It’s not easy to make it in show business, where body type and image are as valued as skill.
Heather Mae has succeeded in an industry in which airbrushed models and thin singers are the norm.
The sensitive singer/songwriter, who is a plus-sized lesbian with bipolar disorder, has a strong fan base. She and Crys Matthews will bring their Singing OUT Tour at CSPS in Cedar Rapids on Friday (6/14) night.
Mae, 31, has become a role model.
Almost all of her fan messages are about how to deal with adversity, she said by phone from her Washington, D.C., home.
“They write me about how to do deal with being queer. They write me about being fat or being bi-polar. I’ve lived it,” she said. “I tell them that they can be happy being different.”
Mae is a self-described social justice singer. The pop-rock tunes from her latest album, “Glimmer,” are filled with hope and resiliency.
“My songs come from a real place and they’re about something, and as a result, I think people can relate to them,” she said.
“Feelin’ Crazy,” a fan favorite from “Glimmer,” was inspired by Mae not taking her medication.
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“The song is about going off all the pills I was taking,” she said. “I let myself experience all of the ups and downs. It wasn’t easy, but I wasn’t taking pills and I’ve taken so many different kinds of pills in my life. What I discovered is that some of the side effects of taking the pills were worse than dealing with the symptoms of my illness. So I was feelin’ crazy, but it was often better than feeling medicated.”
Mae has embraced her size. But she didn’t realize that she was a lesbian until she was 25.
“I didn’t know being queer was an option when I was growing up,” she said. “I was a girl who liked to wear dresses and I liked boys. I also has crushes on girls, but there was something shameful about being queer. The cool thing about today is that kids aren’t labeled like they once were. So if you’re straight, tell your parents you’re straight. If you’re gay, tell them you’re gay.”
Mae’s songs are empowering, provocative and inspired by at least a shard of reality. Perhaps the most inspiring song from “Glimmer” is the title track, which is about depression.
“That’s a subject that impacts so many people,” Mae said. “People should be talking about it. But the truth of the matter (is that) I wasn’t talking about it or writing about it. I was open about everything else. I could talk and write about me being queer, being fat and what I believe politically. But I was reluctant to talk about depression and my mental illness (and) it’s something that needs to be talked about. There’s a crazy amount of shame regarding mental illness. There shouldn’t be, since one out of every four people is mentally ill. It’s a struggle for so many, and I can’t help but write songs about it.”
Music helps alter her mood.
“I’ll put on Etta James to help soothe me,” she said. “I love music from the ’20s and ’30s. People should go back and give music from that era a chance. I also love Sara Bareilles. Music helps make a difference, and I try to make music that gives people a lift. That’s what it’s about.
WHAT: The Singing OUT Tour, with Heather Mae and Crys Matthews
WHERE: CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday (6/14)