Reimagining Adam Feature Article Adam Lambert tones down the glam rock theatrics on his third album, 'The Original High,' but he’s still the same power-vocal queen we love.
June 05, 2015 By Benjamin Lindsay
Adam Lambert is a force to be reckoned with—and it’s not just apparent in his stunning vocal prowess. Simply by being himself since auditioning for Simon Cowell and co. in 2009, Lambert has helped pave the way for LGBT artists and entertainers the world over. And his seamless transition from the eighth season American Idol runner-up to the chart-topping solo artist he is today—who happens to play part-time frontman for Queen, no less—is equally impressive. In fact, since he first landed in our living rooms six years ago, there’s been no denying the man’s a star.
Three years since his last full-length release, Lambert called in from Los Angeles to chat about his anticipated new album, The Original High, plus summer love and the fruits of collaboration.
I’ve been really enjoying The Original High. It marks a change in direction for you. I think it’s a different sound, for sure. It reflects a lot of what I’m listening to right now—what my life sounds like. I wanted the production to be what I was into. As far as the lyrical and the melodic sensibilities in it, I wanted to do something super honest. I wanted to take away a lot of the theatrics that I’m known for and just be a little bit more real—not so much of a character. Coming off of a show like Idol, I ended up being put in the category of the “rock ’n’ roll” guy, so I was doing a lot of rock music. Then the second album I did kind of reflected this funk pop thing I was feeling at the time. I got to work with people like Pharrell [Williams] and Nile [Rodgers] on that, which was amazing. I spent some time in Europe working on this one and a lot of time in the U.K. this year, and I heard a lot of house throwback stuff. Going out to the clubs, you hear house music and you hear a little bit of that trap style. I wanted it to feel authentic to my social life. It’s also nostalgic, in a way, for the ’90s. There’s a lot of ’90s influence. You hear it in the dance music. You hear it in some of the more alternative moments. The song that Brian May is on kind of has a throwback hip-hop/rock thing. It definitely takes me back to when I first fell in love with contemporary music.
Did changing record labels affect your sound? It definitely wiped the slate clean, yeah. That was helpful just kind of starting over and starting fresh and coming up with something new. I also have a new management team. The people around you are the ones that make all these ideas come to life.
You must have loved working with producer Max Martin again. Yeah, he’s incredible, and Shellback as well. The two of them just have a sixth sense for knowing what people are going to love.
They’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. Have they ever spoken about how working with you is different—or how your queer perspective enhances the final product? I think that’s one of the things that we did that was so different for me this time. They didn’t get hung up on how I came onto the scene or who my fans were. They didn’t think about any of that. They just went, “This is you. This is what you’re able to do with your voice. Let’s make a cool album.” They kind of tuned out all the other statistics. I think that’s why the album sounds the way it does: Because it’s not trying to cater to one thing or live up to anything.
What were you going for thematically with The Original High? I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “breakup” album, but you definitely have a few of those tracks on there. It’s hard to sum it up, but I think it kind of explores the exploring. No matter who we are, we’re looking for certain things in our lives. We all hit walls where all of a sudden we feel unsatisfied, or we long for something but sometimes we don’t even know what it is we’re longing for. It just kind of talks about that search—that chase—of desire and longing and how we deal with it and how we push it forward. I think, deep down, everybody just wants companionship and love. The album also talks about where we’re at in a timely way. Like, 2015: What’s going on right now? How are we connecting? How are we satisfying that need?
Where does the title, The Original High, come from? That’s one of the songs on the album, and it was the first song that I had created for this project that felt like it was actually really saying something and really talking about some real shit. I love the way it turned out, and it was kind of the seed that started this whole thing.
I read that song as you talking about that original spark—the honeymoon phase—that comes with any sort of venture or relationship. That’s one interpretation, for sure. The reason why I love that song so much is because it can mean so many different things for different people. The whole album is filled with songs like that where, like, if this is your background and this is your life, you may hear “Original High” and be like, “Oh yeah, it’s about this” and the next person is gonna be like, “Oh, shit, it’s about this!” We weren’t literal with anything.
Tove Lo explores similar themes in her work, and you actually worked with her on “Rumours.” What was that like? She’s so cool. She’s the most down-to-earth, chill, fun-loving girl next door. We wrote this song before “Habits” became a big hit, so getting to watch it climb the charts and her become a star is really exciting. That was one of the things that I really respected about her: the way she wrote her lyrics so matter-of-factly. She just says it, and she doesn’t make any apologies. She’s not trying to be P.C. about it. She’s just being honest and forthright. I really clicked with her on that.
Speaking of collaborations, what’s the future look like with you and Queen? We have six more shows that we’re gonna do down in South America, which is exciting because I’ve never been there! I’m really looking forward to that.
