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When Adam Lambert was on American Idol in 2009, he grabbed viewers’ attention with his octave-leaping voice and startling reworkings of talent-show standbys—while he came in second that season, he was certainly that year’s most rock-star-like contestant, and he made even more headlines when he came out of the closet on the cover of Rolling Stone shortly after the Idol season wrapped. Today he releases Trespassing (RCA), his second post-Idol album, and its confidence and catchiness should further establish him as one of today’s premier male pop stars. Trespassing, which counts among its collaborators Pharrell, Sam Sparro, Chic’s Nile Rogers, and Dr. Luke, struts; it brims with grooves and is led by Lambert’s overwhelming charisma, and it could very well be the first No. 1 album by an out pop star, as Chris Molanphy noted last week.
SOTC caught up with Lambert yesterday before he performed a brief set at the MLB Fan Cave, located in the former Tower Records space at East 4th St. and Broadway.
I love the record. I think it’s so great, so fun, so lively. I don’t know if you saw the article we ran last week…
I love it. It was really flattering. Thank you.
What do you think of [the possibility of Trespassing being the first No. 1 album by an out pop star]?
I love the idea of it. I do hope people buy the record because they like the record—and I think they will. I feel this whole journey has been a guessing game, when it first started. It was like, “I hope this works, I hope this is good.” When I was on Idol I knew I could get up on stage and do what I thought was great, and when I made it every week, I was like, “Wow, this is actually working? People like this?” I couldn’t wrap my head around it. And even with the first album, it was like, all right. But after that sunk in and I toured and I got a bit of a fanbase and I traveled, now I’m like, “OK.” And when I wrote this album I felt like, “OK, I know what I want to do.” And I trust that more now than ever. This album, we wrapped it up, and I was like, “This is damn good.” And I’m somebody that doubts myself a whole lot. But for me to come to that [point] is really amazing.
I think it brims with a lot of confidence. How did you approach writing the songs so that, even with your collaborators, you let your personality shine through?
A little bit into the process I said, “Look, I really want to executive produce this. I’m going to be able to make sure that it has a cohesive feeling.” When I went into my various writing sessions—some of which I sought out, some of [which] the label arranged for me—I brought that in and I would sit there and talk with the producer and say this is the music that is inspiring me, this is the sound I want to give it, and I think I helped steer the ship.
I was at Burning Man, and up until the point of Burning Man we had done a handful of emotional dark stuff, some of which was really good and some that was a little kindergarten. I had written a few songs that were a little more throwback classic rock, which I’ve always kind of [enjoyed]. But I was looking for something. And I’m out on the playa on Burning Man in an art car with friends, and there’s so much dubstep. And I appreciate dubstep from a producing, technical point of view, but there’s no groove to a lot of it.
It’s very nu-metal-y.
It’s very hard. Very metal-y. I like a pocket—I like, like, funk or disco or stuff that you can shake your ass to. That’s sexy. And this little art car comes zipping by us just blasting Daft Punk. And our art car went from rocking to dubstep to immediately smiling and getting down with each other and touching each other. It just hit me in the head and I was like, “That’s the type of record I want.” It’s instant. It’s classic. It’s old, it’s young. It’s black, it’s white. Gay, straight. I was captivated by it.
I like the way [Trespassing] grooves. It does have a poppy-atmosphere to it, which I feel is lacking a lot right now. I feel like rhythms on the radio are so 4/4 skip.
We tried to find stuff that gave it a little bit of a different feeling. Stankface is what I want to achieve with the album. And I feel like it does trigger stankface—I’ve watched people react to it. And that’s another part of it too. I had the time to sit with the demo, fine tune it, go back and change stuff with the producers, write new parts, add new elements, and then play it for people. Play it for friends, colleagues, people I respect and trust, and see the reaction. And if I got a bunch of, “Eh,” then I was like, “This isn’t going to work.” When you’re an artist it’s hard to be totally objective.
All of that combined, I love this album. Here’s to stank.
So you’re touring with Queen this summer?
I am. I’m doing five shows.
Are there any particular songs from the catalog that you’re excited to bring to the masses?
“Another One Bites the Dust.” Stankface.
Yes. That’s a good one.
I feel like it’s not coming completely out of left field for somebody who doesn’t know who I am. I did a few [Queen songs] on Idol. They were my favorite ones.
What do you think about stepping into the shoes of Freddie Mercury?
