A Conversation With Mary Lambert: Bipolar, Bold, Badass

Mary Lambert: Bold

Sometimes my job is pretty cool. But last week it might have reached its pinnacle of coolness.

There really is nowhere to go now but down.

I adore and admire Mary Lambert for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is, she’s the first artist I’ve ever heard sing about being bipolar.

Mary’s new album hits the metaphorical, but probably also actual, shelves today (except where is there a record store anymore?)

This album was produced solo with the help of crowdfunding. This speaks a lot to Mary’s lovability. She asked for donations and boom, done.

It’s called Bold, and boy is it ever.

Debuting at #43, above Lemonade! (Below Trolls, which is just weird). And for only $3.99? It might as well be FREE.

 

Seriously, it’s like she’s giving it away.

Her publicist sent me an advance copy so I’ve been singing in the car and weeping for a few weeks already.

The album starts with “Do Anything”, which (from Mary’s mouth) is kind of about her (amicable) breakup with Capitol Records.

“Do Anything” is the first song I heard. I was in my car alone and beside myself with excitement. I plugged my phone into the aux and heard Mary’s piano and her first words:

Here I wait

Brush against my skin

I feel the waves

Of every open door

I could have stayed

I could have stayed and been fine

I could have stayed

I could have stayed and been fine.

Mary couldn’t have known that in the wake of my divorce, and what I perceived to be the damage I’d done to my kids, I spent years repeating that same phrase to myself. 

I could have stayed and been fine. 

But life isn't just about being "fine," is it? And if it is, are we really living?

I listened to it three more times before I had to get out of the car (you can only sit in the driveway so long before people notice).

I started off our interview by telling Mary about a dream I had where she landed a helicopter on my roof and we went to have burritos at a place where the waitresses only speak Spanish, and we couldn't figure out how to order because neither of us speak Spanish (which it turns out is true).

Then I told her about my connection to "Do Anything," about my tears and how it spoke to me (which is corny as shit, but true), and I asked her about how it connected to her life. 

Joni:    Is "Do Anything" based on your own experience?

Mary:    You know it's funny, where I was with it, it kind of had to do with the place I was in my career. And my relationship with the record label.

Just that, I mean its similar feelings to being in a relationship that doesn't work. You know?

For sure.

So those to me were, they had similar feelings of like, I wonder if this also has to do with when you've experienced maybe intense trauma or like, difficult experiences and the adaptability that you kind of create of your life.

So you just get so good adapting. You just get so good at adapting, so when something difficult that isn't really working out, rather than being like... oh maybe this isn't right, you're like oh I'm not right. I will make myself right for this. You know?

Oh my God yes.

It sucks. Because then, it's like internal shame shit. You know?

You're not really getting what your needs are.

I think especially if you've been a victim of any kind of abuse. You already have that whole like I'm not worth a shit. So who am I to demand this or expect anything out of my life. I think someone told me that at one point. It was actually my therapist. She said to me, why do you think that you cannot be happy? Like what the fuck? Why do you think you're destined to misery? And I'm like I don't know.

Right.

You can't push yourself. But yeah, so the breakup. You said it was amicable, and I believe that but what sort of motivated the whole thing? Just that desire to go out?

Yeah I have actually, I have another album that's finished that I'm sitting on. It's a very heavy album.

It actually it has a lot of overarching themes of shame.

Wow.

We had a big discussion after I sent that album. It was like, hey you seem to be in a different spot. You know like I don't know that were good partners anymore. I think I had that moment of what do you want? What do you want me to be? I'll be what you want me to be.

But no, this is me.

That's you.

Yeah I understand that I'm complicated and complex. I think that all people are complicated and complex. I think that a lot of people have cut off parts of themselves, in order to be digestible.

Oh my God. Yeah.

So, I am going to be as complicated and complex as I actually am. And I understand that that is difficult to market in the pop industry. Like I understand.

