Adam Lambert has been singing timeless songs for the past eight years, filling in for the late Freddie Mercury with rock legends Queen. But with his latest release, Velvet: Side A, Lambert feels like he's created something that could also stand the test of time.
The 37-year-old singer channels a more classic sound on Velvet: Side A -- which arrives Friday (Sept. 27) and is the first of a two-part release (Side B will arrive next year) -- taking inspiration from artists of the '70s and '80s. The six-song EP is the most confident Lambert has ever sounded, and by no coincidence: It's the first time he's truly been able to incorporate the material that first influenced him.
"I grew up in a house where my parents played a lot of vinyl in the '70s and early '80s," Lambert recalls. "Those styles of music are inherent to my experience of understanding what music was. It didn't feel like it was something I was trying to step into -- it was like I was coming back to something I already knew."
Five of the six tracks on Velvet: Side A are punchy, empowering anthems like the soaring lead single, "Superpower." Right in the middle is a heartfelt ballad titled "Closer to You," which Lambert calls "the heartbeat of the EP," in part because of its vocal showcase. No matter the tempo, the Velvet: Side A songs are a declaration that Lambert hasn't lost his own artistry amid his time with Queen.
Lambert detailed how he perfected his own timeless sound on Velvet: Side A; what fans can expect for Side B; and why Queen wasn't the only legendary act to influence his latest music.
You've said you've reached a point where you care less about what critics think and are making music that's true to you. How did you get there?
I just needed to focus more on what I wanted, and tune out the pressures of the industry. When I first started working on this four years ago, I had done some soul searching. I had just come off a tour and I was a little fried, kind of tapped out. I had to look inward and figure out, "Why am I doing this? What is the real reason? Why do I love this? Do I love this?" I had to ask myself some hard questions. The conclusion that I came to was that I love music, I love performing. The business of music can become a bit toxic, so I had to figure out ways in which I could kind of insulate my creativity.
This is your first album not on a major label. I assume going independent helped you feel that creative freedom?
I do [feel] a little more freedom with this project. I've been in the creative driver's seat more than I've ever been. There's way less compromises that I'm having to make. I've worked with some amazing people in the major label system, and I've learned a lot. I just think it was really important to assert my independence on this one, and to prove to myself, more than anybody else, that this is a thing that I could do on my own. Being the A&R and executive producer on this, making the big decisions, that made a big difference for me. Also, there's a lot of major label politics that I got to avoid -- which was so nice to avoid. [Laughs.]
What were your goals for the album musically?
The intention was that it'd feel more timeless; it wouldn't be something that would sound out of date in three years. A lot of it came from referencing songs from the past: '70s piano singer-songwriter pop, funk and soul music, Motown -- a lot of things people still love. This music sort of falls into a new lane. It's more classic, there's a lot of instruments in it.
Any classic artists that were particularly influential?
Prince, Prince, Prince, Prince. [Laughs.] He's one of my all-time favorites. In a moment where I'm like, "How should I approach this part vocally?" I always think, "What would Prince do?"
I would assume working with Queen for the last several years has played into your music too. You've talked about how Brian May and Roger Taylor are very collaborative with you when it comes to putting the Queen show together -- how has that impacted you?
It's made me feel active; it's given me a sense of purpose and confidence in my ideas. And it's let me walk away feeling a sense of accomplishment. Queen's songs, they stood the test of time. When I get out there, people know every word. There's a reason why these songs still work and people love them so much. That's kind of sunk in, even in a non-conscious way, sort of by osmosis. [I've been] singing great music all over the world for the past eight years -- it's made me a better creator.
Have Brian and Roger heard Velvet?
I played different demos for them and got their input on what songs they thought were stronger. Definitely got their validation.
Along with the classic sounds, I also feel a Tame Impala influence with those heavy bass lines on songs like "Loverboy" and "Overglow."
