Adam Lambert Talks Chasing ‘The Original High’ & The Funky, Housey Sound Of His New Album: Idolator Interview
Adam Lambert has done a lot of promotion this week in support of the just-released The Original High. But if he’s fatigued, he’s keeping it hidden when we sit down to talk about this, his third album. In fact, us being the pop nerds that we are here at Idolator, we don’t give a toss about prompting this guy to give his thoughts on Caitlyn Jenner or other openly gay musicians or American Idol, as we’re far more interested in hearing his stories about crafting the new music that reunited him with his “Whataya Want From Me” and “If I Had You” collaborators Max Martin and Shellback.
Adam, as we know, spent a large chunk of the past year touring with Queen and keeping hush-hush about his new label deal with Warner Bros. (Previous albums For Your Entertainment and Trespassing were released through RCA.) Guitar god Brian May from Queen even wound up laying down instantly-recognizable riffs on The Original High track “Lucy,” while treks to Stockholm to record the LP found Lambert collaborating with “Talking Body” singer Tove Lo on a new cut called “Rumours.” And then, of course, there’s the album’s single, “Ghost Town,” the video shoot for which — to hear Adam tell it — sounds like the best two-day party we all missed out on.
But enough jabbering on about our talk with Mr. Lambert. He doesn’t really need an introduction, anyway! Head below to catch our full, unfiltered conversation with Adam (be sure to flip to the second page, too!) about the making of his brand new album, The Original High.
First up, I need to retroactively thank you for tweeting about our En Vogue Funky Divas 20th anniversary feature three years back.
ADAM LAMBERT: Yeah, I love that album!
As you’re well aware, the Glamberts are very loyal, so that led your fans over to us, and they’ve stuck around ever then. So thanks!
AL: Of course. [Laughs] I don’t have a lot of bookmarks on my computer — and I’m not just telling you this — but Idolator is one of ’em. I always like the stuff you guys bring up. I discover a lot of music on there.
Very cool. So before we jump into your new album, let’s touch on En Vogue — what was it about Funky Divas that clicked with you as a kid in the ’90s?
AL: I mean, the vocals were fucking crazy! Those vocals were like…what? For me, around that time, I had been doing musical theater as a kid for so long and my perspective of music was based on soundtracks I had heard from musicals, and what I heard around my house, which was more like rock, ’70s kind of stuff. So, I think discovering these soulful diva voices was such a new thing for me. The little gay boy inside was like, “Yes, girl — sing!”
Well, speaking of singing, you’ve got a new album out this week. How did Max Martin come to executive-produce The Original High with Shellback?
AL: Basically, after I left [RCA] I started going around L.A. and working with producers that I had heard about and writers that I had heard about, and I had this demo of a song called “The Original High.” Then I arranged a meeting with my management and with Max and Shellback. I played them a couple different demos, and they’re like, “Okay, cool, right on.” Then I played them that one and they’re like, “Woah!” Shellback had all these ideas on what we could do to make the track a hit and make it even better. I started talking about what I’ve been doing and where I was, and they were like, “What do you want to do? You’re in a different place and zone then you were in before. Let’s do the whole album.” We just had a great conversation and reconnected.
Did the song “The Original High” have that ’90s throwback house vibe in the demo form?
AL: No! The melody was all there. I think it was mostly the verses that stayed, but it was actually more chill — like acoustic-y chill in the beginning, as a songwriting demo. We slowly discovered that throwback house thing was gonna be a big part of the album. And I love that, because it reminds me of when I was a kid listening to dance music for the first time – big, funky, groovy vocal stuff, like C + C Music Factory and Soul II Soul.
And Robin S!
AL: Yeah, all that stuff! I really loved those songs, so in many ways that’s a reason why [the song is] called “The Original High.” It’s like the first time I heard that style.
I feel like the other song on your album where that sound is most prominent is “The Light.”
AL: Yeah! That’s straight-up ’90s house.
So let’s dive into some of these great tracks. Why don’t we start with “The Original High”? How did this one come about in the first place?
AL: I worked with Axident and John West. I found out about Axident through my friend Justin Tranter from Semi Precious Weapons, who I’ve done a little writing with. He’s a genius. He’s hilarious.
He “likes” a lot of our Instagram photos!
AL: He’s great, and really talented. We were talking and he was like, “You should check out this guy.” So that’s how I met Axident, who’s from Norway, and we recorded the song. Its evolution happened with Shellback, and we made it more uplifting as far as the emotional tone of it. I think in the original it was a little sadder, a little more melancholy, and we pushed it up into a more euphoric place.
Another standout is the ballad “Underground,” which you performed this week during your iHeartRadio show.
AL: Could you tell that I messed up lyrics, because I certainly fuckin’ messed up lyrics! [Both laugh]
I missed that! I don’t know the album as well yet to realize you messed the lyrics up.
AL: Clearly I don’t either! I love that song, though, and probably out of all the songs, sonically it’s the most of a departure for me. It’s definitely stepping into a new vibe that I haven’t done before. I love that it’s still me in the recording, but just the sonic frame is more of a contemporary R&B thing, which I think is really interesting. I was really excited about going there. I have artists that I’m listening to lately like The Weeknd and Miguel. The new-school R&B is so cool and I’m very attracted to it.
Have you checked out Banks?
AL: I love Banks. Yeah, really rad. I really do like a lot of atmospheric shit, more kind of vibey, floaty stuff. So I love that “Underground” has that soundscape thing happening. There are a lot of layers and nondescript little atmospheric effects.
“Underground” was one of the few songs you didn’t write on the album.
AL: No, I didn’t write that one. That was Joe Janiak. I met him in Stockholm. He’s from the UK and he’s kind of a hippie — he’s got long hair and he’s really, really positive. His energy is really happy all the time. We just clicked. We talked about lifestyle a lot. That was one of the things I bonded with him over, like certain parties you’ve been to, or festivals, or experiences you’ve had…in certain states of mind! That’s where we really connected, so I think that’s what inspired him to write “Underground.”