“I’m not afraid of the uncomfortable,” says Stephanie Lambring. “Oddly enough, I think you can actually find a lot of comfort in exploring it, in facing it head on and seeing it for what it really is.”
It’s that paradox that lies at the heart of Lambring’s stunning new record, Hypocrite. Recorded in Nashville with producer Teddy Morgan (Carl Broemel, Elise Davis), the collection is a remarkable work of self-reflection from an artist determined to know her truest self (and to help us find our own true selves in the process). The arrangements are lush and hypnotic here, with Lambring’s breathy vocals floating atop a sea of dreamy synthesizers and shimmering guitars, and the writing is as raw and vulnerable as it gets, confronting everything from religion and trauma to body image and motherhood with unflinching honesty. The result is a record that lands somewhere between Phoebe Bridgers and Alanis Morrissette as it looks for the best by reckoning with the worst, an album full of love and grace and compassion that aims to remind us that imperfection and humanity go hand in hand.
“They say the things you dislike about yourself are the things you call out the most in other people,” Lambring explains, “and with this album, I wanted to see what would happen if I called myself out instead. I think there’d be a lot more harmony in the world if we could just own up to our own shortcomings and forgive ourselves in the process.”
Such deep and thoughtful reflection has been a hallmark of Lambring’s work from the very beginning. Born and raised in Indiana, she got her start in Nashville working as a songwriter on Music Row, but after five years of composing for other artists, she asked to be let go from her publishing deal and walked away from the music business entirely. Feeling adrift creatively, she picked up work waiting tables at a restaurant and quit writing for an entire year until a regular customer—legendary songwriter Tom Douglas—encouraged her to return to her craft, this time for herself.
“It felt like my creativity had been rehabbed during that time away from the music industry,” Lambring recalls. “Writing for myself allowed me to say what I wanted to say, to sing about what felt important to me, and that changed everything.”
Lambring’s 2020 debut, Autonomy, was a critical smash, prompting Rolling Stone to hail her “John Prine-esque observation” and NPR to declare her “one of Nashville’s most fearless young singer-songwriters.” In addition to all the rave reviews, the album also landed Lambring on the cover of Tidal’s Rising Folk playlist, helped earn performances everywhere from Mountain Stage to the famed Bluebird Cafe, and led to an extensive US tour with Amigo The Devil. All the while, songs for Lambring’s much-anticipated follow-up were already brewing.
“I knew I wanted to write some of these songs for years before I was actually able to put them into words,” she explains. “They were just these little seeds planted in my subconscious that I’d keep coming back to until I felt like I’d finally experienced enough life to sit down and express them.”
The recording process was a similarly slow and deliberate one, with Lambring and Morgan working together on the songs on-and-off over the course of an entire year, experimenting with unexpected instrumentation and blurring the boundaries between roots music and indie rock.
“The foundation of this record is really just the two of us seeing how far we could push the songs,” Lambring says. “We’d get together and lay down the bones of a track, and then we’d come back to it a few weeks later and see how else we might be able to approach the same idea in order to take it someplace new and exciting. We would keep bouncing from one song to another, just tweaking and overdubbing and reinventing things right up until the very end.”
That adventurous spirit is clear from the top on Hypocrite, which opens with the brooding “Cover Girl.” Fueled by a thick, sinuous synth-bass and perpetually unsettled drumbeat, the track grapples with the modern pressures of a social media-driven world in which dysmorphia runs rampant and projection outweighs authenticity. “She writes, ‘Beauty’s on the inside’ / Underneath a picture of her good side,” Lambring sings with a deadpan delivery. “She watches on standby / As we tell her she’s pretty.” But rather than treat the observation as a scathing indictment, Lambring instead turns the lens on herself and her own implication in perpetuating the status quo despite her best efforts to break free of it. “Cover girl for inner beauty / Shine it up and sell it to me / We don’t have to believe it, do we? / Do we? / Do we?” It’s a question that sounds less convincing every time she asks it, the uncertainty building with each repetition. The tender “Filler” wonders who we’re really trying to please when we change our appearance (and if it will ever be enough), while the driving “Purity Ring” interrogates sex and shame and abstinence and abortion in the face of a strict religious upbringing full of double standards, and the aching “Good Mother” questions the traditional narratives of parenthood, giving voice to the fears and regrets that society deems too taboo to say out loud. “They say it’s the hardest / Best thing they’ve ever done,” Lambring sings wistfully. “But if it’s just the hardest / You can’t tell anyone.”
“I never felt a pull towards motherhood,” she explains. “I felt a lot of pressure about it, though, so I leaned into my anxiety and started researching. I dove deep on Reddit threads. I listened to podcasts. I read Regretting Motherhood: A Study by Orna Donath. There were so many heartbreaking accounts from mothers who loved their children but would be childfree if they had it to do over again, and I had a gut feeling that I would be one of those mothers. I wrote this song to process and sit with my own fears about it all, and to offer a voice for mothers who feel that way, either as a constant ache or in moments or seasons of exhaustion.”
Lambring finds unique ways to blend the deeply personal with the universal throughout the record, often transforming intimate slices of life into thought-provoking reflections on the human condition at large. The devastating “Hospital Parking” spins a garage fee into a meditation on grief and love and hope and loss; the unrelenting “Mirror” shines a light on the ugliness we try to hide, wrestling with the ways our desire to label things as “good” or “bad” without any room for nuance can spill out into politics and culture wars; and the country-tinged “Two-Faced” takes a self-deprecating look at insincerity, with Lambring singing, “We’re all a little two-faced / ‘Hey, how are you?’ fake / Makes the world go ‘round / God forbid some honesty would ruffle up this town.”
“I’ve lived in the south for 18 years, and when you pair that with a tendency to people-please, I haven’t always been the most direct (or enjoyed people being direct with me),” Lambring confesses. “Over the past several years, I’ve appreciated and practiced directness more and more, but it’ll probably always be something of a struggle for me, so it was therapeutic to poke some fun at myself and my fragile ego.”
In the end, such therapy is what Hypocrite is all about. The songs are serious, even painful at times, but they’re laced with humor and ultimately built to heal. Stephanie Lambring isn’t afraid to face the uncomfortable, and in the process, she offers up more than a little comfort for the rest of us.