Do you have plans to take The Original High on the road? I would love to. Hopefully people like it as much as I hope they will, and that’ll give me the fuel to go and put a tour together.
You’ve spoken fondly of the title track. Do you have a favorite track on the album? That’s definitely one of them—“The Original High” is pretty amazing. The very last track on the standard release is called “Heavy Fire,” and that’s a very experimental, strange little song. I always say that it’s Led Zeppelin meets Massive Attack.
I have to ask about the cancellation of American Idol. Were you surprised? No. [Laughs] But they had an amazing run. I’m very thankful for that show. It obviously put me on the map. I’ve gone back on the show every year since I was on it. It’s always like a little homecoming.
What are your plans for this summer? Looking for any summer love? I’m dating my album. I don’t think I’m gonna be in one place long enough to fall in love, but you never know! Stranger things have happened.
“I wanted the album to be a real snapshot of my life, my real life, my authentic life in L.A. over the past 15 years," Adam Lambert tells Out in the August cover story. "I wanted it to sound like music I listen to when I go out or when I’m at the fucking gym or in Runyon Canyon or in my car. It’s a bit of a melancholy album, you know? It’s talking about the ups and downs of life in Hollywood.”
“I chilled out a little bit. I don’t know if it’s just being in my 30s. When you’re younger and you’ve got a skill, you tend to show off more—you feel like you have more to prove. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten into a place where I feel a little more confident in what I do, and I don’t feel I need to prove myself as far as ‘look at all the tricks I can do.’ Now music for me is more about wanting to prove that I can feel something.”
“It was just the way things went down. At that time, how many mainstream music artists did we have that were out? Elton John and George Michael—and his whole coming out was tabloid fun. There hadn’t been a blueprint to follow. That was the one thing I wished I’d had: a little more guidance. There were definitely moments of frustration and pressure, but there’s been a lot of goodwill as well, a lot of support from fans and media people, and it’s balanced out. I don’t have any sort of bitterness about it.”
“I just generally grew out of that old look and enjoyed new ones—it’s as simple as that. There’s also a point where I was working really hard to achieve a look that I was really into, and it was really fun and I wanted to stand out and be crazy and be weird and make a statement with the stuff I was wearing. I look back on some of those red carpet looks, and I’m like, What were you thinking?”
Adam Lambert’s new album, The Original High, finds solid ground in uneasiness.
BY MATTHEW BREEN JUNE 23 2015 10:00 AM EDT
Photography by Jack Waterlot | Styling by Alison Brooks | Groomer: Abreea Saunder
For Adam Lambert, Hollywood isn’t just a metaphor for success or disillusionment. It’s a real place — his city for the last 15 years. It was his home before he ran
away with all the accolades (if not the title) on American Idol, before he debuted an album at the top of the Billboard charts, before guest starring on Glee, and before fronting a stadium-rock band that ranks among the biggest of all time.
When it came time to write and record his new album, The Original High, he knew where his material would come from.
“I wanted the album to be a real snapshot of my life, my real life, my authentic life in L.A. over the past 15 years,” says Lambert. “I wanted it to sound like music I listen to when I go out or when I’m at the fucking gym or in Runyon Canyon or in my car.” He pauses. “It’s a bit of a melancholy album, you know? It’s talking about the ups and downs of life in Hollywood.”
If Lambert had been singing specifically about his time in the music industry, the ups would certainly include the debut of his sophomore album, Trespassing, at the number 1 spot on the Billboard 200 — a historic first for a gay artist; or being handpicked by Brian May and Roger Taylor to be heir apparent to Freddie Mercury as Queen’s frontman in a globe-trotting tour. The downs might include disappointingly little radio play for Trespassing’s singles, despite that auspicious launch. Or it might include the reaction from his then-label, RCA Records.
During the downtime following the release of Trespassing, Lambert was going out, going to dinners, and hanging out with friends. And his conversations with them had a new and different purpose. He began asking friends heavy stuff: What is it that you want? Why are you in this city? What are you looking for?
He says, “Most of the people that I asked weren’t able to answer it. ‘How the fuck are we supposed to know? I don’t know what I want.’ And I understood that. I was like, Exactly. What is it that we’re chasing? What is the driving force here? Is it happiness? Is it success? Is it sex? Is it love? Is it validation?”
