Adam Lambert: the Beatweek cover story interview
May 15, 2012 by Bill Palmer
by Bill Palmer
Adam Lambert is still a trespasser, figuratively speaking, even as his new album debuts at number one today on the charts. Nevermind that he’s in his third year of fame, he has the most loyal fan base of perhaps any modern pop star, and he’s the lead singer of Queen when he wants to be. The fact that his music doesn’t fit into any particular genre means he’s tasked with breaking new ground any time he makes music, and his new record runs the gamut. He starts out by buoyantly declaring “Wait til they get a load of me” over an electric guitar riff and a thumping drum line, and yet by the time it’s all over he’s somberly exploring what’s suddenly become the nation’s most pressing social issue from a distinctively personal perspective. The process was a year long journey, in multiple cities, with multiple collaborators. But while Trespassing is frontloaded with upbeat material, it’s the more vulnerable second half which came to him first.
“I have my good days and my bad days,” he says of the record’s two separate vibes. “When you’re on the road for over a year, it takes a second to get back down to reality. It’s an interesting kind of adjustment period. I found that my therapy was kind of writing through some of the darker stuff. So that’s how I started the writing process, really connecting to the emotional and all that. Then I got settled back at home and I found myself really enjoying myself. I was reconnecting with old friends and my family. I was getting into relationships and I started realizing how much I wanted to write dance music and party music, and stuff that inspired liberation and a good time,” he says with a laugh.
After changing some “management situations” and sitting down with his label, he made clear to all involved that he wanted to be more involved in the writing process this time around than he had been on his debut, for which he’d only co-written four songs and the biggest hit had been written by Pink and Max Martin without his input. “I said look, I really want to be involved as much as possible. And it was like ‘Great, we would love for you to be involved.’ I think everybody was very excited about that because I think they know that when an artist gets in on the writing process and oversees the whole album, it makes for a better project. It makes for a more authentic project.”
The album was originally scheduled to have been out sooner, but “things kept snowballing where we would stumble into another direction. I really appreciated that I got time. I think time is definitely a luxury compared to the last album, which was completed in about two months. So not only did I get to write a lot, I got to take the time to sit with the material and experiment and try a bunch of things out.”
One of those experiments saw him traveling to Miami to work with Pharrell Williams on what would become two of the loosest tracks. “I’m a huge fan of his work, so I was just anxious to hear what he had in mind and where we were gonna take it. I walked in and we started talking about the music industry and what we loved about music, which artists influenced both of us as we were growing up, and the kind of statement that I wanted to make. And he was like well, check this out. He had a loop, an idea. He had the beat and he had the bass line. And I was just like, what? I was floored. I was like well, that’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard. We started adding some stuff to it and started writing the song, and what I found so refreshing was that he didn’t want to add too much. It wasn’t about a bunch of bells and whistles and a bunch of ear candy. It was about the groove. That’s what makes Pharrell so special.”
Despite his emphasis on songwriting, he did record a song that had been served up for him by Bruno Mars. “I’m not so stubborn or in that mindset of saying it’s only my stuff that I’ve worked on and that’s it. The game is played a certain way, and when a song gets presented to you as a possibility as something to record, you’ve got to listen with open ears and an open mind. When I heard Never Close Our Eyes, I thought wow, that melody is beautiful. I loved the melody. It’s one of Bruno’s strengths. As a fan of Bruno Mars, I was also really excited to be working on a song that he wrote.”
Adam Lambert is the most prominent openly homosexual pop star of his era, but not until now has he addressed the subject in his art. Outlaws Of Love, which he scribed with fellow singer BC Jean and Rune Westberg, tackles the issue of gay marriage head on. “I was knee deep in the honeymoon phase of my relationship,” he says, and “I was seeing something about the bullying that was going on, the struggle and the debate about gay marriage. Just kind of taking it all in, our whole community, and looking at it quite broadly, the LGBT community, and realizing that I had a lot of great, positive memories and experiences within the community. But one of the things that I felt all the sudden was that sadness that comes over me when I realize how many challenges we have, and when I realize that it is an uphill climb to reach total acceptance and tolerance. It just made me sad. That’s what that song is about. It’s about how sometimes it just sucks, you know? It just sucks that the reason why we’re being discriminated against and/or ostracized is because of who we’re choosing to love. To me, when it comes down to it love is a great thing, and I was realizing how much I was falling in love and realizing that was the very reason why people were being called out. We’re being outlawed for who we’re choosing to love.”
