Mary Lambert: 'You Change People's Opinions By Opening Your Heart' As a gay Christian, Mary Lambert says singing the hook on Macklemore's "Same Love" is the best introduction she could have hoped for. She speaks with NPR's Arun Rath about finding her own audience.

Mary Lambert: 'You Change People's Opinions By Opening Your Heart'

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

When Mary Lambert sang the hook on Macklemore's 2012 hit "Same Love," her career transformed.

MARY LAMBERT: I mean, around this time, I'm playing venues to, like, six people including my mom. Like, this is not - this is not happening for me.

RATH: She went from performing in coffee shops in Seattle to performing on "Ellen," on the MTV Music Video Awards and at the Grammys.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAMBERT: (Singing) And I can't change, even if I tried, even if I wanted to. And I can't change, even if I tried...

RATH: Now at 25, Mary Lambert is releasing her debut album, "Heart On My Sleeve." She came by NPR West to talk about it, but I had to start by asking her about the song that made her famous.

Are you sick of talking about "Same Love"?

LAMBERT: (Laughter) No, I'm not. It's so much a part of my artistic identity, and I can't really believe that, you know, that's my breakout song, sung about gay rights and social justice and, like, existing in the pop world now. Like, that's my introduction. Like, that's pretty cool.

RATH: How did that come together?

LAMBERT: After I graduated college, I was really experimenting in my writing, at least the feeling of living sort of a contradictory life of being a Christian and a lesbian and feeling, like, that I did not feel like I could coexist in both of those worlds. Like, my Christian friends were like, we love you; you're still going to hell. (Laughter) And, you know, my gay friends were like, why are you hanging out with a group of people that don't value your rights?

And Hollis Wong-Wear, who sings on "White Walls," she and I were friends and did poetry together. She suggested me for the song because she was good friends with Macklemore and Ryan. And she knew that that was sort of a part of my identity and something I was exploring. I was just so, so shocked. I was actually in the process of applying to graduate school to be a teacher. So I was like, OK, I'm going to put that degree on hold and see if I can make this happen. I wrote it, and about two hours after that phone call, I went into that studio, met them for the first time and recorded it that night.

RATH: Let's talk about the new album. I think if people hadn't heard you before, this is a great way to introduce you, is the song "Secrets."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SECRETS")

LAMBERT: (Singing) I've got bipolar disorder. My life's not in order. I'm overweight. I'm always late. I've got too many things to say. I rock mom jeans, cat earrings, extrapolate my feelings.

RATH: So I love how you go from a place, you know, where you're talking about how you couldn't write everything in one song to you have a song where everything's out there.

LAMBERT: (Laughter) All of it. All of the baggage. I just wanted to write a song that was sort of about living unapologetically. I mean, this is a pop song. So I'm not, like - I know that I can't, like, solve all of the world's problems.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SECRETS")

LAMBERT: (Singing) I don't care if the world knows what my secrets are, secrets are.

There might be a nugget where it just clicks in some 13-year-old girl's head that she's valued. And it's not tied up in a pretty bow because this is me showing you how vulnerable I am and asking you, you know, come on, it's OK. It's OK to be vulnerable.

RATH: There's not a pretty bow, but one of the thing's that wonderful is that there's so much humor...

LAMBERT: Yeah (laughter).

RATH: ...Through all of it. I mean, you're talking about some awful stuff at times, but you never lose the humor in there.

LAMBERT: No, it's so important. I mean, I think all of my songs previously have been very slow and sad, and this was sort of a celebration of all that [Bleep] and just being like, here it is. It's out on the page. Now let's dance to it (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SECRETS")

LAMBERT: (Singing) I know I'm not the only one who spent so long attempting to be someone else. Well, I'm over it. I don't care if the world knows what my secrets are.

RATH: I'm speaking with Mary Lambert about her new album, "Heart On My Sleeve." Can you tell me a little bit about your shows because sadly, I've not seen one of your performances? But from what I've heard, they sound not like a concert that I've been to before. You're big into poetry. You do a lot of spoken word...

LAMBERT: Yeah.

RATH: ...As part of it, right?

LAMBERT: Yeah. The shows are like a - it just feels a giant hug. You know, people come and I'm like, welcome to the emotional rollercoaster 'cause I talk about body image. I talk about things that are uncomfortable 'cause I think the things that are uncomfortable are usually things that are shrouded in guilt and shame, and I want to dismantle all of that.

RATH: You have spoken word in several parts on the record. There's one track, "Dear One," that's just a poem.

(SOUNDBITE OF POETRY, "DEAR ONE")

LAMBERT: Where did you come from, bright star? What heaven did you leap from, dear love?

RATH: Why did you pick that one to put in?

LAMBERT: I guess the kind of poems that I was used to writing primarily had to do with social justice and gay rights and things like this. And so for me, this was actually a step. And, like, poetry can be about just love. And you can just talk about it in that way.

(SOUNDBITE OF POETRY, "DEAR ONE")

LAMBERT: I was halved at the moment I was born. The other piece of me is the inside of your mouth, and I was found whole the moment you spoke.

RATH: Pretty much everything on here is original, but you do a cover of Rick Springfield's "Jessie's Girl."

LAMBERT: (Laughter) Yeah.

RATH: And for people who might roll their eyes at Rick Springfield, I just want to say, listen to this song because it's - well, you do it as a pretty powerful ballad.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JESSIE'S GIRL")

LAMBERT: (Singing) Jessie is a friend. Yeah, I know he's been a good friend of mine. But lately something's changed. It ain't hard to define. Jessie's got himself a girl, and I want to make her mine.

I loved that song so much. I also love the gender-neutral name Jessie. I think it's applicable for anybody that's pined after a woman that they couldn't have, you know? But I think it's especially resonate in, like, the gay community when you, like, pine after a straight girl. You know, like, oh, gosh, I wish I had Jessie's girl, you know? (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JESSIE'S GIRL")

LAMBERT: (Singing) I wish that I had Jessie's girl. I wish that I had Jessie's girl. Where can I find a woman like that?

RATH: You talked about how you're writing and performing music that has messages that you wish you had heard when you were 19 or even younger.

LAMBERT: Yeah.

RATH: Are you having young people coming up to now and connecting with you and...

LAMBERT: Big time. It's a really, really emotional experience. The ones that really get me, I get probably about one or two emails a week of girls who are in rehab for eating disorders. To feel like I've been a catalyst for someone else's healing is really incredible. Like, as soon as I start talking about it, I start crying. I cry so much. I cry all the time. I cry happy tears.

RATH: Mary Lambert, it's been a very happy experience speaking with you.

LAMBERT: (Laughter) Yeah.

RATH: Thank you so much.

LAMBERT: I'm glad.

RATH: That's Mary Lambert. Her new album, "Heart On My Sleeve," is out Tuesday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BODY LOVE")

LAMBERT: (Singing) We are, we are more than our scars.

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