The Interview: Adam Lambert

Published on 24 March 2015

photography Rankin
fashion editor Chris Benns
fashion assistant Alessia Vanini
hair Brady Lea
words Holly Fraser
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When a 27-year-old Adam Lambert stepped in front of the judges on American Idol in 2009 he had little idea what would soon come his way. Belting out theatrical renditions of “Rock With You” and “Bohemian Rhapsody”, never in his wildest dreams did he expect to be – within six short years –  fronting Queen and being spoken about in the same sentences as one of his idols, Freddie Mercury.

But whether Adam can quite believe it or not, his determination, boundless talent and unwavering resolve to be nothing but himself has seen him achieve more in six years than many musicians achieve in a lifetime. Never mind the praise, fans and record sales – Adam even has a day named after him in his hometown of San Diego (it’s May 8 FYI)!

But it’s not just his music that does the talking, it’s Adam himself, and he doesn’t hold back – refreshing in an industry known for censorship and often tarnished with the stereotype of churning out manufactured, media trained pop darlings. Openly gay, he has been credited with being an ambassador for equality and bringing a new perspective to mainstream music, as well as shining a light on much needed issues including bullying and same-sex marriage. In a world of sameness, Adam stands out and thank god, the music industry – and most others – need more voices like his.

Before his third studio album is released this spring we caught up with the burgeoning superstar at his shoot with Rankin to find out why the future is really rather rosy indeed.

You’ve been getting incredible reviews for your UK shows, is it a relief? And how much pressure did you feel before the tour started?

We played our first full show together about two years ago in the Ukraine for close to half a million people in a massive public square. That show scared the hell out of me. This past summer we toured North America and Australia and Asia to great acclaim, which strengthened my confidence and comfort with the material and the band. I was excited by the reaction we received after performing on The X-Factor and  the New Years Eve show. I think those performances warmed up the crowds and gave them a taste of what we were capable of with a full arena show in Queen’s motherland.

Are you a fan of Britain and British culture?

Yes! I’ve been spending a lot of time in London this year. I love the pop music coming out of the UK right now. Vulnerably soulful vocals and this house revival are turning my crank. I’ve always been drawn to British film and TV as well – there’s a great emphasis on witty banter and sarcasm.

"Sometimes my candidness bites me in the ass
but that doesn't stop me from keeping it real."

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Brian May has said that you’ve transformed over the time that you’ve worked together - do you see that in yourself too?

I think I have crawled into the songs more. I am now able to toy with the melodies more than when I started. I also find myself more connected to the lyrics and have learned more about what inspired the band to write them. Now after four years of working together, I feel a stronger responsibility to the band, I’m closer to Brian and Roger and more comfortable with the intense expectations of the fans. The doubt and fear have faded and been overtaken with a deep joy.

When approaching the Queen arena tour I wanted to dive right into their reputation for theatricality and camp. To avoid or downplay that energy would feel sacrilegious. I approached it like I was co-curating a staged retrospective of the history of the band. One section of the show was my tribute to their 70s Glam period and I didn’t hold back! Fringe, rhinestones and platform heels felt only appropriate. In my opinion, this is all part of why audiences fell in love with the band in the first place. This kind of nostalgia was a major part of the design of the entire tour.

How have you changed as both a performer and person in the last five years or so?

I definitely feel both a personal and professional evolution over the past five years. I think I’ve become more well adjusted to the strangeness of fame and more grounded in my personal life. I don’t overwork my performances as much as I once did; as an entertainer, sometimes less IS more. Personally speaking, I’ve tried to take a similar less is more approach to life. That being said, I still have extravagant tendencies but I think I’ve managed to balance things out a bit better. I’m still my own worst critic, but I’m giving myself better reviews these days. This has all lead to me feeling more comfortable in my skin and more willing to reveal a more authentic, honest self to the world. My personal style reflects this shift pretty clearly as well. I’m still drawn to glamour but in a much less flamboyant way. I’ve outgrown a lot of the looks I was working when I broke onto the scene five years ago – all that bullshit was a LOT of work and way too much getting ready time – I’m not patient enough anymore! And plus, my tastes have just changed in five years – just like anyone. We all have our phases, some fierce and some tragic! I definitely look back on some of my fashion choices and roll my eyes.

