When the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis song “Same Love,” a heartfelt plea for tolerance and marriage equality, became a surprise smash, no one was more caught off guard than the woman who wrote and sings its chorus. In less than a year, Seattle-based poet and musician Mary Lambert went from toiling at multiple jobs to playing in front of thousands of people all over the country. And she’s seizing the moment. Just this week, she released the single “She Keeps Me Warm,” an expanded version of her “Same Love” contribution. She called TONY to discuss both songs as well as the overwhelming joy of having an out-of-left-field summer hit.
Why did you decide to spin your “Same Love” chorus a full song?
People would come to my shows and say “Why didn’t you sing ‘Same Love’?” or “I wish you would’ve sung ‘Same Love.’” I tried just singing the chorus during the shows but I thought that was…stupid [Laughs], and I thought, Well, I don’t want to play the track and, like, rap to it, because that would be stupid, too. So it ended up being a love song, which is another side to “Same Love” that I think needed to be heard.
How did you get involved with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis?
[Macklemore] and Ryan had tried a bunch of people out for the chorus and it just wasn’t working. A friend of theirs, Hollis Wong-Wear—who sings on “White Walls” and wrote the chorus to “Wings”—said, “Why don’t you try my friend Mary?” I think they would have tried anything. [Laughs] So they sent me the track and I was floored. I couldn’t believe that a song like that, first of all, was in existence and second of all that I was approached with it. I wrote it in two hours and recorded it that night.
Were you surprised that it became such a huge hit?
Oh, totally! I expected that it was going to do well in Washington State because we were in the middle of Referendum 74 for passing marriage equality, so I figured this is going to be big in Washington, because there’s a lot of same-sex support here. And it got airplay on our local station and there was a lot of love for it. But I think the real push was when the video got released. The the video is so beautiful for this amazing song. It really just took it to a place that I don’t think we could’ve imagined. So now it’s in this second wind to where it’s mainstream and you’re hearing it on hip-hop stations, which is just crazy to me. It’s always really eerie when I get in the car and I hear my voice on the radio. It’s really difficult to process. You wish and hope for something for so long and then it happens and you’re like, “This is my life? This is real?” [Laughs]
What is the reaction you’ve been getting since “Same Love” came out?
It’s been crazy. That’s probably the most rewarding thing out of this whole experience, seeing the personal response. People have been taking the time to send me mail and e-mail me and just be so supportive of my music and what I’m creating. I have another piece called “Body Love,” which is about self-worth and body image, and navigating the whole convoluted process of loving yourself. Between that and “Same Love,” I just feel like I’m constantly overwhelmed by people that say, “Wow, this song changed my life.” I get a lot of e-mails from girls who are in rehab for their eating disorders who are like, “I can only eat after I listen to ‘Body Love.’” And that’s insane. I cry so much, and I cry because I’m so happy that I feel like I’m doing something that I’ve always wanted to do. And I feel like I’m impacting people’s lives. You can’t ask for more than that.
You've been promoting "Same Love" for a year, so you must be excited to finally do your own thing.
I released my EP [Letters Don’t Talk] around the same time that the single was released, so I’ve sort of been doing both things for the past year or so. It was okay then because I was on tour with the Macklemore crew for about two months, and then I was home for a little bit, and then i went on my own solo tour. So it’s been a balance, and it’s sustained me as an artist. I’ve been able to live off my artistry; I feel really, really grateful. So now I feel like it’s a sort of different situation because this song has gotten a second wind, it’s blowing up again, and I’m pursuing my solo career a little harder, too. I’m just working on figuring out that balance. But I think it’s important that I don’t forget about “Same Love.” I wouldn’t be able to release a single or have any of this success or be on this platform without “Same Love.”
There’s been a lot of criticism in some corners of the Internet that straight musicians who speak out in favor of LGBT equality are getting a lot more attention than people who are actually part of the queer community. Do you think that’s fair?
I feel like I have a lot to say about that as someone in the gay community. There’s always been a system of oppression and we’re constantly fighting against it. But I think there are little victories, and victories of people supporting the gay community are huge. If who you are is straight, white and male, then you’re not something else. So if you’re using the platform that you have to make a comment about oppression.… That criticism sort of baffles me, and I get really frustrated about it. That’s not to say that the gay community doesn’t have their own voice, but I think it’s commendable to make a statement. It’s an excellent thing.
You have a background in spoken-word and poetry. Do you incorporate that into your live shows? Or are those two separate things for you?
I like to do both. I think spoken-word and slam poetry are not for everybody—and that’s fine. I mean, there’s definitely a lot of bad poetry out there. [Laughs] But the way I sort of ease people into it is to provide a musical background as I’m reading a piece. I really like my shows to be an amalgamation of music and poetry. It’s lyricism, and I think that they’re very closely related. It also just provides a different dynamic to a show. People usually get really quiet and are really attentive because it’s like, There’s something important being said. So I want to put more poetry on records, I want to keep doing it at my shows. I released a collection of poetry that I’d like to get fully published, too.
Where is it available?
It’s only available on my website because it’s not published. I just independently sell it from my apartment. [Laughs loudly] But it’s cool! I’ve sold about 400 copies this year just out of my little apartment. So I’m proud! I’m proud of my little book. [Laughs]
Is there an album in the works?
There’s nothing specific. I reached out to a few people, and a few people reached out to me, and I don’t feel pressured or a timeline—and that’s what’s nice about being an independent artist; there’s no label telling you that you have deadlines. I’m just taking things as they come. I’m constantly writing, there’s always something stuck in my head that I need to get out. I’m never worried about not being creative, so it’s just a matter of when am I going to go in the studio.
“She Keeps Me Warm” is much more personal than “Same Love.” Is it strange to sing something so intimate in front of a big crowd?
Actually, I think “Same Love” might be more personal, because it’s more of a political proclamation for me. It’s me going around the nation saying, “What’s up! I’m gay!” There’s vulnerability in putting that out there for such a huge audience. “She Keeps Me Warm” is more connected to the heart than the brain, and I think it’s just easier to reach people in that way. And I feel like it’s a really nonthreatening song. [Laughs] It’s a love song and everybody’s had that super big crush on somebody where you want to know everything about them and you’re just crazy about them. I think that’s a universal kind of feeling.
Have there been any big standout moments over the last year?
There were a couple. I got to go on two of my favorite shows, the Ellen show and Colbert. But I think Colbert was really great because it was around the time of my birthday and I was falling in love with New York. I’ve never really traveled in my life—this time last year I was working like three jobs. I’ve always just been really tied down and always dreamed about traveling, and I was just kind of stuck in the system. To have this opportunity to travel and sing for thousands of people… It’s all just too crazy. And there was another moment… We had just passed marriage equality in Washington State, and I was home when it passed, so I was there for the whole celebration. Me and my partner went up to Capitol Hill and the streets were closed, people were drinking champagne in the streets, the cops were toasting with everybody, there’s half-naked people running around and everybody’s making out—and I’m like making out with my girlfriend in the middle of the street. And all of a sudden, this car starts blasting “Same Love” and everybody starts singing along. To have that moment—I’m going to get teary! I’m crying!—to be in that moment where you’re observing such beauty happening and realize that you’re a part of something really big.… It’s a dream. It’s a dream.
Buy "She Keeps Me Warm" on Google Play
Buy Letters Don't Talk on Google Play
Buy "Same Love" on Google Play
Follow Ethan LaCroix on Twitter: @LaVieLaCroix