Q&A: Josh Groban
The balladeering superstar won’t shake his warm-and-fuzzy reputation with his sixth album, All That Echoes, but at 31, he’s learning to tap into his inner douchebag.
Interview by Rob Tannenbaum,
Photograph by Billy Kidd
February 2013 Issue
DETAILS: When was the first time someone told you that you had a great singing voice?
Josh Groban: I was very shy about the largeness of my voice. When you’re 30 and you sing in a grand and chivalrous way, you can perform at Lincoln Center. When you’re 14, it’s the kind of thing you hide. It was the grunge era. I wanted to open my mouth and sound like Eddie Vedder, I didn’t want to sound angelic. My parents never heard me sing until junior high, when I did the Gershwin song “‘S Wonderful” at a school show. Afterward, my mom was in tears. Little did I know it would be the first of many times I made a mom cry.
DETAILS: Women do respond emotionally to your music. You’ve probably helped more guys get laid than Jack Daniel’s.
Josh Groban: I hope that’s true. I was on a date once, and the girl came over and was looking for music to play. We were having a glass of wine, and she played rough mixes of my new record and started dancing to it. I was like, “Don’t do that. Groupie alert, groupie alert!” I can’t get turned on by my own music.
DETAILS: How do you feel about the term popera, which has been applied to your songs?
Josh Groban: It irks me, because it trivializes something that’s actually very difficult to do. It feels dismissive. My voice is classical in nature, but I’ve always viewed my music as pop, influenced by the arrangements of yesteryear, when big, open-throated singing was the popular style.
DETAILS: What’s the most rock-star thing about you?
Josh Groban: As you can tell by my Mr. Rogers cardigan sweater, I take pride in being nerdy. But I love going out. I can’t trash myself, because I have to protect my voice, but I’m not a prude either. In the 1970s, a rock-and-roll lifestyle would be snorting coke off a hooker. Now the rock stars I know are the healthiest people. “Oh, you get vitamin B-12 injections in the ass too?” The guy from Metallica has a yoga room. So the rock-and-roll thing is, I bought a Porsche. But the non-rock-and-roll thing is, the battery kept running down because I was on tour for so long I was never able to drive it.
DETAILS: Did you hear from Kanye West after singing his tweets on Jimmy Kimmel’s show?
Josh Groban: No, I don’t think he got the joke. Kanye lives in a phenomenal world all his own. But man, those tweets! If he doesn’t know they’re comedy gold, then God help him, truly.
DETAILS: Any chance you’ll record those?
Josh Groban: During my shows, someone will shout, “Sing Kanye’s tweets!” And I’ll be like, “All right, I will. You asshole.” It’s always hysterical.
DETAILS: I follow you on Twitter, and you’re way funnier than I would have thought, based on your music.
Josh Groban: In the same way Kimmel gave me an opportunity to be funny in a skit, Twitter gives me a chance to be myself when I’m not on stage. I not only like it, I’ve become addicted to it.
DETAILS: Speaking of tweets, you tweeted something nasty about Lindsay Lohan when she hosted Saturday Night Live.
Josh Groban: Was that bitchy? I just felt like, What is that person doing? It just didn’t seem she had any comedic ability. I was jealous that she got to host SNL, which I love with a passion. And I was drunk. So between those thoughts and the delicious Lagavulin that was burning a hole in my stomach, I wrote a snarky tweet.
DETAILS: Is it true you’re friends with Katy Perry?
Josh Groban: We’re very good friends. We met before her first album was even released, and we hit it off because we’re both goofballs.
DETAILS: Did you date her?
Josh Groban: No, not really.
DETAILS: “Not really”? It’s simple, Josh: Did your tongue ever touch her tongue?
Josh Groban: [Laughs.] I’m not commenting on that. We might have skated on the line of dating.
DETAILS: But you did date January Jones, before she was on Mad Men.
Josh Groban: We dated for about two and a half years, and we were madly in love. It was definitely my longest relationship. I’d love to get into another serious relationship. I am a real romantic at heart.
DETAILS: You have a big role in the upcoming comedy Coffee Town. Are you playing a douchebag, as you did on Glee and in Crazy, Stupid, Love?
