Mary Lambert Shares Her Heart

Mary Lambert chats with Pollstar about confidence, which books she’s reading, and her debut LP, which she calls her “dream album.” “Heart On My Sleeve arrives Tuesday – but first you’ll want to read her Q&A.

From her big break as the featured vocalist on the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis song “Same Love” to her single “Secrets,” Lambert isn’t afraid to tackle heavy subjects in her powerful lyrics, be it gay rights, body image or mental illness. That being said, she’s far from a somber person. While some people use all caps and exclamation points on social media to express their rage, the singer/songwriter is just that excited about her music and life in general.

During Pollstar’s 20-minute phone call with Lambert, you could hear the joy in her voice and she was quick to laugh. It’s evident to see why fans have easily connected with Lambert, who refers to her followers on Facebook and Twitter as pumpkins, cutie angel pies and even “babely unicorns.”    

But she also likes to cry. After all, her new album is called Heart On My Sleeve.

After touring with Gavin DeGraw and Matt Nathanson earlier this year, Lambert’s fall headline tour kicked off last week. She says that fans attending one of the shows should prepare for an emotional rollercoaster.

Photo: Autumn de Wilde

Your debut album is coming out Oct. 14.

I’m so excited. It’s like my dream album.

You had a great quote about your goals for the album, which included “have fun, stay true to yourself and create something that positively impacts the world.” Were you able to stay true to your goals?

I really, really did. I think the only thing was there were never any months dedicated to working on the album. I was on tour with Macklemore, on my own solo tour, working two singles and then trying to fly out every three days and writing a song and recording a new song. There was never any dedicated time for it so next time I make an album I’d like to have some like super dedicated time, like two months, to make an album.

And there was a lot of crying in this record. But it’s good because it was very cathartic and I processed a lot and I shared a lot of joy. There was some really, really fun moments for sure.

Examining the album’s title, have you always been someone who’s worn your heart on your sleeve? Or was there a time where you kept things more hidden?

I’ve always been that way. I don’t know any other way to be. My mom used to tell me when I was a kid, “Mary, you’re going to get hurt. You wear your heart on your sleeve and you just, you trust everyone.” And it’s true. I just believe in the beauty of humanity and the goodness of people. And maybe I’m just spoiled by the people around me but after seeing what I’ve seen and going through what I’ve been through and seeing the love and the support in my life, I just believe that people at their core are good and have positive intentions.

I think that’s so great that you believe in the goodness of people, especially because you’ve been open about going through some traumatic events in your past.

Totally. I mean … there are people in your life that are going to screw you over or hurt you. And that’s kind of a part of living and I believe in the capacity of joy is expounded by sadness and heartbreak. Then you really know the true value of goodness.

You co-wrote Heart On My Sleeve with a few producers and a songwriter. Was this your first experience co-writing music?

I had never co-written music before and it was a really scary experience. And when I say that cried, I cried so much because I didn’t want to lose myself and there were so many hands in the pot. There were times – where you know, it was unintentional, nobody was trying to take my voice away – there was just a lot of opinions. And so there was some pushback in general but overall the process was really, really cool and I learned so much. And I feel like a better songwriter because of it.

The first single from the album, “Secrets,” is so catchy!

Thank you!

And I love the message about not being ashamed about who you are. Mental illness is such a taboo subject in our society. It’s great that you just put it all out there.

And tell everyone that I’m bipolar?! (laughs) I just used to live with so much guilt and shame in my life and stigmas suck and they really inhibit you from living fully. And I think that there’s a lot of people walking around that are shells of themselves because society has deemed them taboo or less than valuable and I think this album, what I wanted to accomplish through “Secrets” and through the album, is a resounding chorus of “You are worthy, you are valued, you are deserving of love and all things good. And your flaws don’t define you – or, you know, so-called flaws. Whatever you feel your detriments are of your character, don’t define you.”

Where do you find your confidence and how do you keep yourself centered?

