Adam Lambert’s second album was the first by an openly gay artist to top the U.S. Billboard 200 chart. Now boasting a decade-long career as a recording artist, he sits down with STACK to discuss collaborating with Nile Rodgers and “working with more queer people” to create the funky, soulful feel of Velvet, his lustrous forthcoming fourth LP.
When Queen + Adam Lambert played Sydney’s ANZ Stadium during their recent Rhapsody tour, the scheduled start time was delayed due to a downpour. “We didn’t have any rain during the actual show, which was great – it was a blessing,” Lambert admits while sinking into an adjoining couch in the living room of his luxe Crown Towers hotel suite (and, yes, the view from the floor-to-ceiling windows is fab!). “We still have the structure that we had built down on the B-stage; it was like a very ugly gazebo. Unfortunately it was a bit of an eyesore, but Brian [May] didn’t want to get his guitar wet, because that guitar is very precious.”
The following day, Queen + Adam Lambert took to the very same stage for Fire Fight Australia (a benefit concert to raise funds for national bushfire relief) – reprising Queen’s 1985 Live Aid set – and Lambert admits that the setlist “was something [they] wanted to keep a surprise”. “We’ve opened up a whole new fanbase with the movie [Bohemian Rhapsody],” Lambert enlightens. “Now we’re seeing a lot more young people at the shows, families – it’s so exciting but, yeah! It’s like I have to win over new people now, which is a good challenge, you know? It’s funny to see how people were really protective of Freddie after the film and I love that, actually; he deserves that, his memory. I love that he’s at this icon status and he’s a hero, you know? I think it’s really beautiful to see that. I like that people get defensive of him, because I get it. Like, I get it! Hallowed ground. I’m doing my best.
“Freddie was unbelievable,” Lambert extols. “I’ve watched Freddie and instead of copying him it’s more like, ‘Well, what was he trying to get across?’ you know what I mean? Like, ‘What was the idea here?’ That’s what I try to focus on.”
During a day off from Queen duty in Melbourne, Lambert is here to spruik his upcoming album, Velvet. His energy is welcoming and we immediately sense that no topic is off limits. Lambert sports a long-sleeved taupe shirt with “Smokin'” embroidered above the left breast pocket (accurate), Gucci GC pattern trousers, trainers with leopard-print trim and slightly tinted designer sunnies with bedazzled frames (want!).
He says he approached the creation of his fourth studio album with a clear intention. “I just started to realise over the years – now having some experience under my belt – that pop music can become dated so quickly, and also if you’re so busy chasing some sort of trend, or if you’re chasing chart positions and streams – and all the business side of the music thing – it’s really easy to lose the integrity,” he shares, “and I consciously was like, ‘Okay, I need to shift my priorities a little bit, and really make this album for myself first and foremost. And just make it something that I love, that I would want to listen to’… And so that’s what drove it.”
The first single to be lifted from Velvet was Roses, featuring the unmistakable funk of Nile Rodgers. “We’ve worked together before,” Lambert reveals. “He and I and Sam Sparro wrote a song together called Shady, on Trespassing, and he was so lovely to work with. After that, I did some stuff with him: I went and sang with him and Chic at a couple of different events, and he and I wrote a song with Avicii called Lay Me Down that was on that big Avicii album [True]. We have a collaboration relationship now. And so I wrote this song with Fred Ball and some other guys, and it was cool, but it was like, ‘It needs a groove,’ so we rang up Nile and he said yes! He transformed it. He made it dance. He made you wanna groove to it.”
He worked with a lot of new songwriters on Velvet and Lambert enthuses, “I also found myself working with more queer people than I ever have before: gay writers, lesbian, gender nonconforming – everybody under that umbrella; it was a lot more of my community involved in this album, which was great. Also more women than I’ve ever worked with before, which was awesome. I feel like the point of view and the energy on the album just feels closer to home, do you know what I mean? It feels good. It feels like it’s more of a reflection of who I am, and my world.”
His debut album, For Your Entertainment, came out back in 2009 and Lambert reflects, “It’s been a really interesting decade, being a queer person in the music industry, because ten years ago in the U.S. it just was like, ‘Whoa!’ I think people were scared of it; people didn’t know how it would connect. I don’t think people realised that there was a real audience for it on a mainstream level, and now we know that most people don’t care. They don’t care.”
Trespassing – Lambert’s second album (2012) – debuted at number one in the U.S., making him the first openly gay artist to top the Billboard 200 chart. That’s insane, right? “I know,” Lambert concurs. “When they told me that I was like, “Huh? No one’s done that? It’s crazy. It’s changed so much. It’s so different now, and that’s exciting; it’s exciting to have been part of that wave. And now looking at all these queer artists that can prove mainstream success is definitely viable and executives aren’t frightened of it anymore – it’s great!”
Our discussion turns to the late, great George Michael who felt relentless pressure to hide his sexual identity. “Poor guy,” Lambert sympathises. “When that whole thing happened for him in the ’90s with his outing, which was basically entrapment as we know it – that’s horrible. But that was also a time where [being openly gay] was like the kiss of death, you know? Terrible.” After revisiting Lambert’s 2009 American Idol audition as part of my research, I was impressed by how composed he seemed. “I was a little baby,” he grins. “I was a 27-year-old baby, but I was a baby. Inside I was trembling, because there was so much riding on it. You know, when you go in for the TV judges, you’ve already gone through, like, four rounds of producers and all this stuff; it’s this whole drawn-out thing over a couple of weeks. And I had to actually quit my job in Wicked, the musical – I was working. I had to quit in order to get to that round, because you can’t have any professional contracts in play. So it was like, ‘Okay, if this doesn’t work out, I’ve just quit my job.’
“I was like, ‘I can’t leave this room without nailing them down and making sure that they put me through,’ and so I sang a Michael Jackson song first actually, which was not on the broadcast, and the judges all kind of looked at me like, ‘Huh?’ And I could tell they weren’t quite on board, so I said, ‘Do you wanna hear something else? I could sing something else,’ and they were like, ‘Like what?’ And I’m like, ‘What about Bohemian Rhapsody?’ And they were like, ‘Oh,’ and the minute I did that there was like a click, like lightbulbs went off, and thank God!” So had the judges put him straight through on the strength of his performance of a Michael Jackson song, Lambert wouldn’t have slayed Bohemian Rhapsody to the point where Brian May’s inbox was flooded with messages from people telling him to check out this young singer they believed to be the natural successor to Freddie Mercury. “I know. It’s so weird,” Lambert muses. “It’s like fate came in.”
Velvet by Adam Lambert is out Friday March 20 via Inertia.
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