Josh Groban: I am, yeah. I play a disgruntled barista who’s in a rock band and is angry at his customers. It’s almost like Clerks in a coffee shop—we fuck with each other, drawing penises on coffee cups or whatever. They put the douchiest tattoos on me, like flames coming up one arm, plus a goatee, eyeliner, and a studded leather bracelet.
DETAILS: When you play a douchebag, who’s your model?
Josh Groban: I tried to get a [Creed singer] Scott Stapp energy, kind of nineties and snarly. I felt that if I could get a “With Arms Wide Open” music-video vibe behind the coffee counter, that would be successful.
DETAILS: How do you make your live shows fun when you’re singing such serious music?
Josh Groban: I go into the audience. When you put the microphone in front of someone, you never know what’s going to happen. I talked to a guy one night, and he said, “We’re happy you came to Indianapolis.” Then he said, “You mind if I say one more thing?” And he pulls something out of his pocket. I thought he was going to shoot me. Honestly. I thought he was going to say, “One more thing—you deserve to die. Bam, bee-yotch!” But he pulled out a ring and proposed to his girlfriend. That’s happened two or three times, and it always puts a nice mood in the room. Then I make a fart joke.
• • •
Josh Groban’s stripped-down new musical chapter
Pop-classical crossover vocal star teams with superstar producer Rick Rubin
By George Varga
Friday, November 5, 2010 at 7:26 a.m.
Grammy Award winning singer Josh Groban performs during the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. shareholders’ meeting in Fayetteville, Ark., Friday, June 4, 2010. (AP Photo/April L. Brown)
Grammy Award winning singer Josh Groban performs during the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. shareholders’ meeting in Fayetteville, Ark., Friday, June 4, 2010. (AP Photo/April L. Brown)
Pop music has created numerous unlikely pairing over the decades, be it James Brown duetting with Luciano Pavarotti, Liza Minnelli guesting with the guyliner rock band My Chemical Romance, or former San Diegan Tom Waits making an entire album with country-pop songstress Crystal Gayle.
But few pairings have seemed as unlikely as that of singer Josh Groban and superstar producer Rick Rubin, who teamed up for Groban’s aptly titled new album, “Illuminations.”
It is his first new studio release since his holiday album, “Noel,” which sold 3.7 million copies in just 11 weeks in 2007 and was the top-selling album that year in the United States. It has now sold 10 million copies worldwide, an astonishing number in an era when many chart-topping albums struggle to break the 100,000 sales mark.
Groban, 29, is the unabashedly romantic pop vocal star with the near-operatic voice. An epic balladeer, he has sold more albums in the past decade than any currently active artist not named Eminem, Britney Spears or Linkin Park.
On Nov. 13 he concludes a four-city U.S. mini-tour , a prelude to an arena tour that will follow next year. The piano-playing singer-songwriter is being accompanied on the mini-tour only by guitarist Tariqh Akoni (whose previous credits include Aretha Franklin, Elton John and Christina Aguilera), not the large ensemble that has backed him on his previous concert treks.
Rubin, 47, rose to fame in the 1980s producing such budding hip-hop stars as LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. He then branched out and produced hit albums by everyone from Slayer and Tom Petty to the Dixie Chicks and the late Johnny Cash. In 2007, he became the co-head of Columbia Records, one of the world’s largest and most prestigious record labels.
Together, Groban and Rubin have crafted a 13-song album that finds Groban stretching beyond his comfort zone, often in ways he contends were completely alien to him.
“The process itself was very difficult,” the Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter said, speaking by phone recently from London, where he was wrapping up three days of back-to-back interviews to promote his new album.
For “Illuminations,” Rubin insisted that Groban strip his music down to
the bare essentials, then organically rebuild from the bottom up. That meant no computer programming, drum sets, electric bass or (with one exception) electric guitar. While there are still some semi-operatic vocal flourishes on the album, the emphasis is on understatement and saying more with less.
The goal is to connect with Groban’s listeners in a less glossy setting that emphasizes heart and soul over recording studio perfection. In short, Rubin wanted Groban to deviate from the winning formula that has made him the biggest pop-meets-light-classical vocal sensation of the past decade.
“I knew it was a risk for me,” Groban said,
“I’d just come off the biggest-selling Christmas record in many years, and it was amazing to have that success. But there’s nothing like that kind of an explosion to make you feel like: ‘That chapter is done, what’s next? I need to do something in a different way.’ Rick had never recorded in this (pop-classical crossover) genre before, and I’d never recorded this way before.”
