Adam Lambert on the queerness and liberation of his new album Velvet
Adam Lambert isn't just here for your entertainment anymore.
The 38-year-old artist, who successfully transitioned from American Idol runner-up to rock star and Queen frontman, drops his fourth solo studio album on Friday, March 20 almost five years after The Original High hit our ears. He unveiled the first six songs last September on the Velvet: Side A EP, embracing a growing musical trend of staggered releases. The full record digs further into themes of love and empowerment, all infused by a retro 1970s rock vibe.
"I've leaned really far into my queerness on this," he tells EW of the new album. "I'm very much marching to the beat of my own drum, but my hope is that I've written things in such a way where people realize that they can all find themselves in these songs no matter who you are."
Ahead of Velvet's release, the singer spoke about his throwback influences, why it's taken him nearly five years to drop new solo music, and why velvet was the right fabric to lend the record its title.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's been almost five years since you released a full solo album. Besides the obvious fact that you've had your hands full touring with Queen, why the long gap?
ADAM LAMBERT: I wasn't in any rush to start it. I did The Original High, and that was the last album when I did a tour. I just took my time getting back into the writing headspace. I've noticed with creativity, sometimes you're ready to just pour it all out and it's there and sometimes you have to figure it out. It took a while to get inspired. Also, I decided that I really wanted to go about the whole process a bit differently this time. I wanted to insulate my creativity and my songwriting and protect it from the business. Obviously, being in music you can't avoid it entirely, but it does take a little bit of work to separate the art from the commerce part.
How did you end up accomplishing that?
Looking at things with a shifted perspective. It's really easy to get sucked into the game of it all. The competition and chart position. How many spins and how many streams? What is so-and-so doing and what's the trend of the moment? All that stuff. Instead, I blocked all that out and I just started focusing on why I wanted to get into music in the first place. That took me back to the music that I heard around my house growing up and my parents' record collection, realizing that so much of these classics have shaped who I am as an artist and as a music lover. I thought to myself, I want to reference some of that world that I grew up in.
It definitely has a different sound for you. It's very '70s rock, but also a lot of pop and some R&B. What were some of your influences? I hear Bowie. I hear some Buckingham/McVie.
Yep. Absolutely. Queen, through osmosis, has probably rubbed off on me. One of the noticeable differences of this album is that there's a lot more instrumentation from real live analog instruments. It's so easy to do a reproduced sound with a computer nowadays but I really wanted to hear real musicians on a lot of this stuff. Bowie is definitely a touchstone for me; Prince is a touchstone for me for sure. It's not as specific as that. There's definitely a little Motown influence on there. There's some funk. Some Sly Stone, maybe. I could list a lot of different artists that have influenced me and bands that have influenced me but it's a long list.
Were there things that weren't a sonic influence but a movie or a book that you felt was a real touchstone for you on this record?
As far as the subject matter goes, I really did try to write from experience from my own personal life. Velvet is a love letter to the heart. It explores love and relationship in many different ways. There's a couple of songs on the album that are very empowering and that summarize the search for self-worth and liberation. Then there are other songs about lost love and mourning love and longing for connection, longing for intimacy. And there's some playful songs about dating and sex that are a little bit more light-hearted. All of it really boils back down to relationships.
Since your last album, do you feel like you learned certain things about love or about yourself that informed your songwriting?
We're always growing. I do feel like I go into chapters in my life. It's easier for me to look back on the last four years that I've taken to write this and realize all the things that I've gone through and experienced and also learned about myself. The empowerment stuff is big. What I was saying about the process and insulating my creativity and making a bunch of business changes in order to proceed how I wanted to proceed, a lot of that comes from a place of self-worth and being like, "You know what? I need to take back my power," or, "I need to figure out the true love here. Where is my heart in all of this?"
In terms of that sense of empowerment and embracing your artistry, did Queen give you advice or rub off on you in any way?
Brian and Roger are so wise and I've learned a lot from them. A lot of it just by being around them, just absorbing it. One of the things I've learned about songwriting is that they've tapped into the human spirit. That's why their songs are so timeless. That was one of my goals on this album was to try to create music that didn't expire after a season or after a year. It felt like something that could stand the test of time a bit.
I wanted to talk about the title. What was it about velvet you gravitated towards? Was there a world where this was named polyester or corduroy or something?
[Laughs] It's really funny, the song "Velvet" was written after I called the project Velvet. The title of the album came first. I hadn't finished all of the songs yet but I had probably about eight songs I knew that I was going to go with. I was trying to think of a word that described them all. There's a sonic through line and there's a vibe and a groove throughout the whole thing. If I compared it to my previous work, this stuff's very smooth and I explore different parts of my voice that are a little softer and smoother and slinkier and soulful. I was like, "It's smooth. It's velvety." And I'm like, "Ooh, velvet. Well, that makes sense." I always visualize that the world that Velvet lives in is very specific fashion-wise. It's influenced by the '70s and '80s. It's retro but it's also now. It's kind of over the top in moments and decadent and lush. It also reminded me of curtains to a stage — the velvet curtains. There's something intimate about velvet. You see velvet used in intimate apparel and lingerie. It felt like it fit.
Was there one song you found hard to crack or emotionally challenging to put on the page?
"Closer to You" — it's the big ballad of the album. It's funny because I had been working on it for so long. I sat down with the writers — we had a demo of just the chorus — and then months later we all were in the same place again and we were able to [come] up with a verse. It's like wine or something: it has to age for a bit and you to have to spend some time away from it. Then you come back to it with fresh ears.
"Closer to You" was a great example of a song that went through all these different phases to get to where it was. It was the last song to be finished for [the Side A EP]. We finally cracked the code and wrote a verse that we loved. I re-sang parts of it and we added all this instrumentation, and it really came together quickly at the very end. But it took a lot of marinating.
A lot of artists recently have been dividing up their albums across release dates. The first part of Velvet came out last fall but now the full album is coming out this month. What was it about that approach that appealed to you?
It's so easy to put out a single and then one more, then an album, and then it's all over. I was just like, "I don't want the experience to be in and out so quickly." I had a handful of tracks that I was really excited about but I knew I wasn't quite done with the album yet. But I was like, "I want to put these out. I just feel ready." In today's way of releasing music and the way that people consume music, you can do whatever you want. There's no rules anymore. I found that extending this whole process of releasing the album really helps me create and build this world that I want to exist in with this music. It gives my fans time to understand it and process it, dive in, and really enjoy it.