It's difficult when you have shareholders and you have millions of dollars at your disposal, trying to figure out where your budget goes to. I get wanting to be risk averse. And that someone that is complex and isn't easily digestible, complicated those things. So for me it was really them being like we don't want to screw this up. We think this is really good. We don't want to screw this up, and you should find a better partner.  I was upset for a little bit, and then I was like oh God they are totally right.  I feel like I've just been trying to make this work, and make this happen. Then I really embraced it.

Even talking to different labels afterwards I was like, okay who is the partner I'm looking for. And just not getting the excitement or understand who I was from other labels, really pulled me to do it and be like I know who my community is. I know who the best partner for me is. It's the people that have really made my music a priority. And also deeply care about the things I care about. And what that would look like? So I sort of started drafting the idea for the Bold campaign. The response just blew me away, like knocked me over.

This is what needed to happen and I'm really grateful for everything that happened the way it did. Because I don't regret being on a major label. I don't. It served a great purpose. It really, like the fact that Secrets, did go gold and was on the radio. You know, announcing bipolar disorder in the first ten seconds.

That was its own sort of cool. And to have a huge campaign and a label push behind it was really neat. I don't regret any part of it you know?

I love it. The other thing too I think, because I feel a little bit like this professionally, is when you're sharing your truth that may not be important or accessible or what other people want to see or read. But the people that do want to see it and do read it are the ones that need to. That's like people like me that connect to your music in a personal way. Those people want that heavy, we want to feel that feeling in that poetic sense of this is struggle, this is pain, and holy shit I'm not alone. 

Absolutely.

Okay, who are influences for you? I'm named after Joni Mitchell. You remind me a lot of her in the way that your music is so poetic. 

I love it! I would say when I first started out it was really Jewel. From what I've read we had kind of similar backgrounds. She would play in coffee houses and she was thirteen. So when I was thirteen I was like I'm going to play in coffee houses.

So I played at Starbucks.

It was great and my first tattoo was sort of dedicated to that too. Her song, "Save Your Soul." I just, she was just a huge inspiration to me. And then as I got older really, really fell in love with Tori Amos.

And just her, the way that she just imagines things and just makes them come to life, orchestrally. Like her piano parts are just stupid, they are just so good.

Like stupid good.

Stupid good yeah. Who else? I'm a sucker for classics. I love Billy Holiday, I think that you have to trust those recordings. There's no auto tune.

For sure. So, is there going to be some touring? By which I mean are you going to be coming to California and meeting me for a burrito?

Yes, we will touring in the fall. It sucks right now because we haven't figured out routing or what, we've just been scheduling. But the plan is for the fall. We’re just going to tour all of California for thirty days.

California is a fun place.  All right so I'm a crier. I'm a super crier. I cry so much. You are also a self-admitted crier, right?

Yes.

What is the last thing that made you cry?

Oh I cried, when did I cry? I know it's pretty good. Oh my girlfriend has a new album coming out and I got to hear it. And I cried because it was so good.

Oh I love that. I cried this morning, twice already.

Why did you cry?

I cried because my best friend and I went to breakfast. We haven't seen each other in a while and her dad just died.

And I had just written an article for next week, about giving your kids mental illness, because it's so complex. You know people have said to me, you're so selfish why would you have kids knowing that they could, they have a forty percent chance of being bipolar.

And I'm like well I don't know. Being bipolar wasn't a death sentence for me.

Right. Yes.

I mean it sucks sometimes.

That's an article.

Right? Well here's the thing. I have a love/hate relationship with meds. I don't know if you feel this way, but of course I love them because they keep me alive. I hate them because I feel like they steal some of my creative energy. And I'm on a mood stabilizer that makes me forget words.

What are you on?

Lamictal.

Oh I'm on Lamotrigine [generic name for Lamictal]!

Same! Do you have that word finding thing?

I did, I had some weird slow sort of cognitive delays, when I was on a higher dosage. So I started at 500, that was when I was really on my peak of like really really intense episodes. I sort of worked myself down, I'm now at 200 milligrams. Where are you at?