Lambert went to RCA, armed with some new insights from those conversations and the experience of two albums, and said, “Let’s try something different.” But RCA had something different in mind as well: a 1980s cover album. Lambert thought about the proposal for a few weeks, and researched New Wave. “It didn’t feel like the right thing. So I said, ‘I don’t really want to do that,’ and they said, ‘Well, that’s what we want to do.’ And I said, ‘OK, I’m going to go.’ ”
Now a free agent for the first time, Lambert approached two of his former collaborators, the Swedish super-producers Max Martin and Shellback, who variously co-wrote and co-produced Britney Spears’s “…Baby One More Time,” Katy Perry’s “Roar,” Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger,” and Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.” He brought a demo of a new song titled “The Original High,” about chasing the rush of first times.
“Shell got really excited,” says Lambert. “He immediately heard how he could turn it into an even stronger song.” Martin and Shellback talked with Lambert about where life had been taking him, and he says they told him, “What if we executive produce the whole thing, the whole album?”
“I breathed a sigh of relief because, at that point, I wasn’t sure what the fuck was happening next,” Lambert says. “These two guys are people I respect so much and I also really enjoy them as people. They answered my prayers.”
Lambert spent eight weeks in Stockholm, working on new songs and meeting Martin and Shellback’s collective of musicians, known as Wolf Cousins. “Habits” singer Tove Lo was a part of that group, and together they wrote and recorded the song “Rumors” in Stockholm. She says collaborating was “a lot of fun, and also easy because he can sing the shit out of anything! We kind of want to share similar emotions in our music, so we understand each other lyrically.”
Lambert calls Shellbeck the “mad scientist” of the studio. “He understands how to worm into people’s brains,” Lambert told a Stockholm audience in June. “He came up with this melody,” says Lambert, “and Tove Lo and I sat down and were like, ‘How do we make a story out of these cool sounds?’ ”
The album’s first single came from those earlier, ambivalent conversations about Los Angeles. “ ‘Ghost Town’ is kind of setting the scene,” Lambert says. “You moved to the big city, you have these ideas, you have these ambitions, and then what happens when you get to a fork in the road, or you hit a wall, and you’re like, Oh, it’s not what I thought it was going to be, or I’m not getting what I thought I wanted, and everything I thought I knew is being called into question? How does that make you feel?” He quotes his lyrics: “ ‘My heart is a ghost town.’ I feel empty. I feel unfulfilled.”
So the song wasn’t primarily about a breakup? “It rolls into that,” he says, laughing. “You can spend a lot of your energy in a place like Hollywood chasing ass.”
“Evil in the Night” — despite high-energy steel guitar, bombastic lyrics, and just a touch of Jamiroquai-esque funk — feels like a refinement of a signature Lambert sound.
“I chilled out a little bit. I don’t know if it’s just being in my 30s,” he says. “When you’re younger and you’ve got a skill, you tend to show off more — you feel like you have more to prove. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten into a place where I feel a little more confident in what I do, and I don’t feel I need to prove myself as far as ‘look at all the tricks I can do.’ Now music for me is more about wanting to prove that I can feel something.”
With a new album in full swing, Lambert had to publicly announce his parting of the ways with RCA in July 2013, simultaneously announcing that he’d signed on to appear on Glee’s fifth season. Warner Bros. contacted Lambert the next day.
“It was scary leaving the label,” says Lambert, but WB’s arrival made him feel confident. “It made me feel better about all of this, made me feel like there was a light at the end of the tunnel. That paired with Max and Shellback’s interest in doing the whole album — it was just like, This is all going to work. I know it’s going to work.”
Lambert grew up in San Diego, joining a children’s theater company at age 10. At 12, he floored the audience with a powerful operatic solo in Fiddler on the Roof.
After moving to Los Angeles, he worked in theater, including Ten Commandments: The Musical with Val Kilmer, and the first national touring company and L.A. production of Wicked. Though he’d been out since age 18, his newfound fame on the eighth season of American Idol brought the kind of scrutiny at age 27 for which an ensemble performer and Fiyero understudy couldn’t have prepared himself. His skillful reworking of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” and Tears for Fears’ “Mad World,” accompanying his darkly glamorous stage attire and affect (in contrast with his ultimately forgettable competition), made him an Idol audience favorite.
But before the season ended, Lambert appeared on the cover of Entertainment Weekly; the accompanying article speculated on his sexual orientation in light of his winking onstage sensibility and outré fashion. Pictures surfaced of him making out with a man (whom he later revealed was an ex-boyfriend) on a Burning Man social media site, Tribe.net. Lambert neither confirmed nor denied anything, to the frustration of many. Shortly after Idol wrapped in May 2009, and Lambert was awarded the runner-up spot, he came out in a cover story in Rolling Stone, but continued to field complaints for appearing in a Details photo shoot in which he suggestively grabbed a naked woman, and for subsequent tightly orchestrated media appearances. He essentially wasn’t being gay enough.
