Editorials — August 12, 2013 10:54 — 0 Comments

The Monarch Drinks With Mary Lambert


My evening with Mary Lambert – the female voice who brought immense life to Macklemore’s song “Same Love” – begins over the phone when she calls me almost in tears. She is running late for our interview because of a dentist appointment, which has rendered her mouth numb.  I wonder if she will cancel because of such an unexpected turn of events in her day, but she only thanks me for my patience and shows up anyway. 

When she arrives at Ivar’s on Alaskan Way, she says, “I need to be grateful for every moment, even when it’s stressful because this is the life I always wanted… even when it doesn’t feel good, it’s still good.”

Mary goes on to tell me all about the business meetings she’s been attending around the country.  There is talk of managers, labels, and becoming a “smarter business woman” that greatly impresses me.  When the waiter comes by, we order clams.

“This is a new development,” she says, “me and shellfish.  I never ate shellfish before.  When you’re in the slums – you know, the poorer part of town – you don’t know what clams and mussels are… are they fried?”

“What do you mean, ‘the slums’?”

“I grew up in South Everett.  It’s not the slums, it’s just a really poor part of the city.  It’s not technically in the city lines of Everett, but Lynnwood won’t claim it either, so it’s sort of this gray area. I watched it decline. The bus system went from North Everett to South Everett, and then at some point the city of Everett didn’t want to pay for it, so they cut off.  They cut off all public transportation to South Everett, and to watch this steady decline of its people, of its community, was really serious.”

I wonder how she managed to succeed under such circumstances.  But Mary has an uncanny way of knowing what to say next without being prompted.

“The reason, I think, that I ended up thriving in that environment was that there were a ton of cultures. I mean, people from everywhere that I just soaked up.  You know, I was friends with everybody.”

“I’m sure.”

“It was also because we were in this financial disparity.“ We are interrupted by the waiter who takes Mary’s order for a super dirty martini and I get something with vodka and ginger.  He swings the menus around and drops one on the floor.  Mary laughs a beautiful, genuine laugh.  We all smile.

“So you said you soaked up all of the backgrounds of the people who were there…”

“I think that’s why people say, ‘You have so much soul and pain in your voice.’  Well, I grew up surrounded by people that were, you know, in rough situations… my mom was really sad, and wrote music…” Mary trails off here, then says, “but the reason that I think I wouldn’t have changed going anywhere else was the Bill Gates grant.  Bill Gates gave a huge, massive grant to my high school because it was one of the poorest high schools in the state.”

She describes the makeover her high school got. “It was a legit school, but the biggest thing was scholarships.  He gave them to people that were in the lowest income bracket.  My mother was a single mother and so we qualified and I got a $40,000 scholarship and it was to any in-state school and I was like, ‘I get to go to Cornish.’  There has been a lot, a lot of fortune that has smiled upon me. I worked hard for it, but I’ve also been in the right place at the right time.”

We chat about her early years at Cornish and the songwriting that developed thereafter.  I ask, “Is there a moment you remember deciding you wanted to be a songwriter?” Apparently I’m not the first person to ask her this question.

“I have actually been thinking about this all day because I feel like I’ve answered this question so many times that I have sort of this mechanical answer that I give, and it becomes so much of an auto-response.”  She starts to give the auto-response in a very matter-of-fact tone and cuts herself off.  She acknowledges it and then says something that hits me hard.

“I think I’ve neglected to tell a lot of people that I wanted people to like me.  And I thought that if I had a talent that I would have friends.  I was a really lonely kid.  I wouldn’t say that I was bullied, I was just excluded a lot, and just really in my own head.  When you’re sexually abused and you’ve really been a traumatic environment, you have this amazing capability to just go.  You’re gone.  You can be in a totally different universe.  And so, I just did that for so long.”


She attributes this history as one of the main reasons she picked up piano at 7 years old and guitar at 9.  Mary then remembers one of her first recitals:

“My first real, serious song was when I was about 11 and I did it at a talent show and it was so sad.”  Mary sings one of the phrases from this song which includes the line, “Mama’s gonna buy you a brand new life.”  She then laughs hard.  We both do, and she says, “How tragic and sad!” Her singing somehow is not affected by the lingering dentistry work.

“So sad!” I agree. I note that this reminds me of a scene in the film Whale Rider when the main character, Paikea, gives a speech about one of the Maori myths of her people and dedicates it to her grandfather who isn’t present.  It’s a heartbreaking moment that capitulates this vibrant young girl’s longing to be someone important in her economically depressed village.  It is easy to make this analogy with Mary’s childhood and who she must have been to her community growing up.

“I want to ask you about your experience of being a survivor, and how that has become a part of your path and where you see it affecting your future career and relationships.”

“That’s funny, I’ve been thinking about all of these questions today and I was trying to ask myself the really good ones and I think that sexual abuse, abuse in general, trauma in general, becomes somewhat a part of your identity whether you want it to or not… and the really interesting thing that I don’t think is talked about a lot–“ Mary cuts herself off and speculates that she’s about to go off topic.

“Nothing is off topic.”

