Heather Mae, a powerful singer-songwriter of husky-voiced contagious pop was featured June 8 at Ridge Avenue Philadelphia Folksong Society’s Singing Out Tour.
To promote her last EP, “I Am Enough,” and introduce her upcoming album, “Glimmer,” due in September, Mae has dropped a couple songs. One of those, “Feelin’ Crazy,” attempts to shatter stigmas surrounding mental health — personal to Mae who lives with bipolar.
Another, “You Are My Favorite,” released ahead of the International Day Against Homophobia, features video footage from her engagement, wedding and life with her wife.
“Rah is such a positive creative force in my life and in my career,” said Mae of her wife. “Before her, I had only known partners that first said, ‘You can’t do that,’ and with her it’s always, ‘That sounds just weird enough to work.’ Watching her unleash her creativity on my music is the greatest honor of my life. And, for the music video for ‘You Are My Favorite,’ the lyrics are literally taken from my wedding vows.”
Mae said her new album, “Glimmer,” didn’t come without struggle.
“After a hard year of touring in 2017, to bigger and bigger crowds, I came home, and it’s just tough to go from applause every night to silence,” she said.
“My therapist says I have a bipolar job and for someone with bipolar disorder, this takes a lot of management. When I came home from tour this time, I decided to sit with whatever I was feeling rather than push it away or medicate my way through it. I put my hands on my piano and I wrote through it,” Mae continued.
It’s that sort-of frankness that makes Mae a force. She didn’t only come out as queer in 2016, when she dropped her EP, “I Am Enough.” She also came out as someone who lives with bipolar disorder.
“My song ‘Wanderer’ has a lyric that sings ‘in your eyes I see a woman that I could love.’ That was my announcement to the world that I am who I am, and I’m no longer hiding. Coming out as someone with bipolar disorder was a whole other thing. Mental illness is so stigmatized. No one wants to be the crazy one in the room because there is still this tired narrative in our country that anyone with mental illness can’t be trusted, can’t be a good friend, can’t be good at their job, which is all a bunch of bullshit. One in four Americans struggles with mental illness. I am one of them, and if I could help break the stigma, if I can help my fans stay alive, feel empowered, feel understood, then I had to come out as someone with bipolar disorder.”
Mae doesn’t play piano in a gentle manner typical of the singer-songwriter genre, she hammers and grooves in a fashion reminiscent of vintage Elton John.
“Thank you!” she exclaimed, when given the compliment. “I love Elton John. I’m so honored. I am a very rhythmic player and writer. I have a tendency to write the drumbeat before anything else, so that is a huge influence on my piano playing, for sure.”
Mae’s messages are as potent as her musical dynamics are complex and rich. With tunes such as “Warrior” and “You Are My Favorite,” she produces meaningful work.
“I’m not going to put myself behind a song unless it’s something that I absolutely believe in,” she said. “I’m trying to leave behind a legacy of helping the world. At the end of my life, whenever that may be, I want to look back at every song, every album, every video and know that I did what I could to make this world a better place.”
Even the stops on Mae’s tour are thoughtful, as she departs from the norm.
Mae said, “I knew this EP was going to be changing the trajectory of my career, so I made a vow to not just tour to the easy cities like Nashville, NYC, and LA. I wanted to play these songs in marginalized communities and in towns where LGBTQ people maybe don’t normally have a space to gather. To be honest, the release of ‘Glimmer’ later this year will have me touring more than I’ve toured before.”
The Singing Out Tour is a national tour, centering on LGBTQ Pride month celebrations. This year, Mae is playing 24 shows in 30 days across 15 states.
Afterward, she said, “I’m definitely going to need some time on a beach with a book and a bikini, to decompress.”