As fans embrace his third studio album, The Original High, Adam Lambert speaks to Metrosource about the evolution of his style, the challenge of following in a rock legend’s footsteps and the latest addition to his body art.
METROSOURCE: The Original High feels very varied — from the vocals to the beats to the instrumentation. What are you hoping fans take away from it?
ADAM LAMBERT: Coming off a show like Idol with the first album, [I was] trying to live up to everybody’s expectations. This album, it was the other way around. I felt like, “OK. I’ve established who I am; I have a great fan base; I’ve done this before. Now what do I want to do for me?” I wanted it to sound like music that I listen to in my real life, that I hear when I go out with my friends.
I mentioned to a fellow editor that my favorite track,“There I Said It,”reminded me of early-Mariah power ballads, but he didn’t hear the similarity. Are there any artists whom you tried to emulate in creating the album?
I don’t want to seem like I’m giving this whole diplomatic, P.C. answer here, but I think what’s so exciting about this album [is that] it’s me more than ever. In the past I was doing a little bit more of, like, trying on an outfit for the first time and [thinking], “Oooh! I could do this!” But this album felt a lot more like it was coming from the inside. … When it came to”There I Said It” — that was one of the later songs, because I realized, ”Hey, we’ve got all these cool rhythmic songs and really interesting beats and things but we need a traditional big song!”
Since you mentioned trying on clothes, you’re a famously fashion-forward fellow…
You can call it that if you like! Sometimes in the past, I would’ve considered it fashion-sideways.
[Laughs] Well, the world needs all sorts of directions…
And I would wear all of them!
What do you look for in an outfit you would wear for a red carpet versus something that you’d want to wear on stage or for a photo shoot?
I don’t think I really understood the difference for a while. It’s a learning experience, you know? When I grew up, every day was Halloween. In LA, in my twenties, I was sort of a club kid. I would go out in weird costumes and wear very weird, conceptual things that I liked — that I saw in a movie or a poster or an album from the ‘70s. I think I’ve kind of grown out of that a bit — not all the way but a bit — and I think now I have … a better sense of what is appropriate when.
Is that part of evolving your look — like the fact that you’re rocking a little less guyliner these days?
That’s definitely part of the style evolution. It’s funny because a fan asked the question recently, “Are you toning it down to be more commercial?” And I was like, “Ew! No!” If you look back on six years ago, were you dressing differently? I know I was. To be totally honest, I think part of it was definitely me being eccentric, creating, wanting to play dress-up, be different and express myself — wearing makeup and feathers and whatever. But also I look back to right after Idol and all that: I think that was a little bit of a defense mechanism, too. I might have been hiding behind it a little bit.
Dressing bravely to show the world you’re brave?
It’s like the kid that’s goth in high school, who’s actually a total butterfly at heart. But they feel weird and sensitive — so they wear all this black to school, you know?
Are you that guy, Adam? Are you the butterfly inside the goth?
I think I’m more sensitive than people might realize, yes.
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Beyond fashion, what’s your aesthetic for choosing the things that surround you — how you decorate your home, for example?
Well, I bought a house this year, my first house — I feel like I’m growing up! It’s great. Having a house in LA is amazing because you’re, like, after-party-central [when] all the bars close at 2. … I’ve decided to name my design aesthetic — I decorated my own house; it was really fun — I call it “White Witch.” It’s kind of “nouveau goth.” Well, goth is actually not the right word. It’s more rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a little bit taxidermy, and there are decadent things like a fur rug, and the lamps in my living room are antlers, and there’s a lot of, like, metallic silver accents. It’s very monochromatic: light colors and earth tones, cool lighting fixtures, Edison bulbs. It’s not over the top, though; it’s actually surprisingly minimal.
For gay artists nowadays, it seems like there’s increasing attention paid to how specifically same-sex the lyrics are. Is that something you take into account when you’re crafting a song?
There are definitely two sides to it — especially when there’s a bunch of other people paying for your [art] to be made. For me, it’s always been a tricky line because you don’t want to alienate anybody — you want the music to appeal to as many people as possible. I kind of look at it like: People aren’t stupid, you know? People are smart — especially my gay fans — they’re smart! Everyone knows what my orientation is, and I’m sure they know what it is that the songs mean, … but at the same time, I want as many people to be able to relate to them as possible. So, I keep it sort of neutral so that everybody can feel it.
That makes sense.
You can’t really win in this conversation. People have opinions both ways, and I know in the past I’ve made choices that were the right choice and then I’ve made choices where, for example, the gay media have jumped down my throat and criticized me — which happened early on. I don’t know, man, I’m just trying to “do my thang”! [Laughs] Everybody knows that I’m gay. I’m 100 percent open about that — always have been, the minute I had a chance to talk about it. What else can I do?
Speaking of gayness, how do you think that performing with Queen has impacted you as an artist?
I think it reinvigorated my confidence. I was in a little bit of a rut before that happened — wondering what the next thing was going to be, feeling a little creatively blah. Then we discussed doing this performance at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Vegas, and it was a big hit. It felt really good — like everything gelled with the guys and me. … We got together and said, “You know, we should do a tour. We should do this for real.”
And what was it like preparing to hit the road with them?