I’m bringing my own shoes, girl. [Laughs.] I think Freddie would probably approve of my shoes. But Freddie Mercury is such an idol of mine as a singer, and as a showman, a songwriter, and as a gay man. He is an icon. I think it would be a little bit cheap for me to go up there and try to imitate him, or try to [make him] pop. I’m an artist, you know. My goal is to do the songs justice and not stray too far. I don’t want to sacrilege; I want to keep the intent. I mean, I have Brian and Roger on stage, in rehearsal, telling me green light or red light. So I’m going to look to them in hopes of being kinda like, “Hey, is this cool?” And I’m their guest.
How did you hook up with Nile Rodgers?
I wrote the song “Shady” with Sam Sparro and Lester Mendez. And we were almost done with it, and I was like, “OK, it sounds really good production but we need a live element—we need a Chic, disco guitar.” And Sam was like, “I’m following Nile on Twitter; let’s tweet him.” And that’s how it happened. We just tweeted him. I came up to New York a couple weeks later to do some meetings and we were introduced and I asked if he wanted to do some stuff together and he was so down. He’s so nice and humble.
His blog about his cancer treatments is so inspiring.
He’s so positive. And he’s been so supportive of the record we recorded. And really proud to tell people about it. That was pretty validating, for someone of his stature to give his stamp of approval with a track—on a funk track, too.
Are you going to tour with the record itself?
I’d like to, yeah. That definitely is the plan, but we don’t have anything set up yet. But, that’s kind of the idea.
You know, my ambition is strong, and I love pop stardom; I love pop stars. I love Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and Rihanna and Britney and Madonna—and Beyoncé, who’s a goddess. I love all these women so much. And Justin Timberlake, and a couple of [other] men too. But my goal with this album and doing it live is to find my own way with it. There’s a lot of blueprints out there that I really enjoy as a fan, but it’s finding my own way that’s going to be a fun part. Right now, I’m having such a fun time just being who I am and stripping it back a little bit, you know? I want some visuals and things, but I want to feel very much of the Funkadelic/Jimi Hendrix, psychedelic, funk, futuracious. Keep it kind of new, and clean, and fresh, and [have] it really be about the music.
You know who I saw this year in concert that shifted my perception? Prince. He didn’t need all that shit. It’s just fresh. It’s just good. And I’m not saying my stuff is anywhere near Prince’s, but he’s definitely somebody who’s inspired me.
Did you come to New York when there was Tower Records?
No. And I keep saying that I would like to live in New York eventually. I haven’t done it yet.
But I feel like, you know, there’s actually a movement right now that I’m sort of lining up on—the Scissor Sisters, Sam Sparro, Beth Ditto and the Gossip. I feel like there’s this community, our community is coming up in a really fresh and legit way and we’re pulling something off that other people might be a little scared of, and we’re doing it really well. I feel this kinship with those bands.
And all these records are coming out right now; the Gossip and Scissor Sisters records come out at the end of this month too.
And Sam’s record comes out soon, too. It just feels like there’s a want for it, you know? Like, the collective and such is going to bring it, and we’re all like, “Fuck yeah, let’s go back—but make it new.”
I think what makes [Trespassing] so strong is that it has this [feeling] that’s very 2012.
What’s nice is that the LGBT community is progressing#0151;it’s a little slow at times—but one of the things I like about the creative side of it is the resurgence of fierce. You can be strong about your fabulous side again—it feels like that’s coming back. I think for a while, because we’re trying to progress into society and integrate and be accepted—which still is the case—I think there’s a little bit of fear that surrounds our behavior, especially in the public eye and in the entertainment industry. But I’m feeling like that there’s this movement where people are starting to be like, “You know what, fuck it. I’m going to be proud and loud and do whatever I want.” It’s free. I think the freedom and the expression thing is getting bigger, and it’s getting more comfortable.
I just feel like I spent the last couple of years negotiating and navigating through this—”Hello, I’m a celebrity and I’m gay!” And I’ve heard, just talking to people, they’re like, “You know, Adam, with you it always feels like it’s about your sexuality.” And there’s only so much control I have over that. The media will treat me how they want to. I’m a pretty open book. I’m answering all the questions. And the sensational gay responses are the headlines of the articles, even though I talk about this, that, and the other thing.
The narrative is always going to be so strong, especially now with there being so much media. And now because there is so much media, it all just filters up to one thing. Which is frustrating for you as an artist.
Yeah. And what I’m really excited about this album doing is that I hope it gives me a way to be credible within the public eye. Because I think sometimes I’m a punchline. And I can take it. I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I can laugh at myself too. And some of the things I do are fucking ridiculous. I know that. But it will be exciting to be a little bit like, “Well, have you heard the song?” [Laughs.] With a smile, you know?
Adam Lambert plays KTUphoria, with Pitbull, Flo Rida, Dev, Calvin Harris, K’NAAN, Karmin, and Havana Brown (as well as special guest Enrique Iglesias), on Sunday, May 20.