The art of radio used to be just that—an art. The disc jockeys would play long sets of songs to tell a kind of musical story in order to entertain or inspire the listeners. In the days of radio’s past, the DJ could play the music he or she wanted to. Our special guest is reminiscent of those days. A.J. Lambert is the host of “Third Generation” on Sirius XM satellite radio’s “Siriusly Sinatra” channel. She is also a musician and recording artist like her mother, Nancy Sinatra, uncle Frank Sinatra, Jr. and her grandfather Frank Sinatra who remains one of the most renowned singers and entertainers of all time. A.J. Lambert shares her very down to earth perspectives.
Where were you born?
I was born in Los Angeles, in a hospital called Cedars of Lebanon which is now the Scientology Center.
I was hoping you can tell us a little bit about the music that is most vivid from your childhood.
It’s probably things like Harry Nilsson, David Bowie, The Beatles. My father had a very eclectic music taste, so I grew up on things like that and other very random things like The Babys, Roxy Music, Pointer Sisters. I’ve got most of my various musical tastes from my father, Hugh Lambert. He was very much a music fan. My mother, too, but I think her taste is different, you can identify what she likes a little easier than in my case or my father’s case.
What about you learning to play music?
I was exposed to it from a really young age. I had music around all the time, but as far as formal training, I had piano lessons like everybody else. I had a really strange teacher who would write in the name of the notes on the music, so I never really learned how to read music properly, because she kind of cheated. But I learned about how it all worked, and how things sound in harmony and what tonality is and all that stuff, and I actually got pretty good at the piano. It’s unfortunate that I can’t read music.
I started getting into music on my own when I was 14-15 years old and I taught myself a few instruments – guitar and bass and drums, so I can kind of play a little bit of everything. But it’s definitely a “jack of all trades, master of none” situation. I do not have the one instrument that I have mastered, except my voice.
And when did you begin writing songs?
I probably wrote my first song when I was in high school at some point, some horrible thing that if anybody ever digs it up will be laughable.
What are the things that you are trying to accomplish with your radio show, “Third Generation,” other than just the enjoyment of the listener?
There’s absolutely the enjoyment and I have this amazing opportunity to play stuff that I love. When I first started doing the show, I thought there would be things I thought my grandfather might like or that he might hate, which I also thought was interesting – look, here’s something that he’s not interested in – I thought that would be an interesting take on things. At the very beginning of doing that show I would get a lot of feedback about “it’s not Sinatra music, it’s not standards, it’s not things that go on this channel,” and I started to think, if you listen to these things as just songs and not hearing them as genre per se, and just listen to them just as songs that are well written, then they’re all the same. Good music is good music.
Do you ever listen to recording artists of today and think: I can hear Frank Sinatra there, I can hear an influence?
There are some where it’s very obvious and I don’t tend to gravitate towards those, to be honest with you, because I feel like the ones where you can really hear it are people who are such fans, which is great, but they’re such fans that they’ve become imitators or would-be imitators and I just think that that’s a waste of time, because you’re not going to sound like him. Sometimes I really do hear an influence, but I like to find that influence in things like interpretation—mastery of the art of interpreting a song and making it your own. That to me is more of a Sinatra influence than being a crooner. I can hear you’re doing interpretations, that to me is more of a Sinatra influence than any specific vocal performance style. To me the vocal performance style that sounds like Frank Sinatra’s imitation, I just think that’s kind of a waste of time. It’s very flattering, I’m sure, but I think it’s much more for the accurate or correct to be a master interpreter than to attempt any kind of style that is “Sinatra-ish.”
People like David Bowie, for instance – even though he wasn’t even a fan of my grandfather, in fact I think he decidedly was not a fan – I am a huge fan of his, as you can probably glean from my show, and I believe that because he is a master of that idea of being an interpreter of music. But then somebody like Michael Bublé, who is very talented, but it doesn’t do anything for me, because it just sounds like he is trying to copy somebody.
Tell us a little bit about the song that you co-wrote, that your mother, Nancy Sinatra recorded called “Bossman.”
That was a collaboration between myself and a duo called Reno, and I don’t know if they’re still a band. They approached me to say that they were interested in collaborating with my mom on a song that they had sampled some of her music from. She really liked what they did with the song they used the sample in, but then we started thinking, why don’t we just take it further and write something that she can sing. So we did, we met up, they came over from England. We talked, figured out something to write. My husband at the time and I wrote the song with them and it ended up on her record “Nancy Sinatra,” which we produced with Don Fleming. It was also featured in a “Sopranos” episode, where we both appeared and it was really fun. I kind of forced my way into that one.
You lived for a time in Hoboken, New Jersey. And a lot of people know that’s the birthplace of your grandfather, Frank Sinatra. What is Hoboken like?