Definitely a little intimidating because I knew there would be a lot of die-hard Queen fans that were going to be skeptical of me, you know: “the dude from American Idol” stepping in for Freddie [Mercury]. It’s sacred ground, … so it was also really important for me to make sure that I was paying my respects to Freddie and the band and singing the songs somewhat close to the original but still injecting my own spin on them. Finding that balance was important, but once we nailed that and figured out what the set list was, it was working! Even the skeptical people in the audience — that I might’ve seen with their arms folded — after the third or fourth song, they were jumping up and down and having a great time. Every night felt like a challenge: I had to prove myself. And it was good for me.
We asked readers if they had questions for you, and one asked if there were any specific words or images you were incorporating into your body art?
Well, I put a phrase from the album on my chest recently: “chasing the original high.” That’s right below my collarbone now.
Did that feel like a risk?
Regardless of how the album does, I really believe in the message of that song. It was the first song that was created for the album; it jump-started the whole thing. I remember when I recorded it, I felt like I finally found a way to sing a song about a feeling that I and a lot of my friends were going through: … People — in LA, New York, the “big city” — we move there with stars in our eyes, big hopes, dreams, ambitions. It takes a lot of energy to keep after those dreams, and a lot of people don’t get what they set out for. What happens when you realize it’s not happening? You hit this wall. It can feel like heartbreak. It can feel like disappointment. It can feel like a fork in the road. And what we end up doing — a lot of us — is we start chasing our tails and looking backwards and being like, “Let me just try to do this again,” and we don’t move forward.
It seems like fans are always hungry to know about your personal life. How much of that are you interested in sharing? Where do you draw the line?
It’s hard because you give an inch, and it’s not really the fans that take a mile. It’s more like the media can take a mile, and then things get all screwed up if you’re not careful. It’s a tricky thing to navigate, and I don’t know if I’ve figured it out yet. I’m single, and I mingle. [Laughs] And I think I’m back at a point now in my life where I would love to be in love. I would love to have a relationship again but with who? I don’t know! I’m dating my album right now!
Thanks to behind the scenes music shows like Empire and Nashville, audiences have a greater understanding that songs on a given album can come from a number of sources. What do you prefer: Writing by yourself? Co-writing? Taking existing songs and tweaking them?
I love a co-write. I love being in a room with a couple of people and teaming up! I feel like, for me personally, that’s the most productive — brainstorming together with a couple of great people; I feel like my best stuff has come from that.
Would you say that most of the material on Original High comes from that sort of process?
Yeah, it’s very team-oriented. I mean, sometimes I go through life making notes. I take my little notebook or my iPhone, and I write down little words or phrases, and I’ll come into the room with nuggets.
Going back all the way to Idol, one of your trademarks has been knowing how to use stage fireworks to showcase a song. Do you have a sense of how you want to visually present this album — on stage or in videos?
I’ve been thinking about it because it’s gonna come up on me here any minute. … I definitely want to go down a different path than what I’ve done in the past; I hate repeating myself. I think the album sounds so different from what I’ve done, that it needs to look different as well. I want to go more minimal. Basically, I want to go more art installation-esque — a little bit more modern, a little bit more graphic. There will obviously always be little elements of theater in everything I do — it’s just who I am — but in a less presentational way.
So you’re not gonna have emojis flying outta your head?
I have a feeling there’s not gonna be rhinestones. There’ll be no glitter. … It’s gonna be something different for me, and I’m really excited about that.
Speaking of Idol, do you have any reaction to the announcement that next season will be its last? Are you interested in participating in whatever the big goodbye is going to be?
I think it’s been an amazing show. Obviously I’m really thankful to for what it’s done for me, and I think that they got it right: I think the timing is right to say their farewells. All good things come to an end. … I’ve visited the show every year since I’ve been off of it; so it’s always like a tradition that like we’ll do a little homecoming.
How do you think this day and age — when you have direct access to the fans through social media — differs from the relationship you had to your music idols growing up?
That’s a good question. … The direct access thing really changes the whole dynamic; I think it has positives and negatives. … It definitely gives the fans a lot more power, which I think is really crazy and really good. You can directly link with what your fan-base expects of you: what they like, what they don’t like. Being a good entertainer, you’ve gotta give the people what they want. But at the same time, as an artist, you have to follow your instincts and your integrity, and when you’re constantly looking at what everybody thinks, some of that can get kind of foggy. It’s tricky!
When you look forward, what do you see for yourself — both in terms of perpetuating your music career and other possibilities like acting? Do you have a priority list?
I don’t really know if there’s a priority list; I think over the past couple of years I’ve noticed that things just kind of come in chapters and I take ‘em as they come. Obviously right now I have a lot of high hopes for this album, and I’d like to put together a tour on the tail of it, and if it goes really well, then I’d probably like to do a little bit more. Obviously the Queen thing has been kind of side-by-side project, and maybe that will continue. And, yes, I would love to do some film and TV stuff if possible. Actually [my main goal is to] keep working! To me, one of the things I realized last year — before everything started kind of drumming up again (both with the Queen stuff and this album) — is as long as I can pay the rent and get do what I love to do, I’m fine! It’s like I started trying to realize what it was that I actually wanted to be happy — and that’s enough.
As long as I don’t starve! Although I might look cute if I starve a little bit…
Please, girl! You are fabulous and handsome, you don’t need to worry about that. Not at all!
I want that sample size!
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Last modified: September 18, 2019