Q&a Adam Lambert - How to get from American Idol to working with Pharrell, Nile Rodgers & Queenqthemusic.com: Q&a Adam Lambert - How to get from American Idol to working with Pharrell, Nile Rodgers & Queen
American Idol contestants are not normally the fodder for our weekly Q&a slot. Runners-up even less so. However when we were invited to hear Adam Lambert's second album Tresspassing, released in March, we were surprised to see that along with expected pop collaborators like Dr Luke, the singer had recorded with Pharrell Williams, cult indie type Sam Sparrow (he of Black And Gold fame) and Nile Rodgers while rumours of further work with Queen's Brian May and Roger Taylor continue. Not just that, with the record's subject matter openly embracing Lambert's sexuality, the singer has used his mainstream launch-pad to challenge the preconceptions of American's right. All in all, a bloke worth sitting down and having a chat with then, which is exactly what we did...
How the devil are you?
"I'm good. I'm happy to be here, despite the cold. I love coming to the UK."
Is it harder for you in the UK because you are known a bit for American Idol, but we didn't see the show or get your back story?
"Yeah, the last album didn't get the attention it deserved but hopefully this time it will be different. But it's been three years. I'll always be associated with the show, which is great because I got to put myself out there and do great music. I really enjoyed my time on it, but hopefully people can start considering me as an artist. This album in particular is more of an artist's album. I got to co-write most of it, I was an executive producer, it's very much my thing! I did the styling, the artwork... I'm a control freak, but I'm doing it from a good place."
Unlike a lot of reality TV types you actually had a decent career as a singer, particularly in musical theatre, before you went on the show, while in the UK it seems you're supposed to have a decent sob story rather than talent. Why get involved?
"It was one of those things where they mentioned my background on the show once and then let it go. I did have to quit all my contracts which was a bit scary because that was my bread and butter, my health insurance... I had to quit and I didn't know if I'd be on the show. I was told, Quit so you can be considered. I thought Oh my God, it was kind of a risk but I knew it was worth taking because of the possible reward."
That reward is national exposure in a country the size of America?
"It's a huge platform, that's why I did it. There's nothing like it, you can't buy PR like it. Right before I auditioned I had started to write some music and I had some experience, talked to some people in the business and got a feel for what it's all about. I was still pretty green, but the impression I got was it's fucking hard to break into! I thought, well I'm a 27 year-old gay musical theatre dude/ club kid so this is not going to be an easy sell. Idol seemed the way to get myself out there."
Were you conscious that it was also a good opportunity to present someone with your sexuality to mainstream American, particularly as a large percentage of that audience might be prejudiced against you if they met you outside the show?
"The best opportunity on the show is to sing songs they identify with. That's the part of the show I approached like a strategy game. It's like Risk. Once you get comfortable in there, each week I would try to - in a good way - manipulate the audience, which is what entertainment is anyway. And it is a game show! My big strategy was to do something totally different each week to keep people guessing and do something that's the opposite to all the other performers so you get the attention."
With this album you're working with Pharrell on two tracks how did that come about? Lots of cash?
"I'm sure there's money involved, that's business, but he has to want to do something. He checked out a lot of what I did and he said to me, I really liked it when you sang the classic rock shit, the Queen songs, the Zeppelin, it's wild, I feel you're our generations Freddie!
I didn't even know how to accept that compliment from him. I'd walked into the session feeling not cool enough to be there! When he said that, I thought he must have an idea of what he wanted to do, so we wrote this song about being an outsider both in the industry and in your life and overcoming it and doing what you want to do. The thing about the album is it is split down the middle. The first half of the album is all upbeat. The second is the underbelly, the dark side. The Pharrell songs are so funky, but what Trespassing is also saying is it takes all this energy to put myself out there like that. I woke really hard to seem strong. I feel it's an example I have to set for gay kids in school or whatever, so they can say, I can be a popstar too. But to fight the adversity and discrimination that's so abundant in the States you have to put up your guard, and the album is kind of about that."
Are you comfortable being a role model - possibly even a martyr - because you were first to put your head above the parapet?
"I don't really have a choice. Some of it has been project onto me and I'm not upset about that. It's a pretty amazing gig to get, there's a lot of pressure and expectation. I don't like it when it overshadows the music. That's the hardest balance to strike, but I think this year, with this album and my life right now, balance is my key word. I'm striving to find it and maintain it. I'm closer to it than I was three years ago that's for sure."
Hence the two sides to the record?
"If everything has an opposite and equal reaction then that's this album. It deals with that give and take. A song like Trespassing is this big anthemic march stating be who you are, be proud, don't listen to the haters, be a rebel, do what you need to do. The flip-side is a song on the album that says when you do that there are consequences sometimes, there are anxieties that come from that and stressful moments, neurosis, pain and confusion. There are songs about that, low self-esteem, image... it's hard. This is not fucking easy!"
You're happy with that, you don't ever think, Leave me out of the politics I just want to sing?
"What's hard about being one of the few [openly gay US popstars] is that even with the gay community there's so much scrutiny from them. Some say you're not being gay enough, too gay, Why are you flamboyant? Why aren't you masculine? You don't represent us well. There are so many different types of gay dude, what's the difference? The gay community celebrates strong women, they don't necessarily celebrate strong men unless they're really straight acting. It's almost a study in extremes and that's what really good things about the album. It's saying no one is really one dimensional."
Not only do you work with established producers the like Pharrell or Dr Luke on this album, Sam Sparro has written a few songs too.
"He's got some new stuff coming too. We did a B-side around my last album called Voodoo which I really regretted didn't go on the album because it's strong. I looked at the songs I enjoyed performing from that record and the songs that went down well live, and I took a cue from that for this album, an electro, disco, funk feel is something I wanted to chase down. Pharrell opened the door for that and said, This what you should do and with Sam we created two more songs. Shady is one of them and we have Nile Rodgers playing on it. It's about wanting to get nasty and wanting to get into trouble."
Back up a second, Nile Rodgers?
"We were writing the song and we realised we needed something like Nile Rodgers guitar on the record. So Sam said, Why don't we just tweet Nile? So we tweeted him! We said Yo do you want to do something? And he went Fuck yeah! I brought him the track a few weeks later, he liked it, and he started putting a groove on it. My jaw was on the floor, it was so fucking cool! He took the song and gave it a whole other pocket."
What is your plan for the rest of the year?
"We're figuring it out as we go. I feel like this album will be more of a band thing live. Also I might be doing some more stuff with Queen, that could be great. I can't say but I think something is on the horizon."
What's it like to have an artist like that you've listened to all your life asking you to work with them?
"It's surreal! It's a bit intimidating but because they're so comfortable with it, it makes me comfortable with it. They're incredible. They're so paternal and warm."