Nowadays Hoboken is a very “yuppie” kind of town. It’s very small, it’s beautiful, it’s on the opposite side of the Hudson River from Manhattan in New York City. It’s right across the river, so you can take a boat to it, you can take a train that goes under the water to it. I liked it and it was very random that I happened to live there, it wasn’t because of my grandfather. I worked for a while in a studio that happened to be in Hoboken. Now it’s very crowded, it’s a mainstream, nice neighborhood. I lived there for about six years. It was great. It was not a romantic kind of Frank Sinatra haven like people think it is, it’s very yuppie and very fratty and there’s lots of bars, but there are definitely spots where you can have a Frank Sinatra moment. It’s not really the shrine that you would think it is.
I was listening to one of your songs, “Equivocation.” Tell us about the inspiration behind that one.
The inspiration behind that song is about as basic as it gets. I was falling in love with somebody and we had to be separated for a time because of previous plans. And I figured that eventually we’ll end up together, but it’s just going to take a little while, and that’s what happened! So that’s pretty much the whole story of that song. It was a bear to make, because I was a novice at programming. I played and programmed all the instruments on that record and I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s a little crazy sounding, but I like it that way.
I’ve had the chance to interview your uncle, Frank Sinatra Jr. I was wondering, has he been for you a source of feedback? In terms of your own music, have you learned anything from him?
I learned that no matter how difficult it is to be related to some of these people, just in terms of having your own voice and being taken seriously, which is difficult, you have no choice sometimes but to do it, because it’s in our blood. And he has had such an uphill battle in terms of his name. Quite a burden to put on, to be perfectly honest with you, I think it’s a little crazy that they named him that. He has had that his whole life to surmount. Many people say to me: “Well, why did he go into that, why is he doing that music?” And I say, “Because he loves it, he believes it, he feels it with all his heart, and he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care that it’s difficult, he doesn’t care that is’ challenging, he believes in that music, he loves it and he lives and breathes it.” I think that’s pretty damn inspiring myself.
That was exactly the word that was going through my head: inspiring. You mentioned before we did the interview that you’re a music teacher. How did you get involved with that?
I actually had my daughter in a class and I really loved it for her, she really enjoyed it. And I hadn’t worked in a long time, because I had lived in New York for all those years and I had done a whole career doing music supervision in New York for a long time. I had my kid and we decided to move back to L.A. and I didn’t work for about a year so I could be home with her. And then it came time that I had to start getting some extra money, and I got certified to teach this specific type of music program for kids.
What is the best thing about being A.J. Lambert?
(laughs) I’ve got a great kid! That’s the best thing about being me. I’ve got a fantastic little girl, she’s my whole life and I’m super lucky to have her. I’m super lucky to have had the family and the upbringing that I’ve had.
For anyone who is reading this or listening to this, totally open-ended, what would you say to them?
I guess I’m living my life and having a really nice time with my girl. I’m singing a lot, I’m thinking about making a record. I don’t have any illusions about being a famous person. I don’t necessarily want to be a famous person, I have a lot of those in my family. It’s not going to kill me if I don’t do music for the rest of my life. My message is that everybody have a nice life.
I’m nobody. I’m a granddaughter, I don’t have a message. Famous people and people that are pundits and famous contribution-laden stars have messages, I’m just the schmuck music teacher with a lovely kid. And I happen to be born to Frank Sinatra. That’s it. I don’t have a message.
Then who is A.J. Lambert?
Most people care about me because of my relatives. I’m a really nice person who happens to have a really cool kid. I’m really funny, I’ve got an acerbic wit. I think the people who are reading this would be more interested in my music and the stuff that I’m doing coming up. I appreciate you asking about me, but I’m really nobody and that’s OK. I’m a mom and I’m a singer and I’m a teacher, I’m a book-keeper, I’m a waitress. That’s pretty much it.I really appreciate that you ask a lot about me, which I’m not used to. I think that was part of it – I’m so used to towing a sort of company line that when I’m asked about myself it’s disorienting. I am really proud of my legacy, but so often it feels like the only thing possible to say is that I’m proud and honored – which I definitely am – and apart from that I don’t really have any message or anything to say that anyone would care about, coming from lil’ old me! I can talk really well about specifics about my own life and my own music and things I do, but general things like „who am I” and „what’s my message” are not questions I can answer and not feel like an asshole.
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See A.J. Lambert sing in person!
MARCH 24, 2016
Gardenia Restaurant and Lounge at 7066 in W. Hollywood, California
MARCH 25, 2016
The Purple Room Supper Club at 1900 E. Palm Canyon Dr. in Palm Springs, CaliforniaSemnat de Paul Leslie