Adam Lambert is living the dream fronting the iconic band Queen, but he still has one more legend on his wish list whom he’d like to work with.
Reprising Queen’s 1985 Live Aid set during a Fire Fight Australia concert in Sydney in February is a moment that Adam Lambert will never forget. What’s more, he was only three years old when the late Freddie Mercury took to the stage with Queen at London’s Wembley Stadium in a concert initiated by Bob Geldof to end world famine.
Lambert, who has been touring with Queen since 2012, upon the request of Brian May and Roger Taylor, says he still can’t believe his luck in scoring the touring role.
“It was around New Year’s that we knew we’d do the fundraiser in Australia and thought it would be a cool idea to revive that song list. It was a creative process that was right for that moment,” says 38-year-old Lambert. “It also appealed to me because I had a chance to recreate that iconic moment.”
If touring with Queen is a sign of the modern times, then Lambert has also found his voice within that iconic group and it’s rubbing off on his solo work too.
His latest album Velvet shimmies to all the classic ’70s and ’80s innuendos— he’s finally ditched the pop gloss for something far deeper and more introspective. It’s a grown-up soundtrack if you like for a guy who has dug a little deeper—from his father’s record collection to streaming acts from the past via his smartphone.
“I felt that some of the music I made in the past was so divided from where I am at in the world of Queen,” says Lambert of his previous album releases. “I started feeling like I had a split personality—juggling between my pop world and that of Queen. I guess being on the road with them so much this past few years, I wanted to bridge the gap sonically this time around. I thought to myself, I love so many different types of music and wanted to do something that brings those worlds together and reflects the classics.”
Velvet comes with all the classic hooks—there’s disco and retro soul too— and there’s plenty of discussion around love, loss, self-love and trying to keep love when you do find it. “There’s no denying this album wears my heart on the sleeve in so many ways but I haven’t had a broken heart in a while,” he smiles.
“The last time I did feel I had a broken heart was when I felt my career had hit a dead end point. I felt let down and disillusioned and had to reprioritise what mattered to me. Once I recognised that and refused to get sucked into the music business numbers and competitive nature of the game, I started to feel more focused,” he says, referring to a period in 2018.
Lambert, who has released three studio albums and one live recording, says making his 2012 number one hit album (and second album) Trespassing, forced him to rethink the way he was chasing fame and making records. He has sold more than three million albums and five million singles worldwide.
“I had to reassess what it would take to make me happy,” he recalls. “I changed labels, business management and approached this new album differently and the song writing process too. I didn’t focus on a hit or a cool look or find a trend. I just did what I wanted to do.”
Lambert was born in Indianapolis, Indiana and spent his formative first months living in New Jersey with his mother Leila and his grandmother Annette, who had recently become a widow. Lambert says growing up around strong women and stronger love made him into the man he is today.
“My grandmother ended up moving to San Diego with us eventually after my dad got a job transfer there,” he says. “She was a pivotal force in me and my younger brother Neil’s life; always around and able to help us when we needed it. In her younger years Mom worked as a dental hygienist and then opted out of work because dad got a promotion and she didn’t need to anymore. She’s a classic Jewish mother—always worrying and wanting what’s best for her family.”
It was Lambert’s mother who outed him at the age of 18; much to his shock. “I’ve always been close to mom and I think she always knew I was gay but knew I was too scared to say it out loud. One day she was driving with me in the car and asked me if I had a girlfriend. I replied ‘No’. She then asked if I’d like one? And I said ‘No’. Then she asked if I had a boyfriend. I replied ‘No’. And then asked would I like one? And I said, ‘Well heck yeah’.
Lambert reveals how his mother went to a support service to seek advice on how to get her son to open up about his gender identity.
“I thought that was so sweet she went to those lengths. It shows just how loving she is and why it mattered I accept who I am,” he adds. “I remember being in high school and growing into who I was but not saying anything. As a teenager I was into fashion magazines, make-up and styling. I was always drawn to that. I was becoming a fan of fashion
designers and started styling mom—and trying to be constructive. We’d shop together and I’d pressure her to buy the sexy top and not the mom top [laughs]. We had this fun relationship; I was supporting her to have more fun with the way she looked.”
As a child, Lambert says he always loved to dress up; dragging a box of Halloween costumes down from storage to wear every weekend around the house. He started theatre at the age of 10 and discovered his love of performance.
“I actually can thank mom’s side of the family for encouraging the showbiz bug in me. Every Thanksgiving holiday, we would get together and take home videos. That really made an impression on me. Mom’s brother was all encouraging and funny too.”
If as the saying goes, the winner takes it all, then Lambert is here to dispel that very myth. In 2009, he was the runner-up in American Idol but it didn’t stop his meteoric rise in the US charts after that. But with that American tick of approval came the pressure to conform to the tightly airbrushed package the record company wanted of their new poster boy. That meant lots of glossy pop hits, slicker outfits and a rock ‘n’ roll image that didn’t exactly scream mainstream America.
“The music industry is so maledominated; it’s an uphill climb in some cases even for the strongest of women in the game,” says Lambert, who is managed by a female agent based in the UK. “It’s fully misogynistic. Being a queer man in a straight male-dominated industry and dealing with discomfort and fear is something I came to know and it’s what women feel too. I get that it’s not balanced the way the industry should be and I do call myself a feminist. This game isn’t about gender, it’s about who can do it better as an individual, but there’s plenty of men living in the dark ages that’s for sure.”
Lambert’s collaboration with Queen as a front man was not to replace Mercury, but to reignite the power that was the ’70s and ’80s rock outfit. And where Mercury’s sexuality was taboo in the media in his heyday, Lambert has grown up in an era where shaming won’t be tolerated and he’s reclaiming the stage with a powerful new message.
“Coming out and being a man was a big deal 20 years ago. I was so green and didn’t have life experience and was sort of afraid of speaking up,” he says. “Over the years I’ve grown up and probably once I moved to LA I acquired a harder exterior—I wouldn’t say I became jaded—but it did toughen me up. But I am certainly more comfortable than ever in my own skin.”
Velvet is as tactile as it gets for those who want an inner glimpse into the world of Lambert. He teams with Nile Rodgers on the first single from the album Roses— the pair having worked together on a song ‘Shady’ taken from Lambert’s Trespassing album.
“Nile has stayed in touch ever since,” he says. “I met him in New York when he did that for me and we’ve stayed friends. He asked me to sing with his band Chic as well. I have picked his brain over lunch many times. He is a generous man with wisdom who shares with you. We also did a track ‘Lay Me Down’ with Avicii.”
Lambert, who will remain on tour for most of 2020 with Queen, says he’s been lucky to meet many of his idols and work with them; but there’s one yet to happen. “It would have to be Madonna,” he says. “I’ve met her briefly and it was pretty awe-inspiring. I have run into her a few times now and she knows who I am, which is an absolute honour.”
“I had to reassess what it would take to make me happy.”