In 2012, Mary Lambert had a mutual friend who worked with rapper Macklemore and DJ/producer Ryan Lewis. They were working on a song for their debut album The Heist called “Same Love,” lyrically about marriage equality, and were in search of a chorus.
“I was the last resort on that song. They had asked everybody, they asked every gay artist to do this song,” the singer recalled in a phone conversation with The Blade. “Either it didn’t fit or people turned it down. They were on a time crunch and sent me the song [and said], ‘You have a couple of hours, do you want to go in the studio?’ They were on such a tight timeline.
“They were skeptical. They were like, ‘Who is this crying bitch?’” Lambert said with a small laugh. “But it worked out.”
Lambert, who was working at three restaurants at the time of the song’s release, quickly saw herself receive Grammy nominations for song and album of the year and was catapulted from her eight-people-a-show average to a performance with pop icon Madonna at the 2014 Grammy Awards seen by millions. As icing on the cake, Capitol Records then expressed interest.
What: Mary Lambert with special guest Mal Blum
Where: Blind Pig, 208 S. First St., Ann Arbor
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Lambert’s fans know the singer-songwriter was raised in an abusive home in Washington; she survived multiple sexual assaults, attempted suicide when she was 17 years old, and dealt with alcohol and drug abuse before eventually being diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
But from a very young age, the pop/spoken word artist has written about her past traumas in her music. When she was 9 she learned guitar chords to Britney Spears’ “(You Drive Me) Crazy” and turned it into a lullaby about death, playing it to her Girl Scout troop.
“All the moms from the troop were crying because I had this very mature voice and I was writing from a raw point of view,” she said. “I distinctly remember that feeling, there is a power in this, and I don’t know what I had just done to these women, but I’m going to use my powers for good.”
“Secrets,” the opening track from her 2014 Capitol Records debut album Heart on My Sleeve, immediately addresses those things. She sings, “I’ve got bipolar disorder/my [expletive] not in order/I’m overweight/I’m always late.”
“I feel comfortable talking about all trauma,” she said in advance of her Thursday night appearance at Ann Arbor’s Blind Pig. “What I have to be careful of is the exploitation of my own trauma and making sure there is a function behind it rather than just being like, ‘Here is my really sad story.’ I want there to be a function behind the message and storytelling. I think we should start considering storytelling as a form of a therapy.”
She later left Capitol Records and raised $20,000 in eight hours using a Kickstarter campaign for her 2017 EP Bold. The project features seven powerful piano-driven pop songs that showcase Lambert using spoken word in “Lay Your Head Down.”
She talks about regularly crying in the track as she recites “because I used to cry alone because I wanted to die, and now I cry harder because your shoulder is so soft, because the sunset is so beautiful on the Connecticut River, I cry because I am scared I am losing my mind, or because I’m on meds, Or I’m crying because I forgot my meds.”
“When I write poetry I just say whatever the [expletive] I want to say, and it exercises a different muscle,” she said. “I’m really grateful to have these outlets and approaches to creating art because I need all of theses forms of expression or I would die.”
But don’t expect to see the musician at the merchandise table before or after the show. She decided earlier in her career it’s too overwhelming to bottle up the pain of everyone who listens to her music. She said she is the type of person who wants to help people, but finds it best to do so through her music.
“This girl told me she has been healing from her eating disorder because of ‘Body Love.’ I take ownership of that, that means I also have to take ownership of the other stuff,” she said. “When someone tells me they slit their wrists because I didn’t tweet them back that means I have to take that home at the end of the day, and I just refuse to do that now.
“I’m so happy to be a part of someone’s journey, but remembering people's healing is their own journey and they did that themselves.”
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