Updated Monday, January 14, 2013 at 12:47 PM
You can’t imagine the song without her. The tenderness, the acknowledgment that verges on a plea, and the ribbon of Bible verse that leaves the listener with this thought: “Love is patient, love is kind.”
Strange to think, then, that Mary Lambert was almost the last resort when Seattle rapper Macklemore was searching for a voice to accompany him on “Same Love,” the song that would become the overnight anthem for the same-sex marriage campaign in Washington state, and beyond.
Lambert, 23, a spoken-word poet and bartender at Belltown’s Clever Bottle, is only now processing the wild ride of the last six months, during which she was invited to write and record the bridge on “Same Love,” watched it explode, toured with Macklemore and appeared on national television, then returned home to find not only same-sex marriage approved, but her life completely changed.
“It’s just surreal,” she said the other day. “I feel like I have to pinch myself. It’s a little overwhelming.”
Now the voluptuous Lambert is taking the stage on her own. She will sing and read from her new book of poetry, “500 Tips for Fat Girls,” at 8 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Fremont Abbey Grand Hall, in Seattle.
She will be accompanied by friend and poet Rose McAleese, who won this year’s Seattle Grand Slam poetry competition. (Lambert won in 2011.)
The event is sure to draw those who have been following Lambert’s slam-poetry career for the last several years, but also those drawn by her performance on “Same Love,” which helped Macklemore’s album “The Heist” reach No. 1 on the U.S. iTunes download charts, and debut at No. 2 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart.
(Another single, the raucous “Thrift Shop,” reached platinum last week, marking 1 million sales. Trippin’.)
The success of “Same Love,” has given Lambert new courage with her art. She called “500 Tips,” a “really vulnerable book” that she has been working on for five years.
“This year I was determined to get it done,” she said. “There were certain poems that I wanted to put in, and I was scared.
“But that’s who I am,” she said. “Every time I perform, I want to be raw and put myself out there. I want to take people with me to these weird and sometime dark places.”
She got to know those places growing up in South Everett, where her parents raised her in a Pentecostal Christian church. Then her mother came out as a lesbian, her parents divorced and Lambert felt adrift.
“It was pretty gnarly,” she said. “But Everett is also where I learned how to sing, how to belt. People used to say there was a black girl inside of me.”
After her family’s split from her childhood church, Lambert joined the evangelical church: “They had a great band, and everyone was so excited, so on fire for Jesus.”
Then, at 17, she fell in love with a girl.
“I fought it for a long time,” Lambert said. “Then I fell in love with another girl and then I decided I would repent every day, because I knew I wasn’t going to change. But that was absurd.”
While attending Mariner High School, she was awarded an Achievers Scholarship from the Gates Foundation, which provided her with $40,000 to go to any Washington state college. She enrolled in the music-composition program at Cornish College of the Arts, moved to Seattle and started performing her poetry at Slam Nights around the city.
Last summer, Lambert was at Ikea with her girlfriend, Rachel, when they spotted Macklemore, whose name is Ben Haggerty, shopping with his girlfriend.
As they followed them through the maze of the store, Lambert made a point of humming every time he got close.
“I was hoping he would say, ‘That’s the voice!’ ”
Six months later, she would be.
Lambert got a call one day from Hollis Wong-Wear, a poet and producer who was helping Macklemore with “The Heist” album, and knew Lambert from poetry slams.
Lambert seemed a perfect fit for a song about same-sex love and acceptance, Wong-Wear told her.
“It was the first time my demographic helped,” she said.
Producer Ryan Lewis would email her the track, which initially had Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out,” as the bridge. Lambert had a few hours to come up with something else before meeting Macklemore and Lewis at a recording studio in North Seattle.
“I went home and flipped out,” Lambert said. “My whole life was hinging on this moment.”
She went home and called up the track.
“I thought it was beautiful, and I was really shocked,” she said. “I had never heard anything like it before.”
The song spoke to her. Lambert loves hip-hop, but as a gay woman, she was constantly frustrated with its objectification of women and homophobia.
She came up with “I can’t change, even if I try, even if I wanted to.” And then, “My love, my love, my love she keeps me warm.”
Lambert felt moved to include a Biblical reference. She tried “Love is patient, love is kind,” from Corinthians, and wrote two more verses: “My conscience is clear, I’m good with God,” and “Not crying on Sundays.”
“It was in a positive aspect,” she said. “It was me saying, ‘I am a gay Christian. I am comfortable.’ I don’t feel like it’s bashing anyone.”
At the studio, Lambert sang with the track, then broke down in tears.
Lewis told her he didn’t want to change a thing.
A couple of weeks later, Lewis sent Lambert the single. She and her girlfriend listened to it sitting in the car.
“We were crying,” she said. “It was a beautiful moment.”
We all know what happened after that.
The single was released. Lambert appeared in the video for “Same Love.” Her Facebook page blew up with comments and friend requests.
On tour, Macklemore plugged her EP, “Letters Don’t Talk” from the stage at every show, and sales soared. Ellen DeGeneres hugged her on national television.
“I had been doing this for 10 years,” Lambert said. “I wasn’t sure if I felt like I had deserved this kind of success.”
Oh, but it is hers to enjoy now, and Lambert, ever the artist, continues to write, and sing, all the while celebrating another success: the passage of same-sex marriage in Washington.
“I was there the night the first licenses were given out,” she said. “It was so emotional and touching.”
Lambert is touring the Northeast and Canada with her new book, and then will retreat to Hedgebrook, the Whidbey Island writer’s retreat, to work on whatever comes out of her.
“I want to keep up the momentum,” she said. “I am so grateful.”
Nicole & Co. appears Sundays in NW Arts&Life. Reach her at 206-464-2334; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @nicolebrodeur. Subscribe on Facebook: facebook.com/STNicoleBrodeur.
Mary Lambert “500 Tips for Fat Girls” book release event (with poet Rose McAleese), 8 p.m., Jan. 19, Fremont Abbey Grand Hall, 4272 Fremont Ave. N, Seattle; $10.
Washington State Governor’s Inaugural Ball: This event is being billed as a “small, intimate party” for 5,000 people with $100 to spare. But since it’s being held in the Legislative Building and Temple of Justice at the Capitol Campus in Olympia, it may also serve as one of the better-placed high-school reunions in state history. After all, new Gov. Jay Inslee is a former Ingraham High School star forward and the starting quarterback on the school’s football team. He even married his high-school sweetheart. Break out the beer bongs, crank up The 5th Dimension and loosen your ties, people. It’s down to serious state business in the morning. For tickets to this Jan. 16 event, go to www.wastategovball.org, or call 360-462-0012.
Sunday, Scotchy Sunday: We don’t recommend trying them all, but more than 100 Scottish single malt varieties will be available to taste, along with tapas plates, during a benefit for West Sound Wildlife Shelter wildlife rescue and rehabilitation hospital. The fun starts 5 p.m., Jan. 13 at IslandWood, 4450 Blakely Ave. N.E., Bainbridge; $150 (206-855-9057 or www.westsoundwildlife.org).
Seattle’s Mary Lambert will perform in Fremont Jan. 19.