Adam Lambert Talks Hollywood, Hedwig, and Reaching a New ‘High’
Adam Lambert just released a new album on new label Warner Bros., the Max Martin/Shellback-produced The Original High, and he has certainly experienced some highs and lows since competing on American Idol six long years ago — or even before that, when he was just another twentysomething trying to get his big break in Hollywood. Now a wise 33, he’s come out of the reality-TV wringer, a handful of scandals, and a split with RCA Records with incredible poise and his most fully realized album to date.
Lambert recently sat down to talk with Yahoo Music about what a long, strange, but always glamorous trip it’s been. All you Glamberts out there will want to watch this epic, in-depth, two-part conversation in full, but below is a handy crib sheet of some of his standout quotes — covering everything from the mainstream public’s sometimes frustrating reaction to his sexuality and how instant fame messed with his head, to why he turned down the titular role in Broadway’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch (we’re still hoping he’ll reconsider that one) and how he feels about the end of the Idol era.
This man is indeed a true original. Enjoy!
On dealing with the craziness coming off American Idol in 2009:
“I think it did mess with me a little bit. I think at the time I wasn’t super-upset or anything, but I think it skewed some of my decisions. I got a little reactionary in moments. It kind of fueled fire for me to prove a point, to rebel against something or be like a contrarian, push me one way or another. Looking back on it, in hindsight it’s a lot easier for me to figure it out. I look at it now and go, 'Oh, interesting.’ I can see now how certain entities were kind of projecting their M.O. on me because I was this figure that had come up in a big show like Idol. It was a pop-culture thing. Then with the being-gay thing, that became such a sensationalized topic. It started to precede what I was even there to do, which was to sing songs for everybody. I think at the time I just took it on because that was what I was given. I didn’t really have much of a choice. I think that’s the big learning curve that I’ve experienced over the past six years: how much you can control versus how much you have to kind of surrender to. It’s a tricky thing to figure out.
"I think a lot of the scrutiny came from the sexuality, unfortunately. I think that was the root of a lot of the fascination/criticizing. Never before, up until that point, had I really thought about that actively. I was a teenager and I was struggling with it then. I came out of the closet at 18. At that point I was like, 'Whew, I’m free. I can just be who I am, completely!’ For almost 10 years, before Idol, I was who I was. It was just a fact of my life. Then after getting off Idol, all of sudden I had to explain it and qualify it. It was at the forefront of everything I did. It wasn’t my choice. That’s what I was dealing with. That was little bit frustrating, because all of sudden it starting messing with my head, in the sense that I was thinking about it more than I ever had. Overthinking, like, 'How am I representing myself, my sexuality, and community?’ That wasn’t ever something that was part of why I got into music in the first place. Music was just music.”
On whether The Original High is a breakup album:
“It is darker, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a breakup album. I think that’s an easy way to put it into a box. I’ve heard that a couple of times in things I’ve read, and I’m like, 'No, not really’” Is it about relationships? Yeah, but it’s all kinds of relationships. It’s relationship to different things in life. I look at it as an album that’s kind of looking back on my 15 years in L.A., in Hollywood. My twenties I kind of spent trying to figure out my identity. My last two albums were a lot about identity, because like it or not, all of a sudden I was 'that guy.’ This album, I had a period of time off before I started working on it. I was in a little bit of a rut creatively and personally. I was like, 'I just don’t know what I want right now. I’m in transition personally, emotionally, spiritually. I don’t know.’ I started looking back and reliving certain things in my head and writing things down. The album kind of goes through this idea of like now that the identity is set the pursuit now is of happiness. I just want to be happy. Just like everybody. This is a common thing. I was looking around at my friends in L.A., hanging out with people doing dinners and late nights. I started asking people, 'What is it that you want?’ Most people were kind of like, 'I don’t know. I’m thinking about what I want right now.’ Impulse, you know, cravings, longings, desire. I think a lot of people move to these big cities like L.A. and New York and they’re kind of like, 'OK, I want to become a star’ or 'I want to be rich’ or 'I want to meet the man or woman of my dreams.’ We have these big ideas, so that’s our motivating force. We’re going towards it and sometimes you get that thing and it makes you happy. Some people never quite reach it. Some people are trying to get it and they go about the wrong way and they have pitfalls. Sometimes you get it and then you go, 'This isn’t what I wanted.’“
On what he really wants:
"I’m still trying to figure it out. I don’t really know. The album never claims to know. It’s just about the chase. The chase of whatever it is in the moment that you’re after. Bringing it back to the breakup thing, there are definitely moments on the album that talk about chasing after love, or sex, or power, or wealth, or success, or happiness, or whatever you want to call it. There’s different things that make us feel happy, or sexy, or alive. It’s about all of that. If you actually look at the lyrics to a lot of the songs they can be interpreted a lot of different ways, on purpose… [But] I’m feeling good. I put a lot of energy and priority into my career. When I’m actively at it, I’m very satisfied.”