Three hundred.

That's where I was. I couldn't remember if I did something. I couldn't remember conversations.

To me that was inhibiting some of my real life stuff.

So I would try to be like, I don't know if I'm ever going to be somebody that's off of meds. But I would like to know, let me test this. You know? Rather than being like, now I'm going to get off meds, that's stupid.

But if I can, I really started lowering my dosage when I was at 300, because I was just slow and not remembering things.

And since I've gotten down to my 200 I am like a lot sharper, I remember more conversations. I'm still pretty forgetful but not like I was.

My thing is words, its words. And that's not good for a writer. Like I will know the word, but I can't grab it. To the point where I will be asking people around me, what is the word I'm looking for? It means this. And they are like just guessing.

I resent meds sometimes. I feel sometimes like who's under there? You know?

Totally.

Like who I am underneath?

Yeah. Absolutely. That was like a big emphasis for, "Lay Your Head Down," would be like me forgetting my meds and then being a complete fucking wreck and then being like oh God. Am I a wreck because this is who I really am underneath my meds?

I totally feel you.

Man that is too real.

Okay, you've talked about experiences, as being a fat person. Where did, how did your body politics develop?

It's definitely been a journey. Because I would say a year ago, I was not calling myself a fat person I would say I'm a plus size person.

And now I'm like very much like I am a fat person that wears crop tops. I think that saying it is challenging to people, and I think that it's radical and especially hearing responses, and I'm like no I'm a fat woman and someone is like "no, no, no, you're so pretty you're not fat." I'm like, stop it.

These adjectives do not, like fat does not inherently mean disgusting. I would not say I am a disgusting person. I am, like by our stupid standards and BMI, I like am a fat person. You know what I mean?

I'm chill with that. You seem to be the person that has the problem. You know like, when people are so upset about it.

I remember, there's never been a time in my life where I've been thin. You know? There was a time when I was more active. When I was dancing, when I was consumed by how much I weighed, and thinking about that.

And I can safely say I am the happiest I've ever been with my body now, than I was before. And I also believe this is the healthiest I've ever been. And I don't believe that's a coincidence.

And I think that one thing I really learned is self-love doesn't happen overnight. And often times when people have issues with their bodies, it's not just self-loathing. There is usually something else attached to it.

Like they don't like a part of themselves. Like when I hated my body I hated other parts of my brain. There was many things I hated about myself. And just because I heard a song that was, love yourself, or read a meme on Facebook that was profound it didn't, it doesn't change you overnight.

You don't go from complete self-loathing to loving yourself from top to bottom. What I wanted to know was what were those, what are those steps in between. And I came to this realization with this, something called aesthetic indifference, I'm going to look at my body as function rather than a determiner of beauty, and maybe that will come after. If I can strip away the attachment of, I love my fat rolls.

Like, I'm not there yet. And if I can be like, my body functions in a great way, whatever the rest of the world has assigned to what my body is, like that's garbage. That's no longer in my realm. Can I just look at the mirror for practical purposes, rather than like.

Do I have spinach in my teeth or something?

Exactly. Yeah, or like brushing my teeth or my hair or something. Rather than being like am I good? Am I bad?

It's a great process, it's a painful process, I think often it's painted as this, like you become a flower and you love yourself.

Yeah, no, it's messy.

Yeah it's messy. So often you're like oh shit, I actually have more work that I have to do. You're like never fully done.

Yeah I went from having an eating disorder to not, but that doesn't make me cured. Like I'm not fine now, because I'm still working out the body stuff. Just because I started eating again doesn't mean everything is fixed, everybody's like oh you're better.

Like no not quite.

Okay, I'll let you get to your other interview.

We could talk all day.

And you know what? WE COULD HAVE.

Mary is kind and real and genuine and so much like me. I just want to go have a burrito with her.

Buy her album, I promise you will thank me. 

 

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