Our conversation takes place before the President endorses gay marriage. After the announcement he simply tweets “Yes!” and then later adds “I am completely in support of gay marriage. I also have an amazing boyfriend. This doesn’t mean I’m getting married.”
Lambert’s fans, who somewhere along the way got dubbed the Glamberts, have proven to be an enthusiastic bunch. The Glam Nation tour in 2010 and 2011 brought him closer to them. “There was a core group of fans that we would see at more than two or three shows. They were really following us around all over the country. It made me smile. It was very sweet and they were very excited, and it was giving me something to look forward to and to get excited about.”
Of course some of his fans are more famous than others. Last month Meat Loaf declared that Adam was “possibly one of the three greatest singers in the entire world” while the surviving members of Queen have been in his corner going back to his American Idol days. Is that in any way unnerving? “No,” Adam says. “I feel completely flattered by it, and I feel like it’s validating. Like okay, cool. I’m doing something that these people who I respect and admire, they’re admiring me back, so it’s mutual. And I think that’s, I don’t know, maybe it is a little unnerving,” he admits with a chuckle. “In the slightest sense maybe it’s a little bit surreal. It’s kind of bizarre to find that someone who you look up to, who has such a name, feels the same way about you. But it gives me a lot of motivation. It gives me a lot of strength to move forward.”
Queen has gone so far as to tap him as their singer for a handful of scheduled 2012 performances. This has naturally led fans of both acts to want – and expect – a larger scale tour. “I think there is an expectation,” he admits, “and I think it’s a beautiful expectation and its a very flattering one. But I stand by the idea that I’m an original artist and I have music that I’ve written that I would like to share with the world, that I’d like to tour. So my first priority is my work. And it’s funny because certain people may say well, but it’s Queen. Put your work on the backburner. I understand that concept but I also think that as an artist it’s important for me to express my ideas that I’ve created and that are new for me. So I’m looking forward to the couple of dates with Queen but I do think that they’re kind of isolated. And I think they’re isolated for a reason. I think it’s going to be really special and really exciting. It’s going to be pretty unforgettable, and I think I’m going to learn a lot from it. But I think that if we try to draw it out over more than that limited engagement, it’s not going to feel the same.” (read the Beatweek interview with Queen drummer Roger Taylor)
Instead, Adam will be touring later this year with his own material. With the new album and its opening track both called Trespassing, it begs the question of whether the tour will carry the same name. “I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it yet. I haven’t gotten to the tour. I love the idea of naming the tour something creative that goes with the theme, but I don’t know if I’ll just name it the album. I’ll probably get a little bit more creative than that. It’ll make sense. It’ll be something clever. I hope,” he adds, laughing.
In the mean time there’s a slate of performances this month on television talk shows and at sporting events, along with a return engagement this Thursday on the American Idol set which first made him famous, giving fans plenty of live looks at the new material. They already have their hooks deep into it. There’s a character named “Eddie” in the song Pop That Lock, and when we gave the Glamberts the opportunity to submit any question for Adam, the most popular submission was that of Eddie’s identity. “Oh, those are my secrets,” Adam says cryptically with yet another laugh. “What’s the point in confirming or denying? I mean I feel like it’s a little more fun to just keep everybody imagining. Part of the great thing about writing from your own life is that I think people should wonder and should think about it and should analyze it and should try to deduce some sort of something from the lyrics. It’s certainly not as much fun if I sit here and spell it out for everybody. I’m just going to let everyone come up to their own hypothesis. Or maybe it’s nobody. Maybe it’s just what sounded right in the song.”
So why do the album and the first track share the same title? “I look at it as a mission statement.” What did he learn from the last tour? “You’ve got to make it fresh every night.” The next single? “It’s not entirely my decision,” he quips, laughing once again.
Despite the serious subject matter of the conversation, it’s one defined primarily by laughter. Perhaps that lightness stems from having recently turned thirty, which took off more figurative weight than it added. “When I was younger I used to think it sounded old,” he says, but “I don’t feel old at all. I feel wiser in a lot of ways, but I don’t feel old. I feel like as opposed to it being the end of a decade, I’m looking at it like, okay, this is the beginning of a decade. With the album coming out, just where I’m at in my life, I feel like I have a lot to look forward to.”