Just how different making “Illuminations” was surprised Groban. His penchant for recording his albums fast collided head-on with Rubin’s insistence they take things extra-slow.
“The process itself was very difficult,” Groban said. “I’m used to (a recording) studio environment where things are done very quickly. But if the songs didn’t speak to us with the intimacy Rick wanted — just a dry (sounding) vocal and a dry (sounding) piano — then they got put in the
‘No’ pile, and that’s a pretty frustrating process for me.”
“I’ve never done that before, where a year-and-a-half of preparation and work leads to five minutes of magic,” he added. “I get it — now!”
Yet, while many of the songs on “Illuminations” are more subtle (and perhaps less radio-friendly) than Groban’s previous musical fare, there’s no mistaking who’s singing them. Nor are the new songs such a departure that his fans will be shocked. Instead, the album is a refinement of what he’s done in the past, not a reinvention, with different facets of his music emphasized than before.
“That would be completely accurate,” agreed Groban, who originally planned to make an album of songs by other artists with Rubin before starting a composing spurt of his own.
“We knew from the get-go people might feel this (collaboration) was a gimmick. And the only response was to make the best record we could together. I wasn’t in it to make a rock album, and he wasn’t in it to change me. … So, after literally deconstructing every piece of what’s made me successful and rebuilding from scratch, we actually ended up building the same thing, just a little bit smarter and better.
“Our biggest concerns were we didn’t want anything to interrupt, exaggerate or distract from the purity of these instruments and the purity of the vocals. If anything, besides the quality of writing, the idea was to make songs that felt like they were coming from me, instead of being presented to me.”
Like, perhaps, a chef showcasing the key ingredients of an entree, rather than the garnish?
“Yeah,” Groban said. “If you don’t overcook the chicken, you don’t need to cover it in sauce!”
From LA TIMES/Entertainment section
By Ann Powers, Los Angeles Times Pop Music Critic October 31, 2010
Josh Groban got confused after exiting a subway station into Greenwich Village on a recent gorgeous fall day in New York. “I’m at Minetta Street and 6th Avenue,” he told his lunch date on the phone, citing an intersection that doesn’t quite exist. It was an understandable mistake for the 29-year-old singer, who’d moved from Malibu only a month earlier and hadn’t yet mastered the veiny map of lower Manhattan. “I’ll meet you in front of the American Apparel store,” he finally said, choosing a natural landmark for a native Angeleno like himself. Soon enough, the classically trained crooner regained his bearings, explaining how he’d almost rented an apartment on Minetta Lane (not Street) before choosing the convenience of a midtown high-rise. He was dressed for downtown, anyway, in a pageboy cap and jeans and trademark rough facial stubble, blending in with the students and aspiring creatives sitting in the Grey Dog Café, his favorite spot nearby. Of course, it’s not that easy to tell the tourists from the residents in the Village these days. Groban can take his time adjusting. “These past years have been very chaotic,” said Groban. “I finally feel like I can relax.” About two years ago, after nearly a decade as a tuxedo-clad vibrato jock whose deliberately majestic music helped define contemporary middlebrow pop — and sold millions of albums, including a Christmas release that topped the 2007 year-end charts — Groban decided to get lost. Get breaking entertainment news, delivered to your mobile phone. Text ENTERTAIN to 52669. “So many of the records I’ve made in the past, we’ve been striving for a perfect sound,” he said. “I was getting so tired of the clique, so tired of singing to a synthesizer demo and then sitting there, watching the orchestra play to my demo. Yeah, we’d all high-five in the studio, like, ‘That sounds great.’ But it’s not gratifying as a singer.” Groban was practically born into the world of L.A. studio high-fives; raised in Hancock Park and discovered as a teen by the producer David Foster, the epic-pop specialist behind talents ranging from Celine Dion to Charice, Groban is the kind of affable demigod who uses the phrase “he’s a friend” to describe music industry kingpins and movie stars alike. In Los Angeles, he’d jog straight up Doheny listening to indie rock on his headphones to relax after studio sessions, and get snapped squiring starlets to the multiplex at the Grove. New York offers different pleasures, not least of which is pedestrian semi-anonymity. He can walk to Lincoln Center to hear the New York Philharmonic and make lunch dates with Wynton Marsalis, whose ecumenical sermons on American music he fervently admires. His new management company, the rock-oriented Q-Prime, is based here. And though he recorded “Illuminations” in L.A. under the mentorship of Rick