Full Expression: Adam Lambert On His Art And Touring With Queen
American Idol on why he needs to "fight for the right to insulate your creativity..."
by Tanyel Gumushan
Adam Lambert. Courtesy Image
Adam Lambert has created a mood that you can slip into as easily as you can a velvet smoking jacket. Entering his new record, 'VELVET: Side A', is like stepping onto a runway of Versace, accompanied by your tiny dog companion. Pathed by funky basslines and sultry vocals and led with confidence and pride; It will fit you like a glove.
Lead single, 'Superpower' is the perfect introduction. "It's a strut song, yeah!" Adam laughs. Starting as a slow burner, the disco-inspired track sees him take back his superpower of being himself after being put in a box. "We came up with the beat and the groove first and were like, 'but what does it feel like?'" he recalls, explaining how it made him want to walk with a purpose, tall and with confidence.
Adam explains: "So we did something that is like an empowerment anthem that will make people feel like they can do anything..."
This notion has threaded together different parts of Adam Lambert's life. It's been ten years since he impressed on TV show, American Idol, and since then he's released three albums before 'VELVET...', and collaborated with legendary band, Queen, joining them as their vocalist on tour and mesmerising audiences around the world.
"I've found that what I have in common with most of my fans who I've interacted with online and such is that a lot of them feel like outsiders and I've always felt kinda like an outsider too," Adam explains. "When I was writing these songs, that was always in the back of my head and I wanted to write songs that they would find themselves singing sorta like mantras."
He adds: "Even though I'm writing them in the first person, it's meant to be for everyone."
'VELVET: Side A' explores expressionism in fashion, sexuality and personality. It's dominating but playful, oozing with glamour and dripping in silky harmonies. Stylistically intelligent, the sugar sweet hooks could take you out with a swift swoop. On 'Superpower', he warns "All of the witches and the demons better get out my way," with prowess. Slick as a gelled back quiff, 'Stranger You Are' is an attitude drenched, funk led ode to embracing your inner self; "Cause the stranger you are, they wanna keep you locked in the dark."
The songs are celebratory and proud. 'Ready To Run' is set under a full moon; it's moodier, like a buckling of a boot in preparation for battle. Whilst 'Loverboy' is delightfully kitsch, with a filthy bassline and beats that pop like a jack in a box and giggle at your expense as he teases; "If you wanna get touchy feely, you better not be so greedy."
In the EP's most intimate moment, the piano-led 'Closer To You' tells the struggles of distance and loneliness. Intricate keys cradle Lambert's versatile, vulnerable vocal as he pleads for somebody to understand and see who he really is.
The spine-tickling shimmer of 'Overglow' captures the contrasting light and the dark of 'VELVET...'. With a soft brush, his voice ranges from a hushed whisper to glistening falsetto. The track is sensual and visceral as he describes a face being lit from the neon hue of a phone removing the human connection from an interaction. In wonderful irony, the song is dance-floor ready and calls for the touch of skin whilst describing the very opposite.
It took four years to write and release 'VELVET: Side A', which is much to the credit of Lambert's thoughts on how important it is for artists to feel like they're exercising their artistic integrity. "It's really easy to get wrapped up in the commercial game of music and the hustle of the music industry. Sometimes the pure intention of creating something from the heart can get lost in the shuffle a little bit." he says, it's important to "fight for the right to insulate your creativity."
Recalling being cautious of rushing into and making decisions based on what was popular, "It took me a second to be patient enough to kind of find my own instinct with this project and figure out what I wanted to say, how I wanted it to sound and how I wanted to put it out." Lambert is ultimately relieved that the record is out to be heard, "I had to make a lot of decisions and a lot of changes in order to stick to my vision and stick to my gut."
Talking enthusiastically about his adoration of designers borrowing from 70s whimsical, retro directions, 'VELVET...' was designed to be a world to explore, with soft tactile textures and visions of purple and green. "I really wanted it to be a world, its own world with its own mood."