On his memories of first moving to L.A.:
“I was just trying to figure it out. What was I, 19?… I was just looking for experience… I kept auditioning for musicals in L.A., which is kind of an oxymoron, since there’s not a lot of musical theatre there. I was trying to get my career going but I just stayed in L.A. and assimilated to that. I love nightlife, I love going out. I love socializing at night, in crowds at parties. For a while there in L.A., I was kind of a club kid. I would wear weird costumes and go to Ms. Kitty’s and all these crazy places. I loved that. I loved dressing up: Drag Strip, Club Makeup, all these clubs, I loved it. It was very free, the fantasy of it. So I guess [the new album’s title track] 'The Original High’ is kind of looking back a bit. I even remember being at Hyde when that was like the place to be. I remember I was like 25 and at the time I started becoming enchanted with this idea of fame and being on the list. At that time that meant a lot to me. It was sort of a validation thing: 'Oh, I’m trying to get into this. I can’t get into the club. Who do you know? How do we get in? So we know this person, now I’m friends with this person, I can get into that [club].’ It was almost like high school mentality to me. I guess that’s kind of what it is. It’s so wrapped up into the fame, celebrity thing in L.A. I definitely got seduced by that, by that idea and what that was. Now it’s weird being on the other side of it and putting it all in perspective. I see that now in other people and I’m like, 'I remember that. I remember being on that side of things, what that desperation felt like.’ Looking back now I can see it all much more clearly. 'The Original High,’ definitely, that song looks back on those times.”
On that '80s covers album his former label RCA wanted him to record:
“It’s so funny, because I never considered myself somebody that’s really a '80s music expert. I think that other people saw me there. I think some of it probably was my styling and the way I approach certain vocals that people thought, 'Oh, '80s.’ If I was listening to retro rock, I was listening to more '70s, maybe early-'80s rock. But not like '80s proper… It just didn’t resonate with me to do covers of new wave music… I already kind of got my start doing [covers, on American Idol]. And knowing that I was going to be out with Queen, covering their amazing catalog of music, I just felt like part of my career is developing signature songs and my own music. That’s what I wanted to do. ”
On getting out of his post-RCA Records rut:
“I think one of things I realized after [sophomore album] Trespassing was I was a little disappointed with the commercial life of it. I expected it to have more life. I was in a little bit of a rut because I was like, 'Well, what do I do?’ I was trying to figure out if I wanted to make this album or not. What I realized was, I don’t know how it came into my head, 'You got to let go of the fear here. You know you’re always going to work.’ I had a conversation with a close friend of mine who kind of shook me and was like, 'You’re always going to have work. You’re not going to starve. You’re going to be able to put food on your table. You have a talent you can put into a number of different things. Just relax and go for it.’ It was so simple, this idea of not putting so much pressure on everything and not being so hard on myself. I’ve gotten a lot more relaxed.”
On whether he’d ever work again in musical theater:
“There’s been some offers, but I think for right now, I feel like that other chapter of my life was all of that. It was all musical theater. I think it’s an amazing art form. I have a lot of friends in musicals. I have friends that I made doing Wicked that are still some of my best friends. For right now, I want to focus on my career in the recording industry. If the right thing came up at the right time I would consider it. [Hedwig and the Angry Inch] already offered; I said, 'I’m working on an album right now.’ There’s something really exciting about being myself… For me, it just started to feel like there’s not enough freedom in [theater] for me. I like being able to kind of go off the cuff and free-form.”
On American Idol coming to an end:
“I think when Idol came out, it was at a time where we really kind of needed that. 9/11 had just happened and the country kind of needed something to believe in. The music industry was in a weird place. It needed some fresh energy. [Idol] gave the power to the people; it let people decide who they liked and who they voted for. Then over the course of the last couple of years, it’s starting to teeter a little bit on how effective it is. I think if you look at something like YouTube, there’s been like stars that have been launched that way. And it’ll be something else next.”
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