The world could not get enough of Mary Lambert after she was first featured in Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ 2012 hit, “Same Love.” Her work on this LGBTQ marriage equality anthem led to two Grammy nominations which then led her to begin a flourishing pop career. Her debut single, “Secrets,” shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Charts, and her first full-length album, Heart on My Sleeve, was called refreshing and severely personal by the New York Times.
However, Lambert is not your typical, multi-platinum selling artist. After parting ways with formal management, she decided she was not going to allow someone else to dictate how and when she told her stories. For those who do not know, Lambert is a survivor in several ways. She has spoken candidly about her life, which includes queerness, suicide attempts, bipolar disorder, and sexual abuse. A year ago, she published a powerful collection of spoken word pieces called Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across, which touches on all these subjects. Lambert wants you to know that you are not alone, and it is okay to cry. You are in a safe space.
OUT FRONT had the pleasure of chatting more with Lambert about her book, her life, and upcoming music projects. We can expect to see a lot more Mary Lambert in the future.
I would like to start off by chatting about your second book of poetry, Shame is an Ocean I Swim Across. It has now been a year since you published it. How has it been received by audiences?
I think it’s done pretty well. The hard thing is, I am primarily a singer/songwriter. I release albums, and with albums, you release it that day or that week, and the access is very quick. Like everybody, your fans, listen to it. Within that week or that month, it’s quick. You get immediate feedback; you know what they think. With releasing a book, it’s so much slower. I think it forces a writer to really take other people’s certain thoughts with a grain of salt, because you just don’t know where it’s going to end up.
I think the first week I released it, I was just like, oh, everybody hates it. Like there’s no reviews; no one is saying anything about it. Then I was like, this is a slow burn. A book is a slow burn. When I got a royalty check, I knew that people were buying it! And I am one of those obsessive people that don’t look at their own reviews, but according to the reviews, it has been doing the work that I hope it would, which was help people with trauma recovery and people that had a desire for healing. For people that wanted to understand a different perspective. There are a lot of us out there who are hurting, and we need compassion and empathy for each other in order to have a civilized life.
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For sure. In the book, you explore topics like childhood abuse, sexual trauma, and mental illness. As a survivor of all three, how challenging was it for you to write this book?
You know, the actual writing process is not difficult, because I think I was just born a vulnerable, open soul. For those experiences to have happen to me, you know, I have been expressing it in my music and poetry for many years. So, writing about it isn’t the difficult part. I think it’s the sharing, like however many people are going to read this, they are going to know my deepest, darkest shit. They’re going to know what my dad said when I was five. All this shit that not even my close friends know about. I think this sort of pointed, explicit vulnerability is helpful for dismantling the systems that got us here in the first place. The systems that got from the survivors, where they are in the first place. The risk of feeling embarrassed or small or gross is so negligible to the possibility of being a part of somebody else’s catharsis. We just need to have a conversation.
It sounds like music and poetry has been very therapeutic for you.
One hundred percent. I started writing music when I was, like, f5. I just set up my little Casio keyboard and sort of self-soothe and write myself songs singing that I’ll be okay. Then, I started writing poetry when I was about 8. Writing, for me, has always been a form of survival. There are people who create art because they want to. They love the craft, and they want to create the greatest thing they possibly can, and that is super valid. There are other artists that are going to die if they don’t create something, and that’s me. I would be dead if I couldn’t process my experience.
What advice do you have for those who are too afraid to speak up or talk about their traumatic experiences?
There is no moral obligation for anybody to talk about their experiences. I think the most important thing you can do when you have experienced trauma is to be honest with yourself. I write about being raped in the army barracks in my book, and I didn’t say I was raped for two to three years. I said that I cheated on my boyfriend. It wasn’t until I was describing the situation to a girlfriend of mine, and she said, Mary, that’s rape. Like, you were raped.
I kind of laughed and said, no, rape is for people who also have a lot of violence happen with them. She’s like, no, that’s not the definition. So, I re-evaluated the situation and was honest with myself about what happened. I was taken advantage of, and it wasn’t my fault. With these sort of steps of being explicitly honest with yourself about your experience, I think the step after that is, we want to hold the abusers accountable. If you think your abuser might continue to hurt people and you feel like you have enough strength to speak out about it and do something, then by all means, speak up, but there is no obligation. If what is keeping you alive is your own, safe sort of network, then that’s what you should do.
Moving on to a little more lighthearted subject, what’s next in terms of your music?
Oh, yeah! I’m working on an album! I’ve been working on this album for five years. I wanted to make my masterpiece. This body of work that I can point to and say, this is my soul in an album. I am in the quality of reverb; I can make EQ; I’m in the sound design and the lyrics and melody. I’m in everything. I’m over the moon about it, and I cannot wait for it to be out. It’s called Grief Creature, and it will be out November 15.
Any more duets with Macklemore?
Actually, yes! I have a new song with Macklemore. I produced it, and I think it’s really good.
What musical artists would you absolutely love to collaborate with?
The Indigo Girls. I think in terms of artistry, I would love to do something with Kendrick Lamar. I think we could make something really cool. And then, of course, the legends. I would absolutely love to do a song with Natalie Maines from the Dixie Chicks; I would just lose my mind.
To stay up-to-date with Lambert, follow her on social media and check out her website, marylambertsings.com.
Photo provided by Mary Lambert