“I’ve always been somebody who likes to stand out from the crowd—and it comes with its perils,” says ADAM LAMBERT. The pop/rock superstar and Queen lead singer spoke with RICHIE BLACK about the joys and risks of living large in the spotlight; themes explored in his new solo EP, Velvet: Side A.
This Adam Lambert guy, apparently he’s doing well.
He’s happily in a new relationship (with model Javi Costa Polo). His latest solo EP is getting rave reviews. Oh and, you may have heard, he’s the lead singer of one of the biggest bands of all time, Queen. And yet, he says, there’s still room in his life for a little doubt and insecurity.
“I’m only human,” he explains. Well, sometimes we doubt that mate, but still.
It’s something he addresses in his new EP Velvet: Side A, which stylishly yet unashamedly embraces his funk, disco, and glitter-rock influences in six tracks, each co-written by Lambert.
The rock/funk bombast of ‘Stranger You Are’, for example, represents a soulful challenge to a particularly reactionary type of “hater”.
“I think that song’s kind of about being different,” says Lambert, “When you’re daring to be different, you’re opening yourself to more criticism.”
And that, it seems, comes from a personal place.
“Trust me, I don’t have it all dialled in,” he confesses. “I have my moments where I get stuck in a negative way of thinking or a negative comment gets to me.”
In a similar vein, the opener ‘Superpower’, a catchy disco-infused dance track, defies those wishing to “put me in a box/make me something I’m not.”
Lambert sees this defiance as partly a reflection of the times we live in.
“I do think that I’m picking up on a general feeling; a collective energy. There’s a lot of frustrated people that feel disenfranchised and discriminated against or misunderstood.”
The desire to be different—take risks—will always be proudly part of Lambert’s M.O.
Discussions with his co-writers in the studio were about “wanting to create something that would give somebody who felt that way a feeling of confidence and strength and empowerment”.
“And stand up and say, ‘You know what? That’s unacceptable and I’m going to take back my power.’”
Of course, politics aside, his songs also speak to his personal musical influences: the piano-driven ‘Closer to You’ recalls Bowie and Elton, while ‘Overglow’ features a slinky ’80s-esque synth-bass hook.
“I just love that time period,” he tells the Star, partly as a result of: “Growing up in a house that had a lot of that music playing. So I wanted to do something that was a part of my DNA naturally.”
An intrinsic influence, naturally, is that crazy little thing called Queen—the band he has fronted for the last eight years.
Which sounds like a pretty good gig, right—and a pathway to fulfilment? Well, yeah, it is. But that’s not to say it can’t be problematic—for the obvious reason that he happens to be stepping into the shoes of one of the most deified of rock gods.
It’s something Lambert says still causes anxieties—yep, like those ones referenced on his EP.
“In the beginning [when Queen] asked me to join them, I was like, ‘Oh God, can I pull this off?’ I mean, I wasn’t totally sure how it would be received by the public and by the band, and even to this day, it’s not like an easy win,” he explains.
“I have a lot to prove each time I get out there. Because Freddie was obviously such a God: he wrote these songs, he sang the shit out of them and performed the shit out of them.
“When people start comparing, which is inevitable, I get people saying, ‘Well, I preferred Freddie’—and I’m like, ‘Well, of course, he’s the originator of this, I prefer Freddie!’’’
But then (funnily enough) if you do really want to compare, while history now rightly remembers ol’ Freddie as rock royalty, back in the day he was also a fairly polarising figure himself.
Royally outrageous and camp—defiantly and unapologetically, at a time of sweaty Led Zep machismo and punk rock fury—he was never exactly a critical darling.
And it seems like the same kind of mix of vulnerability and defiance that Lambert describes tapping into when tackling some of the most dynamic and demanding of Queen anthems.
“I take a deep breath and try to ground myself,” he says, with a chuckle.
“Part of the beauty of live performing, is that it’s sort of trial by fire. You can’t be like, ‘Oh let me do that over, I need to get really comfortable.’ It doesn’t work that way … you have to throw yourself at it.”
That said, Lambert also grounds his role in Queen with a (somewhat un-Freddie-like) humility.
“In a way,” he explains, “I’m being of service to the band and the fans. [Realising] that made it all click for me.”
While performing with Queen has been about honouring a legacy, it’s been in the making of Velvet Side A where he’s rediscovered a creative voice.
“Four years ago when I started [Velvet Side A], I felt a little bit fried,” he says.
“I didn’t feel like I was in the driver’s seat as much as I wanted to be. So I did some soul-searching and I had to insulate my creativity a bit—create a space for it—and a lot of that had to do with sort of starting this project more on my own. It’s been a more pure experience this time.”
Ultimately, Lambert has identified that risk. Being “strange” is actually part of this “pure” creative experience; embracing the adrenaline and heart-flutters that are part of his freedom and strength.
“That type of sink or swim kind of mentality, it kind of helps me,” he says.
“It’s like [if] there’s a whole audience out there—maybe there’s 18,000 people out there — and we’re playing this live, there’s no click track, there’s no backing, no autotune, it’s like: ‘Here we go.’
“And that can be a bit scary sometimes but that’s the very essence of making the magic happen.”
Adam Lambert’s new EP Velvet: Side A is out now, and available to buy/stream at https://empire.lnk.to/VELVET.
Queen + Adam Lambert will be touring Australia in The Rhapsody Tour in February 2020. Visit ticketek.com.au for information and tickets.