I think my confidence has been a process. I did not use to be this way at all. I really used to hate my body. I had pretty severe body dysmorphia and just thought that I was the ugliest person in the room. I think that it’s just dedication to healing – dedication to the process of finding beauty and loving yourself. Because it’s really easy to tell people to love themselves or to talk about self care, but actually implicating it is really difficult. It’s an everyday practice and a commitment to it, for sure.

It’s not like one day you’re instantly confident and you don’t even have to try anymore.  

(laughs) Yeah, “I love myself now.” You don’t wake up like that. There are tools and tricks to change that. I’m reading a book right now about habits and habitual processes and I think we can change patterns of thoughts. And really I believe so much of confidence has to do with self talk. Your actions are really determined down to your thoughts and how you sort of define yourself [comes] down to thought processes. So, for me, it’s really taking control of your thoughts.

What did you say the book was called?

Oh, gosh. What’s it’s called? I wonder if I have it in my bag? Oh no, I don’t. I’m reading like five books rights now. But it’s a book about habits.

Is that pretty normal for you to be reading multiple books at the same time?

Usually it’s split between three different types of books. … I like reading books about education reform because I want to go into education. Or analytical brain processes, whether it’s habits or learning or success. I guess those could be considered self-help books, but I think they’re just more analytical books. Anything nonfiction. And then I usually have a story, so right now I’m reading “The Fault In Our Stars,” I want to read it before I watch the movie. And then I’m usually I’m reading a collection of poetry [for] when you only have 10 minutes and you don’t want to get too invested in a chapter.

Photo: Autumn de Wilde

Talking about wanting to create something that positively impacts the world and the message that you’re getting out there with “Secrets,” have you ever felt pressure to be this role model to fans as far as speaking out for gay rights and mental illness and loving yourself and everything like that? Or have you totally embraced this role?

I don’t think I’ve ever felt any pressure. I think the only pressure I have is kind of put on by myself and that’s just to be genuine and to be authentic. Because you can get lost in the hype and the ego and the entitlement and so it’s just really important to stay to the core of who you are. And to me, that’s just speaking my truth and talking about body image and talking about gay rights. I mean, that’s just who I am authentically. I don’t mean to have an agenda, it just is there (laughs).

That being said, what is your relationship like with your fans?  

Yeah, I mean, I want my career and my music to be an invitation. I don’t want my career to be insular. I want it to be a shared experience. … I hope that people see me as relatable because I feel like a fan because I’m fans of so many people. I sometimes feel like I just kind of snuck into the industry (laughs). I want my experiences to be shared so I’m really active on social media and my website and I write everything myself so it’s really important to me that people know that I’m speaking authentically and there’s that honest communication.

I was looking at the post on your website when you announced your fall headline tour, where you said you’re packing all your shoes and glitter. You can obviously tell that was written by you as opposed to some press release where they included some quote where you have to wonder whether the artist really said that.

I think I got to a place where I’m never going to be cool. I need to just be totally myself and that means, I think for some people it looks like too much or you’re too excited. I think that there’s a lot of people that have been told you’re too sensitive, you’re too emotional. I spent so long – and of course I’m quoting “Secrets” – but I spent so long trying to be cool or trying to be less than that or trying to take it down a notch. I just embraced [being] an extreme person. I cry one minute and I’m laughing hysterically another and that’s just who I am.

Taking a look at another song on the album, what was behind your decision to include the cover of “Jesse’s Girl”?

“Jesse’s Girl” – I was so, so excited that it got approved to be put on the record. I just love that song and I love that it’s a gender-neutral name and I think it just captures that feeling of pining for somebody and I think it can be applicable for anyone who’s pined after a woman, for sure – gay or straight.

Did you listen to a lot of ‘80s music growing up?

I didn’t. I just loved that song. I was really into alternative rock like Third Eye Blind and Weezer and then singer/songwriters like Tracey Chapman and Jewel and Tori Amos.

