“I guess I’m constantly moving between this negative thing of people wanting to collect you rather than connect with you.” I recently spoke with the extraordinarily talented Mary Lambert over the phone to discuss the drawbacks of honesty and openness in her field of work; notorious for being an open book both in her music and in interviews, it comes as no surprise that Lambert would grapple with where to draw the line at the end of the day. It seems, however, that she’s willing to bear the cross if it means that she can make fans happy, and can start a discussion about difficult subjects (such as sexual violence and body image) from a place of high visibility. (Hugely admirable if you ask me!) We also talked about a ton of other topics largely inspired by song titles from Heart On My Sleeve (which is amazing and out now via Capitol Records); we covered everything from crop tops to theoretical trips to the moon to getting over off-limits crushes, so get ready to internet-eavesdrop on all of that RIGHT NOW:
So BASICALLY the concept for this interview is that I’m going to be asking you questions based on song titles from Heart On My Sleeve (some of them are more serious than others); not sure we’ll be able to get through all of them, BUT we can try. The first one is for “Secrets”, and you’re pretty notorious for being an honest and open musician, but are you pretty good at keeping secrets when you have to?
No. [Laughs] I always got caught in high school for telling lies, and I just don’t think I’m very good at it.
The drawbacks of honesty. Alright, well the next one is for “So Far Away”; what do you get most homesick for when you’re on tour?
I mean, my cat and my girlfriend for sure, but I also feel like it’s just the concept of home as well…you know, your own bed and just running over to the keyboard if I have an idea. It’s funny how little music you actually play when you’re on the road; for me, when I’m home, I can just walk over to the keyboard or pick up my guitar, and as a writer, that’s my source of creation and output. So between actually playing music on the road and then my little family, those are the hardest to go without.
Yeah, I’m sure that must be super super tough. On the same sort of note, though, the next question is for “Ribcage”…the scientific purpose of a rib cage is to provide the following three things: 1. protection, 2. support, and 3. respiration. Who or what was a symbolic rib cage for you throughout the making of Heart On My Sleeve?
Well, a lot of people were supportive, but I would have to say my manager. I mean, my family was awesome, but I didn’t talk to them very much at that time since I was just kind of going crazy; I didn’t have a lot of time to make the album, and I did four tours, making the album in the two and three day stints between touring. It was so brutal; I didn’t have any material, and so I wrote the album when I was in the studio. I was on the road for over three hundred days this year, and every time I thought I was going to lose it I could call my manager. And I mean, he’s been with me since the beginning, and he’s been a good friend of mine for six or seven years. He was a big support system throughout the whole process.
Good! It’s important to have that kind of relationship with your manager for sure. But you just mentioned a little bit about the record making process, so my next question is for “Dear One”…I’m assuming you had more tracks written than what actually ended up going on the record, but was there any particular one that you really fought to keep on the list, and/or were pretty bummed to have to cut?
There were two…one of them I thought went on the record but it didn’t (I think it was just a miscommunication, but I think it’ll be released at some point this year), and the other was a poem called “Epidemic” that’s about sexual abuse and rape. It was my first goal when I started working on this album; I wanted to include a poem that centered around sexual violence, because I’m in the pop sphere, and no one in the pop sphere is talking about this // it’s really important that we start talking about it in the mainstream, because right now we don’t, and it’s just glossed over, even though it happens to so many people, particularly women.
But I talked with my team for a long time (who were supportive of it too), but I had to really weigh out the pros and cons; it wasn’t likely that big stores would want to carry it, because it was going to have the “Explicit” sticker on it, and at the time, “Secrets” was playing on the radio, so I had a lot of younger fans, and there’s no warning on it like, “Hey, this is a conversation you’re going to need to have with your kids.” I didn’t know how to present it in a safe way, and then I also thought, “Gosh, what if this triggers somebody?” You can’t put trigger warnings before a song, so I decided to take it off. And we replaced it with “Jessie’s Girl”, which I was really happy with. “Epidemic” isn’t going away, I don’t think, but it’s going to have its own space, rather than being pushed on a pop album.