Side A will be paired with Side B next year, and has been written as a love letter to his parents' records from the 70s and 80s that he grew up listening to. "I wanted to do something that doesn't feel like it goes out of date in two years and I wanted to do something that borrows from the classics."
Adam Lambert. Courtesy Image
Something of a style icon, Lambert has been wearing rich velvet suits as comfortably as his own skin. Recently, he appeared on the results show of Strictly Come Dancing and donned a suit by Edward Sexton.
Excitedly he tells of how it was designed at his bespoke tailor on Savile Row. Sexton is the former partner of Tommy Nutter, and together they developed Lambert's current favourite style; "the 70s suit with the real harsh shoulders and the bell bottoms" he gushes, explaining that the suit was made famous by people like Bowie and John Lennon. "They're so beautiful and Edward has seen everything, he's so wise. It's crazy."
On the inside, the values of musical and cultural icons including Prince, Madonna and David Bowie all help to shape and marry the ideologies of his beliefs and his music. Running with his inspirations as though he is flying a kite, 'VELVET: Side A' is deliciously timeless. Listening is like walking through a homage hall of fame.
It was in 2011, two years after he auditioned for American Idol with 'Bohemian Rhapsody', that Lambert was invited to be the guest vocalist with Queen as they toured. Performing universally loved songs written by one of the most iconic musicians of all time, Freddie Mercury, his relationship with them has changed as he stopped viewing them as songs but rather as compositions.
"I ask the questions; why was this written? What was the intention behind it? Also, just hearing stories about Freddie and understanding like who he was, it changes things. A lot of these songs I tend to keep him in my mind when I sing them, I sing them for him in some regards."
He continues: "I think about Freddie when I sing and I think about how he was taken away from us too soon. I think about that."
After the stellar success of Bohemian Rhapsody, the film biopic of Freddie Mercury, Queen began The Rhapsody Tour of the world. The near sold-out tour started in North America in July 2019 and visits Europe in May 2020, stopping off in the UK for five nights at the O2 in June.
"The songs are just great. I think people have a lot of nostalgia tied to them and they may remember them from childhood or the first time they came out. There's a strong connection between the songs and the audience. Everyone knows all of the words, they're legendary."
No longer singing the lyrics almost autonomously, as many of us do at a party or on a car ride with friends, Lambert has nurtured and grown a deeper connection with them whilst performing. Instantly, it's 'Somebody To Love' that springs to his mind in being able to apply his own experiences to the song.
Speaking of 'In The Lap Of The Gods', he recalls; "I knew it pretty well and didn't really understand what it was about. After talking to Brian (May) and Roger (Taylor) it could have been that Freddie was you know, struggling with his identity at that point with that song and wondering can I just come out and say who and what I am or can I not? When Brian gave me that insight to that as a potential meaning of the song, it completely changed it for me. It was really interesting."
In order to be a performer rather than a singer, "I think you have to light up a bit," Lambert laughs, a performer has to "really mean [the words] and really communicate the emotion and the energy of the song and not just assume the audience will get it from the words."
As he tours the world at sold-out shows, Lambert performs the work of Freddie Mercury with glitzy theatrical charisma. "When I'm on stage, it's definitely an amplified, sort of exaggerated version of myself I would say. I tend to be cockier when I'm on stage than I am in real life but it's all me!" he laughs, before confessing: "I almost feel like it's easier to just be on stage and perform than it is to live certain parts of real life sometimes. Life is a lot more unpredictable."
If you were to dig up a time capsule in sixty years' time and find VELVET: Side A, it could be quite difficult to place it in 2019. You would however, upon listening, be transported to a glamorous world hand-crafted by one of the most exciting pop stars of our time encouraging and inspiring you to be exactly who you want to be. Let's hope our future holds that reality for all.
'VELVET: SIDE A' is out now. Queen + Adam Lambert will play the following UK shows:
June 2 London The O2 3 London The O2 5 London The O2 6 London The O2 9 London The O2 11 Manchester Manchester Arena