There’s no way to know exactly how much being out has contributed to or detracted from Lambert’s career, but it would be easy to understand why he may have felt he’d rather unfairly gone through the ringer. But he says he feels no envy for those musicians who’ve come out since he did, and may be having an easier go of it. Lambert praised gay singer Sam Smith to Attitude recently, saying, “I’m so happy for him, and I’m so happy his sexuality wasn’t a big thorn in his side.”
“It was just the way things went down,” Lambert says. “At that time, how many mainstream music artists did we have that were out? Elton John and George Michael — and his whole coming out was tabloid fun. There hadn’t been a blueprint to follow. That was the one thing I wished I’d had: a little more guidance. There were definitely moments of frustration and pressure, but there’s been a lot of goodwill as well, a lot of support from fans and media people, and it’s balanced out. I don’t have any sort of bitterness about it.”
Lambert has also forged a connection with Freddie Mercury, a queer artist of the past of whom he was a fan, and with whom he shares more than an octave-defying range. In 2009, May and Taylor performed Queen’s “We Are the Champions” live on the season finale of Idol with winner Kris Allen and runner-up Lambert in a vocal duet. Impressed with Lambert, they invited him to serve as their frontman at the 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards, on a brief European tour the next year, and on a world tour in 2014 and 2015.
“I’ve heard nothing but incredible stories about him,” Lambert says of Mercury. May and Taylor both told him that they’d have gotten on well, that he shared Mercury’s sense of humor. “From what I gathered, he seemed like a really sweet guy, actually — and a bit shy socially. I would have loved to meet him.” Lambert and his Queen bandmates have talked a lot about Mercury, including how out he was. “Technically, he wasn’t really closeted. I mean, he did interviews early on where they were like, ‘Are you gay?’ and he was like, ‘Oh, yeah, gay as a daffodil, darling,’” Lambert says and laughs. “But nobody really believed it because they didn’t want to. It was so taboo at that time that people didn’t actually think he would have been.”
In the promotion of his new album, fans have noticed Lambert’s new look, a touch easier on the velvet and mascara. “I just generally grew out of that old look and enjoyed new ones — it’s as simple as that,” he says. “There’s also a point where I was working really hard to achieve a look that I was really into, and it was really fun and I wanted to stand out and be crazy and be weird and make a statement with the stuff I was wearing. I look back on some of those red carpet looks, and I’m like, What were you thinking?”
“It’s like growing pains, but I was just trying to express myself. Looking back on it now, I can see that I was probably hiding behind it a little bit, sort of like the kid that goes to high school dressed like a goth because they’re actually really sensitive and they don’t want to interact with people and they’re a little scared.”
Though the studio work is meticulously planned, some other parts of Lambert’s life aren’t, and that’s OK. “Everybody thinks everything is so premeditated and thought-out,” he says. Some things are “just impulse…because I felt like it.”
But he says, “Six years is a while, and now I’m in a new space and time in my life, and I’m hoping that my music and my image all match where I’m at.”
ADAM LAMBERT RETURNS TO THE COVER OF FAULT MAGAZINE! 29/06/2015 by FAULT Magazine
Photography GIULIANO BEKOR Stylist AVO YERMAGYAN Grooming PAUL BLANCH @ OPUS BEAUTY USING KEVYN AUCOIN Producer LEAH BLEWITT
Adam Lambert is one of our ultimate FAULT Favourites, and one of yours too. In fact, last time we had him on our cover- for Issue 10 in 2012- our website went into overdrive and crashed ( we have now updated our servers)!
Adam recently released ‘Ghost Town’, the first single taken from The Original High, which has been executive-produced by legendary hit-makers Max Martin and Shellback. Within minutes, the track title was trending worldwide, and in just five days the lyric video for ‘Ghost Town’ had been streamed over a million times.
We had a great old catch up with Adam to find out what he’s been up to this past 3 years!
What are the main themes for this album?
It’s about the pursuit of happiness. We all have something that gives us pleasure, but that thing can sometimes turn on you and put you through Hell. Each song comes back to that.
It’s interesting because I feel each of your albums almost belongs to a different chapter of your life – from American Idol, to RCA, and now to Warner Bros. Do you feel you’ve grown up a lot over the course of your music career?
Definitely. I feel a lot more grounded, and more comfortable in my skin. I think I feel more confident in my talent than I did before, and more clear in my direction. I don’t feel I have to assert myself as much, which means there’s a lot less ego in the music.
Do you feel that this album has that same sentiment to it, in terms of being more stripped down?
I wanted to strip it back, having been so over-the-top. When I started I was constantly trying to create something, but now I want it to be like real-life…I want people to know what I’m really about.
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