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Q&A: 20 questions with Mary Lambert

Mary Lambert talks about the flowers on her arm -- and more.
Mary Lambert talks about the flowers on her arm -- and more.
(Capitol Records)

Nothing is off-limits for Mary Lambert. The 25-year-old Seattle singer-songwriter, who broke out by providing the emotional hook on Macklemore &; Ryan Lewis’ equality anthem “Same Love,” has explored sexuality, religion and abuse in her music and poetry.

Her recently released debut, “Heart On My Sleeve,” is packed with searing and confessional tunes -- the album opens with her singing about bipolar disorder on the punchy, liberating lead single, “Secrets.”

Having already revealed so much of her self on her album, we asked Lambert to play a lighthearted round of 20 questions during a break on her current tour. Naturally, she was game.

What’s the story behind your half-sleeve tattoo?
It’s kinda like my ‘heart on my sleeve.’ Just kidding, that was so cheesy. I first got three pansies because I’m actually Mary the Fifth. My mom, grandma, great-grandma -- we’re all named Mary and we all play piano and sing. All the Marys in my life have had gardens with pansies in them. I’ve never lived in a place where I could have a garden and now I’m too busy, so I thought, “I’m going to put a garden on my arm.” There’s pansies and then I have rhododendrons because it’s the Washington state flower.

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At the Grammys, dozens of couples were married during your performance of “Same Love.” Who would you want to sing at your wedding?
Ooh, I mean Madonna and Queen Latifah could totally come back and do a reunion show. But who would i want? Someone close to us; I wouldn’t want it be for a celebrity factor. I would want one of our friends’ bands to play.

Do you already know your wedding song?
“Same Love” -- just kidding. I don’t know. That’s something Michelle and I would have to think about. I’d want it to be really special to both of us, but I’m a huge fan of “At Last” as a wedding song. But what’s also really cool is songs that no one else would have at their wedding, like an obscure Radiohead song.

Your twist on “Jessie’s Girl” was brilliant, but what’s a current song you would have given the cover treatment if given the opportunity?
Two songs that I can’t get enough of right now: One Direction’s “Steal My Girl” and Hozier’s “Take Me to Church.” I think I’d do like a pansy version of Hozier.

The heaviness of secrets is the theme of your single. What’s a silly secret you recently revealed?
I don’t have a sense of smell. I know, it’s dumb. And the things that are really aromatic that people enjoy I hate. Like grapefruit ... It tastes so bad.

You have an affinity for margaritas -- what’s your favorite?
I like a standard margarita with a little bit of a twist. We used to make this one at the bar I worked at. It was made with peach nectar, smoked sea salt, tequila slightly infused with ghost chili peppers and a fresh flower.

What’s the first thing you thought when you woke up this morning?
“Oh [expletive].” So I’m staying in this hotel in New York and it has a built-in sound system in the wall and I had this beautiful view of the skyline and I had the best night ever, so I plugged my phone in and listened to very cinematic music and I left it on all night. This morning I was woken up by this guy very angrily knocking on my door. He was so mad.

Last great movie you saw?
“Chef.” It just tells a good story. There didn’t need to be some ridiculous drama to pull you. And the shots of food? Just amazing.

Must-have item before a show?
I like to have a Red Bull. I know I’m not supposed to. But it’s just nice to have a little pop, a burst of energy before a show.

Biggest fear?
Can I tell you a funny story? I was looking at my old elementary school journals and we got asked to do an autobiography in fourth grade. Mine was “I’m Mary Lambert and I like music” and the next one was to list our fears. I wrote “I’m afraid of dying and segregation.” I’m still scared of those things. But my biggest fear, right now, is losing my voice -- not physically, but losing my ability to correctly say my intentions.

Weirdest place you’ve ever written a song?
Depends on whose definition of weird. For me, it’s very weird to be writing a song in a recording studio with three other people watching me, and that’s how I wrote most of the record. My natural state is to be writing a song, wasted on my kitchen floor, crying. That’s totally normal. But in the daytime? Sober? What?

Ever tell an ex a song was about her and then played it for her?
Yeah, all the time. Well, not all the time. I think there’s a lot of people who even though they aren’t interested in their exes, or want them anymore, part of them wants to know that there’s still a hook or still a string attached to them. I think artists do this especially. It’s something I think I’ve conditioned out of myself at this point. But I used to do that.

Dream travel destination?
I went to the U.K. briefly to record, but I haven’t really traveled outside of the country. I want to go to Italy and France, those are my two places. And I really want to go to Greece. I’ve seen so many pictures on Airbnb that make me think I should be living there. I could eat great salads and be on a boat.

First time someone recognized you for your music?
The coolest of the first of those things was I had just been on our local station, right after “Same Love” was released. I was walking to a bar and this guy just reaches out as we’re walking across the crosswalk and fist-bumps me.

One goal you want to accomplish within the next year?
I want to go on an international tour. I want to tour a lot, but in an organized way where I still get to go home and feel like a human and not like a machine.

How do you keep from feeling like a machine?
I’m still figuring that out. I think it’s just practice. We’re really conditioned in our society to say, “If I keep doing this, then I’ll have time to do that later.” It’s the nature of procrastination, but not in a fun way.

Last thing you ate?
I just had a piece of turkey jerky.

What’s in your pocket right now?
My gosh, I dont have anything in my pockets. That’s very rare for me -- I have nothing.

In your liner notes, you address your 16-year-old self. What piece of advice do you have for her?
I’d tell her, “Your self-worth is not contingent upon someone else’s attraction toward you. Just because you’re not thin does not mean you’re ugly. You are beautiful because of the light you carry inside you. You are beautiful because you say you are, and you hold yourself that way.”

You also addressed sad Christmas trees in your notes. You see a lot of particularly sad ones?
Yes! The last pick of the litter at the Christmas tree place. They are always so sad, and they keep getting passed by. I want to take them all and hug them.

Lambert will perform at MYFM’s My Big Night Out concert alongside Train, Magic, Christina Perri and Nico & Vinz on Saturday at the Theatre at Honda Center in Anaheim.

Follow me @GerrickKennedy


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