When I sat down with Adam Lambert in a Sydney hotel, he was as I imagined him; with perfectly sculpted hair, a green smoky eye and the same fabulous finesse you experience whilst he’s on stage. Naturally, I commented on his look which was comprised of a green Gucci blazer, silk blouse, black leather shorts, tie-dye socks and leopard print sneakers, for which his response was, “I’m going for a jungle cruise look today, part Steve Irwin. Safari glam!”
Since Lambert’s 2009 audition on American Idol, the artist has not only been known for his killer vocal cords, but a powerful presence particularly for the LGBTQ community. And while he admits his creativity and spark was lost in the “numbers and competitive industry”, the 38-year-old has returned from a four-year hiatus with a banging, new album aptly titled Velvet. Teeming with ’70s rock sensibilities and disco electronics, Lamberts powerful vocals support a soulful pop curation of dance-worthy tracks. And if that wasn’t enough, Lambert has launched the ‘Feel Something Foundation’, a non-profit organisation in support of LGBTQ+ human rights.
Off the back of his massive world tour with Queen where he stood in as the group’s lead singer, ICON caught up with the pop sensation and philanthropist to talk Freddie Mercury, Velvet and of course, his spectacular style.
ICON: Your album Velvet comes just after 10 years since making your debut in the industry. What has been your most important lesson in that time?
Adam Lambert: “I think I’ve been learning more, especially lately about personal satisfaction as opposed to commercial validation. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the game and the numbers, and the competitive industry. It is really easy to lose sight of your creativity that way. More than ever, I’m trying to redirect the way I look at things and recognise a sense of personal satisfaction and personal accomplishment.
With this album for example, creatively, I feel really happy with it. It is exactly what I wanted it to be.”
How do you think the perspective on the LGBTQ community has progressed since 2009?
Lambert: “It’s mainstream now. Even 10 years ago as far as the music industry was concerned, it wasn’t done, that wasn’t a thing. There was definitely a road block there which was exciting, I was up for the challenge because I recognised that was going to be the case. I knew that going in. That was what prevented me auditioning for American Idol in the first place. I thought, how is this going to work for me? Every week that I stayed in, I thought, ‘Are you serious, I did not see this working out.’ When I got to the end and got a record deal I thought, this is it.”
Do you still think there are battles to be fought for this community, politically?
Lambert: “One hundred percent. Equality is still something we’re not quite at yet. But there has been a lot of progress made in the last decade. From what I know about Australia and at least in the big cities it’s pretty progressive. But gay marriage just got passed here so it’s a whole process.
“There is more important things to worry about in the world and hopefully the greater public starts to understand that people’s personal happiness should be a given, it should be equal.”
Let’s actually worry about the things that are threats in this world – climate change, let’s worry about that.”
What was the pivotal moment for you to establish the Feel Something Foundation?
Lambert: “I’ve done stuff with different charities over the years… I think I just decided I wanted to take it to the next level. I wanted to get in there a little deeper and target specific issues which are homelessness, queer youth homelessness and mental health and suicide prevention … Not everyone has the finances to run away to the big cities.
I want to put some energy into arts education. A lot of young queer people are creative and I want to create more education opportunities for them whether it be lectures or workshops or things that people of a certain financial situation can’t afford.”
In the past you’ve discussed how you grew up being the “weird kid” at school. What advice would you give young people who are queer or creative or buck the status quo and feel isolated?
Lambert: “It’s not always going to be easy, that’s the disclaimer, you’ve got to know that and not be naïve to it. The idea of it getting better is true, school is usually the hardest [time]… Stay true to yourself, follow that instinct, follow exactly what you want, it will get you there.”
How has working and touring with Queen contributed to your own solo music?
Lambert: “It’s given me confidence, career confidence, and a sense of belonging. Financially it has been very helpful [laughs]. And creatively, it has reminded me what makes a great song and how to really reach an audience and create music that stands the test of time – their songs are timeless and they all deal with the human spirit.
With Velvet in particular, I started going into that time period of the seventies and the eighties for inspiration. Or I started referencing or being inspired by current bands that are also inspired by the past.”
What was the pressure like to step in as Freddie Mercury? What connection did you have with artists before joining Queen?
Lambert: “I definitely felt a lot of pressure when I first started with Queen. I thought, what are the fans going to think? What is the band going to think? Can I even do this?
“I had a lot of insecurities and doubts, but I knew it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
I was definitely a Queen fan. When I grew up, I was listening to the stuff my parents was listening to and then a lot of musical theatre. When I was in high school, I was listening to a lot of what was popular at the, a lot of pop. When I moved out to LA, that was when I fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll from the seventies. I started watching things online, seeing Freddie in all of his outfits and just being completely ‘camp’ and hilarious and a lot of their music was very theatrical so there was definitely a bridge there.”
You’ve always carried such a distinctive style with your music. Where do you look for inspiration?
Lambert: “I’m a very visual person so the way something looks makes me think about the way it might sound. I’ve been into a lot of fashion of late, people are dipping into all this crazy psychedelic, funk-tify, very retro-inspired stuff and that was one of the main indicators to me that going this direction with my music could connect with people.”
How do you curate those looks?
Lambert: “I find getting myself ready gets me ready, mentally, creatively, it puts me in the zone. When I put together an outfit and put some makeup on and fix my hair and I listen to my music, that’s part of my process. It’s also a way to stay child-like. When you’re a kid, playing dress-up is a thing, that’s still what I get to do.”
It has been four years since your last release. Why was taking this break necessary for you?
Lambert: “Some of it was out of my control, business stuff. Creatively, I just needed to really get back down to why I wanted to be in music. It is really easy to get burnt out by the industry, by the numbers. It took me a second to go, ‘Ok, let me figure out why and how much I love it and why I love it and let that inform what kind of music I make.’ … I just want to make a song that I like, point blank, that’s the first criteria, do I fucking like it?”
How would you describe your new album in three words?
Lambert: “Lush, soulful, timeless.”
What do you hope people take from your new album?
Lambert: “I want people to understand that it’s a collection, it’s a mood. It’s a world. I wanted it to be consisted, I wanted it to be cohesive. I didn’t want you to listen to it and ask why that song is on the album. It all fits together, and I went through a lot to make sure it did. I hope people take away the time and energy I put into it. I really love it and I can’t wait for people to see it live, I’m definitely going to tour with it.”
Adam Lambert’s latest album, ‘Velvet’, is available from March 20. For more information, visit the website here.