“Okay.  I’ve just been thinking about why– “ the waiter interrupts again as I lean in closer to hear what she’s about to say.  Mary is concerned about my drink and asks me if I got what I wanted.

“I just want you to be happy,” she says.

“I’ve very, very happy.  I cannot wait to hear what you are going to say.”

“Okay, so the music video [for “She Keeps Me Warm”] – It’s a lesbian love story and it’s me and a friend of a friend and she’s just super cute and it’s gonna be really gay and really awesome.”  Mary mentions the offers she’s had to premier the video and is “gearing up for those discussions” that will inevitably include topics like, “What was your goal?” She continues, “And I’m feeling like, obviously I wanted to provide visibility for a gay relationship.  That, I mean, is agenda one.  But I also did it in a way that isn’t about oppression or about any political thing.  It’s just love because that’s what it’s about.  But the second thing is, I also did it mostly because I have an ego and I wanted to be in the video–” We chuckle. She goes on, “I think what I realize it’s going to do is that…” Mary pauses before presenting me with her other agenda. “Big girls in media are never really sexy or romantic.  It’s like a stigma.  ‘Cause you see, Rebel Wilson is one of my favorites.”


“She’s sexy!  I think she’s gorgeous!”


“And her role, her body, is used as a comedic element.  In the same ways that the girl from ‘Bridesmaids’…”


“Yeah, McCarthy.  Their bodies are used as comedic things and they’re not, and when they are in sex scenes, it’s as a joke.  It’s comical.”  Mary lists off characters who have tried to reverse this trend.  “There was Bridget Jones.  There was, uh, Ugly Betty, that was one, but at the same time, they’re not.  They’re not!  Bridget is a size 10, size 12 maybe.”


“Not someone that’s a size 18.  I’m a size 18 and I feel, I feel sexy, I feel romantic.  I feel like I can be in those positions and that it’s okay.  So I think I’m kind of scared of what’s going to happen.  But a part of me is like, you know what?  I went to high school.  I’ve already been called everything that you could possibly call somebody.  I’ve already been there, so throw something at me.”

“To me, just hearing you say that, it sounds like that second message is neck and neck with the first.”

“I think so.  But I think, originally, it wasn’t intended that way.  It was just intended that I wanted to play the part!”  She laughs again about her desire to star in the video.

“But I don’t want to be the one that’s like, ‘I’m the pioneer of these things,’ you know?”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to claim that.  Because I don’t know what’s out there.”

I mention to Mary that my book club is about to read The Beauty Myth and that I wish I had read it in preparation for our interview. “Do you think that body image awareness, acceptance, etcetera, is improving in the wake of Referendum 74? Is acceptance reverberating into other spheres?“ I ask.

“I think it is. I think it is slowly and I think that it’s not taken as seriously, but I also think that that’s kind of okay.” There’s a long pause. I look at her with surprise.

“I’ll put it this way. I feel like, now I can go online and rent a gown from Badgley Mischka that’s in my size.  I could never do that before.” I feel relieved that this is on record. I’ll have to Google that website later. Mary is a self-proclaimed femme and far more fashionable than I am. She then tells me she’s been working on another theory about survivors and body image.

“I would say 70% of the women I know have been molested, raped, or sexually harassed in their lifetime,” she says. “I don’t think that people are having the conversation about what sexual abuse does to the effect of your body. When you are violated, your body suddenly feels not worthy. When you don’t feel worthy, you don’t want to take care of yourself, you don’t have self-worth.”

Mary goes on to describe a conversation she had with her counselor about people who have experienced sexual trauma. “She said, ‘85% of her clients who are obese have gone through some sort of sexual abuse.’ I’m not so worried about the portrayal of body image, I’m more worried about sexual abuse.” Mary’s candor astonishes me and it is with a great deal of eagerness that I ask about her current relationship.

“How did you meet your partner Rachel?”

“We met onliiiiiiiine!” Mary sings.

“Booooo Yaaaaah!” I sing back.

“Yeah, we met on OK-Cupid.” We decide they need to star in one of their commercials.

“So tell me about the process of getting to know each other and falling in love.”

“I could talk about Rachel for an hour. I’ve just been waiting for that honeymoon to sort of like get over, but it will be three years soon and I’m the luckiest man or woman on earth.  Three years ago, four years ago?  I was about to be homeless, living out of my car, didn’t know how I was going to pay rent, working 15 hours a week at a serving job, barely making it through college, single, a hot fucking mess, drunk all the time, and then to think that-fast forward to right now-where my life is… I have the cutest apartment that’s four blocks from Pike Place, it’s a one bedroom with French doors and exposed brick, I live with the fucking love of my life who is basically a chef, I get to perform live in front of thousands of people all the time, and then I come home and work on my own stuff.  I mean, it’s just… It’s just…”

“Wonderful,” I say, finishing her thought because it sounds true. Sitting there with her over clams and drinks it is impossible not to be happy for Mary Lambert.


Julia Massey is a Seattle writer and musician. She plays in the band Julia Massey and the Five Finger Discount.

Leave a Reply

The answer isn't poetry, but rather language

- Richard Kenney