me, the real goal … is positive intention and social change through music. It doesn’t mean that can’t turn a profit. I believe you can make money ethically. And I wanna buy everyone on my team a car. I wanna tip my brunch waitress $100. I wanna start a charity for free mental health clinics. And I think that I can do music that is good to people, and kind. There’s actually a lot of unkind music out there. Or people are making things where they don’t intend to hurt people — we already know that we have to be careful with our words, we should also be very careful with our lyrics. I’m not saying everybody has a social responsibility of what art they create, but art should be open-ended. I just feel there’s a lack of consciousness and understanding of impact and reach. Just maybe, for a second, just think of the effect you could have with a lyric.
You toured with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis for most of 2013 and earlier this year. What career lessons have they imparted upon you?
I learned so much from going on tour with them. One was just a club tour and the second was an arena tour — and on both tours, the frugality was just incredible. Like, “Holy shit, we’re on this big tour and we’re gonna stay at my friend’s house in Austin,” and I’m like, “Dude, I’m down.” There’s this idea that when you make a certain amount of money that you should be staying at four-star hotels and taking town cars. And believe me, I will take a town car every day, but there are some things where it’s like, is this necessary? Is this important? In some ways I have taken that frugality to heart. One thing I learned from them is they work sooo hard day in and day out. I think that’s part of the DIY spirit. And I was sort of OK when I decided to sign with Capitol Records, like I’m OK to contract this stuff out and just perform and be kind of a princess.
An ethical princess.
[Laughs] Oh my God, yes!!! That should be my next album title! When I was pitching the album to my label, I said very deadpan, “I really think we should call it Pretty Princess Diamonds in the Sky.” And they’d never met me before and they were like, “Okayyyy.” “I promise, I promise it’s not it.”
Going back to the importance of ethics in your music and your business, what questions do you ask potential partners to make sure they’re on the same page?
I’ve been asked to do quite a few rap features, and I have had to say, “You’re misogynistic. The shit you say doesn’t resonate with me.” So you have to be careful with your words. That’s your persona. Whether it’s your artist self, I don’t care — I want to identify with someone who also aligns with my identity. For starting out with Macklemore as my first song, I couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator to be put on the map.
There’s a track on your debut Heart on My Sleeve called “Ribcage” that is your only “rap feature track,” with guest verses from Angel Haze and K. Flay. What inspired that?
That track in particular is the only one of its kind on the album. It’s about the downside of vulnerability, the detriment to people feeling entitled of your story. I got asked during the week of the Grammys about how I got through my rape in the same breath as what Madonna wore, and it was on live television. I was like, “This is so unkind.” I was also introspectively saying, “OK, I’ve talked openly about this, this is in my bio. Did I bring this on myself? Did I do this?” Because this is the nature of the business, I’m not gonna f—ing take this lying down. Maybe part of my job in this setting is to be somewhat of an educator. I’m like, “OK, I can do that.” I was going to be a teacher. I was applying to graduate school when I got the call to do “Same Love,” actually. I was gonna go to Boston University for my masters in teaching. I live in Massachusetts now, so it feels halfway there.