As far as timing goes, releasing an album precisely around the time that the world shuts down for a two-year-long pandemic isn’t ideal. Still, Adam Lambert is not hung up on the fact that Velvet, his last studio album, didn’t quite get the run-out that he expected.
“I mean, look,” the pop star says from his home in Los Angeles. “I really put a lot of time and effort in, and I loved it as an album. And yes, it was unfortunate that it was released the month that it was released, because it didn’t really… get off the ground,” he laughs. “We had a lot of plans to promote it and tour it and all of that, so unfortunately I had to mourn that. But I’m still proud of it as a piece of music.”
With Velvet behind him, Lambert is now on the promo trail for his first album of cover songs. High Drama features the Queen vocalist and former reality TV star’s take on a motley assortment of songs, ranging from 1980s power ballads and pop classics (Holding Out for a Hero, Do You Really Want to Hurt Me) to more offbeat contemporary pop songs (Billie Eilish’s Getting Older, Lana Del Rey’s West Coast.)
It’s fair to say that, at one point, Lambert would have baulked at the idea of a covers album, particularly given his background – although as his career progresses, it’s becoming easier to forget that he was runner-up on American Idol in 2009. I remind him that he once left his record label, RCA, when they wanted him to do a covers album around 2013.
“Well, yeah,” he admits. “I think that was a timing thing. I just didn’t feel at that moment in time that that’s what I wanted to be doing, and what I thought was the right thing to do. You know, coming off [American Idol], I felt really strongly about continuing down the road of being an artist and doing original music. And I felt maybe that I had something to prove – if not to the public, then definitely to myself. [But] I think I’ve done that now, and I’m in a different chapter, where I know what I can do. I want to continue to create original music in the future, but I’m also an entertainer.
“And doing tours with Queen – or maybe doing events or private gigs – I’ve found that sometimes, if everyone in the room knows a song, and they’ve known it since they were a kid, it just creates a really nice energy. So it’s nice to have songs like that in the arsenal.”
Returning to his solo career between stints with Queen has never been a source of contention between him and his bandmates Brian May and Roger Taylor, he says. Both he and the band feel it’s important to distinguish that it is a collaboration, however, rather than Lambert being part of the band. As such, they are billed as Queen + Adam Lambert.
“The ownership is different,” he says of the distinction. “I didn’t create these pieces of music, I wasn’t part of the recordings – so that’s an automatic boundary, I think. And I have the utmost respect for that boundary. Freddie Mercury was the most incredible vocalist and, along with Brian and Roger and John [Deacon], they created these iconic pieces of music. So I’ve always looked at it as a collaboration, because I’m up there performing the records that are already out, the songs that are already out, and I’m letting Brian and Roger lead the charge, as far as what the arrangements are and how we perform them.
“I have been able to get involved in the sort of stagecraft part of it, which has been really exciting, coming up with some ideas for production. But yeah, I think it’s a collaboration. I’m singing the songs as myself, and Brian and Roger have always been super-open and supportive of that.”
Having first crossed paths with Queen on American Idol, he recognises what a blessing the talent show has been in his life – and how important it was to make the most of the 15 minutes of fame that it initially afforded him.
“I had a great experience on that show,” he nods. “I had fun, and I was really enjoying myself. Yeah, maybe towards the finale I might have been a little stressed because the pressure was high – but I think it’s not very often, especially in today’s age, where you get to land on the map in such a definable, instant way that I had the opportunity to do.
“I was fortunate enough to have an incredible publicist at the time, who really harnessed the momentum that we had created on the show, and ran with it. And I do think, looking back, that that was a big reason why my career got off to the start that it did. I think I had a team of people that really understood the window that we had, and…” he says, giggling, “they went for it.”
With High Drama coming off the back of several successful solo albums and a period of fronting one of the biggest rock bands of all time, it’s understandable that Lambert is feeling confident. The firepower and versatility of his voice remains undeniable.
“Well, I think I’m a little less precious about trying to prove something,” he agrees. “Good music is good music, and people want to be entertained, and that to me is pretty much the most important part of this. And I guess there is a part of me that feels that if by listening to it, people are reminded of what I’m known for and what I’m capable of, then that’s lovely.”
It’s always important to challenge yourself, he says, which is why his next project will be a stage musical, with original music written by him.
“It’ll be coming out as a concept album of my own first, before it becomes a stage thing. So that was the other reason we thought, ‘Y’know what, let me put more music out there to entertain people while I’m working on this masterpiece,’ if I do say so myself,” he giggles. “I’m not giving the whole thing away yet, because I want it to be more fully formed – but I can tell you that it is based on a true story of somebody’s life, and it takes place in 1970s New York. And it’ll be fabulous: sex, drugs and rock‘n’roll.”
Before finding fame as a pop star, Lambert’s background was in musical theatre, so it’s not a huge stretch. It also laid the groundwork for a new potential offshoot of his creative career. He has a small role alongside the likes of Scoot McNairy, Emilia Jones and Geena Davis in the Sofia Coppola-produced film Fairyland, which recently premiered at Sundance.
“I did a season of Glee back in 2014, or something, and that was the first time that I’d really truly done that kind of acting on-camera,” he explains. “And it was a good experience. I haven’t really done a tonne since, so this does feel like it’s maybe a door opening to some new opportunities.”
Fairyland is a story that he felt particularly passionate about, considering his vociferous activism among the LGBTQA+ community. “It’s based on an autobiography of a young girl who is raised by her single gay father in San Francisco in the 1970s, so it just checked so many boxes for me – the idea of what family could look like in the queer world, especially at a time where it was really taboo,” he nods. “And I have a lot of family on my mom’s side who actually lived in the Castro in San Francisco in the ‘70s, so it feels sort of like this nostalgic thing for my family, as well. It’s a really beautiful story. I just saw the final cut and it’s really lovely, so I’m just proud to be a part of it, and to be acting alongside such incredible pros; they definitely elevated me and made what I did better.”
Lambert is clearly happiest when he has multiple pots on the boil. He speaks of his desire to do more behind-the-scenes work producing and writing, as well as more film and TV voiceover roles, having worked on various animated shows recently. He turned 40 last year, he explains, but your perspective changes as you age: he has done so much already, yet there is still so much more to do.
“Y’know, it’s kind of surreal. I remember being in my 20s, thinking that 40 sounded ancient,” he says, laughing. “So I don’t feel ancient. I mean, I definitely feel older; I definitely feel grateful for all the things I’ve experienced, and everything I’ve learned so far. That doesn’t mean that I’m gonna stop learning, but I’m trying to take what I know now, and use it, and have it inform my art and my personal life. Experience is cool.”
He pauses, raising an eyebrow before he continues with a smirk.
“I do wish that my metabolism was what it was in my 20s, but other than that, I’m good.”
High Drama is released on February 3rd