You mentioned that the October/November outing is your first headline tour with a band and crew. What was your tour setup like before this?

I had my band with me when I was on tour with Gavin DeGraw and Matt Nathanson but I didn’t have my own crew and I played for about a half hour. And with this tour I get to play for kinda as long as I want, which is great because there’s so much in the show that’s packed into 30 minutes that there’s no way you can fully grasp either the whole album or what I do as an artist. I’m cracking jokes but I’m also doing really intense poetry and then there’s pop music … I’m really glad that people are able to see the variety.

You’ve said that crying is acceptable and even encouraged at your shows. Can you talk a bit about the atmosphere at one of your gigs?

I always apologize in advance, “I’m really sorry but I’m about to fuck you up.” (laughs) It’s an emotional rollercoaster because a lot of the songs are really intense – talking about body image or talking about heartbreak and just feeling things really intensely. I don’t really know how to hold anything back. I mean, that’s part of the idea of Heart On My Sleeve is that I’m really vulnerable and I make myself vulnerable on stage because I think it’s important to connect with people in that way. And all I encourage people to do when they come to a show is just to feel whatever it is they need to feel – whether it’s joy or sadness or healing. I just encourage that practice to happen. I think we’re really disconnected, not just from each other, but ourselves so I want to offer these shows as a moment of connection to all of those things.

In this quote that was sent out promoting the album you mention that this past year has been the best year of your life. You talked about signing to a major label, meeting the woman of your dreams and being on the road. Do you think life is just going to continue to get better?

Yeah, I mean, I think every year since I was about 15 I’ve felt like “I’m peaking!” If this is it, then I’m really happy. I’m just really grateful for every step of the way. There’s [something] to be said for having goals and having projections but it’s really important to be present and to just value where you are in the moment – I’m in a pretty, pretty sweet spot at the moment. If you’re constantly saying, “Well, I want it to be better,” I think that kind of sets you up for a certain kind of expectation that could be crushed. Not to say not to be hopeful but being present is just really important to me.

Photo: Todd Williamson / Invision for Capitol Records / AP Images
The Mint, Los Angeles, Calif.

Upcoming dates for Mary Lambert:

Oct. 17 – Albany, N.Y., College Of Saint Rose
Oct. 19 – Cambridge, Mass., The Sinclair    
Oct. 20 – Brooklyn, N.Y., Music Hall of Williamsburg
Oct. 22 – Philadelphia, Pa., North Star Bar   
Oct. 23 – Washington, D.C., U Street Music Hall    
Oct. 24 – Durham, N.C., Motorco Music Hall          
Oct. 25 – Clearwater, Fla., Capitol Theatre   
Oct. 27 – Atlanta, Ga., The Loft At Center Stage
Oct. 28 – Nashville, Tenn., Mercy Lounge    
Oct. 29 – Columbus, Ohio, A & R Music Bar
Oct. 30 – Portland, Ore., Alhambra Theatre
Nov. 1 – Minneapolis, Minn., Fine Line Music Cafe
Nov. 2 – Omaha, Neb., The Waiting Room  
Nov. 3 – Kansas City, Mo., The Record Bar
Nov. 5 – Denver, Colo., Bluebird Theater     
Nov. 6 – Fort Collins, Colo., Colorado State University
Nov. 7 – Salt Lake City, Utah, The Complex          
Nov. 8 – Anaheim, Calif., The Theatre At Honda Center
Nov. 9 – Mesa, Ariz., Club Red        
Nov. 13 – Boise, Idaho, Knitting Factory Concert House    
Nov. 15 – Vancouver, British Columbia, Rio Theatre
Dec. 2 – Seattle, Wash., WaMu Theatre (106.1 KISS FM Kissmass Jingle Ball)
Dec. 7 – Indianapolis, Ind., Fairgrounds Coliseum
Dec. 21 – Sunrise, Fla., BB&T Center (V100 Jingle Ball)

For more information please visit