When the opportunity came about to front Queen, what were your initial thoughts and reactions?

I was honoured and excited – and then the fear reared its ugly head. I thought, “yikes I don’t want to be compared to the incredible Freddie Mercury”. Who would? He’s a god in my book. I knew I could handle the songs but it would be a tricky balance between making them my own, and keeping their original integrity. At the end of the day, I chose to accept the challenge in hopes that it would lead to a growing experience. I’m very glad I did. I feel creatively revived and inspired.

How does performing with Queen impact your solo career - does one ever have to take a back seat?

I’ve been so lucky to share the stage with these legends and reconnect with audiences all around the world. I take great pride in our sold out world tour. It has been the ultimate outlet for my love of larger than life, glam rock, pomp and circumstance. This was some of the very reference material that inspired me at the start of my career in the music industry. For Your Entertainment was my modern pop take on glam rock. Stylistically, my new solo materials has moved in a different direction. I am looking forward to launching a new chapter that will explore another side to my personality. I don’t think of one taking a back seat to the other – they’ve coexisted beautifully. Our tour was a live collaboration, for which I was Queen’s grateful guest. Now that it’s over, I have my third album to release and promote. But this isn’t a goodbye to Queen at all. In fact, we are headlining Rock in Rio this September. For now though, my focus is shifting to my upcoming album.

Speaking of your new album, The Original High, how is it different to your previous material?

This album was executive produced by Max Martin and Shellback and they helped me keep a very cohesive sound and mood throughout. Sonically it feels more contemporary than my previous material. It’s definitely pop but not bubblegum. We have avoided camp and theatrics and have favoured a darker, more grounded vibe, and at the same time, it will make you dance! Lyrically, it’s very very personal, the album has an overall bittersweet feel to it. Vocally, I think it’s my most tasteful, sophisticated work to date. With Max’s guidance, I approached a lot of it with more restraint than in the past. Instead of being overly specific, most of the songs are more esoteric and so they’re open to interpretation. I’m curious to hear about the individual meaning that people find in the songs dependent on their own situation.

The first single feels like the perfect introduction to The Original High. It establishes itself in a very earthy, vulnerable way and transforms into a hypnotic dream full of surreal imagery and set to a minimal yet massive deep house beat. The hook will worm its way into your ears after the first listen. Get ready!

"My wish is for gay to become less of a label,
and more of just one of many great colours
in the collective box of humanity."

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You seem to be a very authentic and honest person and don’t hide who you are or what you believe in. Is it important that this authenticity filters down into your music too?

Sometimes my candidness bites me in the ass but that doesn’t stop me from keeping it real (laughs). I’ve always been an open book. I think there have been moments of this on my previous albums but on The Original High, we have really cracked the book wide open for all to hear. It’s a little scary to be that vulnerable, but I’m ready to let people understand all that makes me tick, even the unattractive parts of me.

Do you think that the music industry and musicians today are honest enough?

I think with social media as it is now, musicians are a lot more open and honest, and I think that’s what people expect and want.

Do you want to be seen as a role model?

In the past it felt like a lot of pressure. I’ve always said, don’t do what I do, do what you do. If my personal empowerment motivates someone to explore theirs, then I’m honored. I don’t consider myself a teacher or better than anyone else, I’m flawed and still trying to figure myself out.

You’ve been credited with advancing gay rights in music, which definitely needed to happen. Do you feel a responsibility to continue to do so?

I think there’s a simple power in being unapologetic and open about who and what you are and not letting it prevent you from getting what you want. In that way, I think I’ve made a statement. My wish is for gay to become less of a label, and more of just one of many great colours in the collective box of humanity. I’m not a separatist. I’m all inclusive.

How inclusive is the industry you’re in, in your opinion?

It’s quickly changing along with society. I’m thrilled. We have entered a time with a much more level playing field.

Now onto another subject - fashion. How important is crafting a standout persona through fashion?

I am a shopaholic. I love clothes. Playing ‘dress up’ has always been a favourite daily activity. I love the expression of it. Beautiful things make me feel good.

Finally, what are your biggest goals this year?

To have my music reach a broader, global audience. I can’t wait to share it!

Adam will release”Ghost Town” on April 21st with The Original High following later this year

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