Tame Impala is a definite reference point. A lot of those contemporary indie bands, they're referencing the past as well. I'm obsessed with current artists that do hard references. You look at somebody like Mark Ronson, who's a genius. He's taking clear and distinct references -- different time periods, genres, artists -- and he figures out a way to bring them into the current space. I was very inspired by artists like him.
There's also a band called Sports that I really love, [another called] Jungle -- artists that aren't necessarily at Top 40 radio. Being in the pop game over the past 10 years [myself], it's easy to get trapped in that box of radio, radio, radio. I made a conscious decision to be like, "I don't want that to be the reason why I'm making the music I'm making." That was one of the biggest differences of this album compared to the last: I didn't feel that commercial pressure.
Why did you want to split Velvet into two releases?
The way that a project rolls out now, it's like, you put out a single, maybe a second single, and then your album drops -- then it's all over. So it's sort of a way to extend the whole experience for fans. It's like when you go to a restaurant: They don't just put one plate in front of you with everything on it. They stretch out the meal to make it more interesting and more satisfying, so I guess that's how I'm looking at it. We had some appetizers before the EP came out, maybe we'll have some dessert later.
Speaking of the "appetizers" -- will "New Eyes," as well as the other songs you put out earlier this year, "Feel Something" and "Comin In Hot," be on Side B?
They'll be part of the album as a whole. I'm putting out Side A [now], Side B will come out early next year, and shortly thereafter it'll all be on one album.
What can you tease about Side B?
There is a title track called "Velvet," and there's another one called "Love Don't." I jump around with subjects on this project. There's definitely empowerment anthems like "Superpower," "Ready To Run" and "Stranger You Are," and then I talk about relationships. I'm in a very happy relationship right now [with Spanish model Javi Costa Polo], and that's sort of why I wanted to release "New Eyes" first -- because it sums up the feeling that I was getting from my boyfriend at the time. But there's other songs on this project that I was writing way before I met him, where I was not happy in love. I was feeling a sense of longing, a bit lonely and wondering, "Where is the one I'm looking for? Where is love?"
What inspired the name Velvet for the overall project?
It means so many different things. Velvet's a pretty popular fabric. [Laughs.] It made me think vintage, fashion, the '70s. It's what a curtain is made out of on a stage. My favorite movie is Velvet Goldmine. There's also this book called The Velvet Rage [Overcoming the Pain of Growing Up Gay in a Straight Man's World] that's a really important book about the gay experience, sort of why we are the way we are -- I read that at an early age, and it informed me a lot about how gay men are. This album is for everybody, of course, but as a gay man, the personal elements of it, that's my experience.
[Velvet is] also a feeling, it's soft, smooth. And with this stuff, I tried to get a little smoother. I'm using my falsetto more than I've ever used it before, and digging into some new vocal styles, new approaches, different textures, and they feel velvety. It just feels like the right title.
For Your Entertainment turns 10 in November. How do you feel like you've grown as an artist from that album to this album?
I actually think that Velvet is the most similar to For Your Entertainment out of all of my recordings. The difference is that For Your Entertainment was a little more varied, there was a handful of other genres on there. The thing about For Your Entertainment -- and I'm so proud of that album -- I did not write much on that album. It was right after American Idol, I was in the whirlwind of it all, coming off tour, and the record label I had signed to was anxious to get something out really fast to sort of capitalize. There were major writers on that album: Lady Gaga, and Matt Bellamy from Muse, Rivers Cuomo from Weezer, Justin Hawkins from The Darkness, Max Martin and P!nk.
If I was to look back and realize what I've learned, it's that I've become a songwriter. I co-wrote a couple songs on [For Your Entertainment], but they weren't big ones. I'm really thankful for [what] I've learned about songwriting over the past decade, working with great songwriters and producers.
I also think the big difference is that I know my voice more now, and I know who I am as a person and as an artist. And I know my fans better now, so I know what I want to write about, and I know what they will connect with. Commercial success is awesome -- everyone loves it, me included -- but to have a sense of personal accomplishment [with a project], it's a different type of satisfaction. I feel a big sense of pride in it.