Good, good. Since you DID just bring up “Jessie’s Girl”, though, I’m going to fast-forward to THAT question, which is: do you have any solid advice for what to do if you’re crushing on someone who’s already taken?
I’m trying to think, because my brain doesn’t really work that way…in my life, if someone’s been off-limits, then I can’t even go there, my brain doesn’t even let me go there. But the parallels I’ve found between “Jessie’s Girl” and my experience is being attracted to a straight girl, which is kind of common in the gay world…I mean, you’re going to be attracted to who you’re attracted to, and sometimes they’re not going to share the same sexual orientation as you. There was a period of time where I was just head over heels for this straight girl, and it’s HARD! It just crushes you, but you have to teach yourself to be realistic.
I mean yeah, I think that’s probably the most realistic advice, too…to try to learn how to BE realistic. Alright, next one is for “When You Sleep”, what is the last thing you dreamed about in the literal sleep sense, if you can remember your dreams?
Last night? This is so shallow…I’ve been trying to think what I’m going to wear to an awards show, and I literally was dreaming of crop tops. [Laughs]
That’s amazing. I mean, if I were in your position I would TOTALLY be dream-freaking-out about what to wear, too.
Yeah, I don’t know what I dream-dreamed about, but before I go to bed I usually try to focus on one thing that makes me happy, and I’ll focus on that one thing very intently. So last night I thought about the awards show, because I’m really excited about it.
I’m going to have to start using that strategy more, maybe try to get a little more control going in dreamland. And while we’re talking of dreamy scenarios, the next question is for “Chasing the Moon”…if someone offered you a trip to the moon today, and you had no obligations to fulfill, would you go?
There are so many variables…I want to know so much about this question! Can I take someone with me? How long is it?
Sure, we’ll let you take someone along, and it’s a quick trip.
See, I’m terrified of heights (and that kind of seems like the highest possible point to travel to…), so I don’t think I would ever agree to go, but good for you!
Right, at least three times taller than the Empire State Building. [Laughs]
Exactly, exactly. [Laughs] Now, for “Heart On My Sleeve”, how do you think you’ve changed in terms of your openness with regards to putting it all out there, if at all? Are you a little more guarded now?
I think for me that’s definitely been a plight of my public life, at least in this industry. What I’ve really been battling with is that because I’m very public with my stories, and I talk very openly about my trauma and abuse, at what point does it become shock value or important to a journalist because it’s “interesting” or “exciting”? I believe it’s really exploitative in nature, and harmful to me. But I also do believe in talking about things that are difficult, so I’ve been trying to find a balance. But as I’ve moved more into “celebrity culture”, I’ve noticed that people don’t just consume the music you produce, they also consume the persona of the celebrity or musician or artist, and that’s an interesting situation for me…I don’t particularly like to be consumed, but I do enjoy feeling connected.
I guess I’m constantly moving between this negative thing of people wanting to collect you rather than connect with you. There have been times where I’ve done interviews where they’ll ask me really personal stuff about trauma that has nothing to do with, I don’t know, The GRAMMYs or something, and they’ll be like, “So how was it being sexually abused?” and I’ll be like, “It was terrible, why are you bringing this up?” [Laughs] So I mean, I do want to remain open, but there are definitely times where I go into a shell because I’m feeling re-triggered. It’s like, how do you teach all of pop culture how to talk about trauma? Maybe that’s my duty, is to figure out how to teach all of pop culture how to talk about trauma.
Well maybe, but that’s a tough road to go alone // hopefully it’ll get easier as more people open up about things. Alright, I think we have time for one more question, so I’m going to go with “Sing To Me”. If you could have anybody (alive or dead) serenade you right now, who would it be?
There are so many…I mean, when they come back from the dead, are they in a way that I’d imagine them? Or are they zombie-like?
No, they come back in the nice how-you-remember-them way.
Ella Fitzgerald. For her to come back and just sing an entire record…I would love that.