Rubin, rock’s biker-bearded guru of authenticity, its feels like a New York record, its best songs falling somewhere between the Broadway stage and the cabaret at Café Carlyle. The chances Groban had taken in the past, like covering Linkin Park songs, touring with the African singer Angelique Kidjo (“She’s one of my best friends,” he specifies) and collaborating with art-pop stars such as Imogen Heap, had left him wanting something different. His self-deprecating turns on television, playing himself in “Glee” or clowning around with Jimmy Kimmel, were only half-satisfying. A long relationship with actress January Jones had gone kaput in 2006: “This has not been a three-year period of grand love for me,” he admitted. Thirty was starting to look like a midlife crisis. “I’ve had to say to critics, ‘Who are you to criticize me if I’m reaching a million people?’” Groban said of the four albums, centered around a baritone as big as a Pacific sunset, that made him America’s most wholesome dream date. “I’m not going to dog someone if they’re doing that. But I can only think of my quest. I’ve not been satisfied being merely a tone. I’m making the choice to venture off.” Groban’s makeover is subtle on “Illuminations,” which will be released Nov. 15. Instead of abandoning the style that made him famous, with its swelling strings, uplifting lyrics and careful cosmopolitan sheen, Rubin, best known for his work with artists including the Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, encouraged the singer to rework it from within. At first, Groban said, Rubin brought him a selection of cover songs from credibility-lending rock artists including Fleet Foxes, R.E.M. and Nick Cave. But only one — Cave’s romantic ballad “Straight to You” — made the cut. “Most of the material Josh recorded in the past was covers, so that was the precedent in place,” Rubin wrote in a recent e-mail interview. “We started down that familiar road for him and at the same time he started playing pieces of music for me…. Eventually, many of the songs he was writing were as good or better then the songs we found for him to sing, and he had a passion for those he didn’t always have for the covers.” Rubin had given Groban the hardest task imaginable: to confront the much-derided middlebrow pop style that had made him famous, and make it better, less formulaic, more subtle. He could still sing in other languages — one song on “Illuminations” has lyrics in French by Rufus Wainwright and his late mother, Kate McGarrigle, while another, in Portuguese, features a percussion arrangement by Brazilian great Carlinhos Brown. But the songs needed to be more than just exercises in fancy diction. Love would, of course, be a main subject, but instead Groban aimed to better grasp “the honest-to-God uncertainty” of relationships, instead of just celebrate their high points. That big voice would remain at the center, but it would sound human, not perfect. “Our mission statement was to make a fine art album, not a classical crossover album,” explained Rubin. “Crossover albums make certain concessions we rejected, with the belief that quality could touch people in a deeper way.” “He took a lot of tools out of my shed,” said Groban. “He took electric guitar out, pretty much completely. We only used one sample, at the beginning of the Portuguese song. No drum sets, no electric bass. No computer programming. Rubin paired Groban with the songwriter Dan Wilson, who’s collaborated with dozens of artists but is best known for helping the Dixie Chicks go beyond the confines of country music on the Grammy-winning, Rubin-produced album “Not Ready to Make Nice.” Holed up in Wilson’s Minneapolis home, the two songwriters spent hours just talking, about “life, or girls, or whatever,” and came up with songs that sound more like refinements than a rejection of Groban’s past. “My hope for the sessions was to make songs that sounded really personal, without being casual,” said Wilson in a phone interview from Los Angeles. “Josh has that amazing, glorious voice that sounds like angels descending — how to do something that sounds more intimate? There’s a level of casual lyric-writing that may never be quite right for Josh’s voice. Ben Folds can put car keys and coffee cups and references to N.W.A into his lyrics. Josh’s voice explodes those things.” Coming to terms with the extravagance he can’t shake, Groban created music that won’t win any indie rock awards. He still invokes sky blue seas and lovers who look down from a higher window; he still rides the swells of melody, which he calls “my way of getting things out of my system.” On “Illuminations,” though, Groban does so within comparatively restrained songs and arrangements. He even uses some falsetto — “kind of a no-no,” he said, for a classically based singer. Groban knows that radio might not go for this more restrained approach. “It’s always been a comfort for me to know I could slide a song under the Hot AC (Adult Contemporary, Groban’s favorite radio format) door and say, ‘Hey guys, here’s my new pop single: big production, big drums, all that stuff.’ For me the big risk is actually taking it more in a traditional vein.” Groban talked about these changes with earnest enthusiasm. But he’s self-aware; he knows some will think it’s a gimmick. “Every artist eventually says they want to go more organic, I know,” he said. “You don’t hear people saying, ‘I want to be glossier.’” What Groban needed to do, it turned out, was to find the truth within the shine. “As a singer, when you’ve got a good voice … I just wanted to sing the best I can,” he said. “And at first, my confidence wasn’t there to say that I wanted to write. It’s a tough nut to crack. But Rick said, ‘Don’t be afraid to write as grand as your voice sounds. Don’t play the game of miniature-pipsqueak kind of songs. Think Copland, think Sondheim. Go out and write big chords.’” Contemplating the evolution of the style he only calls “my genre” — he can’t seem to bring himself to say “classical crossover” or, heaven forbid, “popera” — Groban made a surprising comparison. Heavy metal, he noted, was once also isolated and scorned, with few critical or music-business champions. Metallica inspires him, he said, because the band didn’t compromise and demanded respect. Groban departed from his longtime manager Brian Avnet in 2009, and, after a brief stint with Irving Azoff, turned to Q-Prime partly because that management company had proven it could bring Metallica and similar artists from the margins of respectability to the center. His goal, he said, “[is] to understand the artists before me that have been misunderstood, and to learn from what they did to be better understood. I owe it to my fans to keep touring, and to understand that it’s a marathon and not a sprint.” What “Illuminations” reveals is that Groban hasn’t been faking his fondness for the kind of music he makes. He’s proud of the work that he’s put into his voice and glad that his performances move people. He’s quick to say that he plans to work with David Foster again, and when he talks about extending his range, he mentions the logical next step toward Broadway. He’s making changes, but he has no desire to abandon himself. “I challenge everybody else in this,” he said. “Don’t rest on that comfortable thing that your record label tells you to do. Explore, and dare to really reach people. That’s the only thing that will determine whether or not this is heavy metal, or this is rap-rock. We don’t know until we work hard at it and see.”
By Cortney Harding /NY October 22 2010
osh Groban is a rare commodity in the music business: a safe bet. Classically trained, celestially voiced, the kind of sweet-faced, well-mannered, personable young man who probably gets hand-knit sweaters as gifts from fans in lieu of panties, Groban is virtually immune to the vagaries of pop-music trends. His most recent album, the 2007 Christmas record “Noel,” sold 5 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and topped the Billboard 200. All told, he has sold more than 19.6 million album copies of his AC-leaning vocal music. Because his material appeals to adults whose taste and preferences are stable, Groban can depend on their loyalty. No one would have batted an eye had he released another collection of holiday tracks every couple of years (“L’Chaim! A Josh Groban Hanukkah”), toured theaters and arenas, dropped in again on Oprah and “Today” and “Glee,” headlined public-TV pledge drives and generally reaped the quiet but lucrative rewards of mainstream, middle-of-the-road success. Instead, Groban, 29, decided to make some drastic changes. He split from his former manager, Brian Avnet, and signed to Q Prime, known for managing guitar extremists Metallica and Muse. He parted with longtime producer David Foster and teamed with, of all people, Rick Rubin, the bearded Zen master behind the Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash and Danzig. On his new record, “Illuminations,” due Nov. 15 on Reprise, Groban co-wrote more of the material than he ever had on previous albums, and also recorded a song by an unlikely favorite: goth-rock cult star Nick Cave. Video: Josh Groban talks working with Rick Rubin Watch more of Josh Groban’s Live Video Q&A with Billboard.com The new partners are especially head-scratching given that Groban’s music is possibly the most un-rock stuff out there. With a voice ranging between tenor and baritone, Groban draws more comparisons to Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli than Eddie Vedder or James Hetfield. It’s easy to imagine him singing on the radio in the 1940s; his music, which nods to Broadway, opera and European pop, typically finds its truest expression in the kind of swelling, inspirational ballads that accompany first dances at weddings. Moreover, Groban’s older audience still buys physical albums: His breakthrough song, “You Raise Me Up,” has only sold 977,000 downloads, despite being covered by artists around the world and by “American Idol” contestants who want to bludgeon the judges with their range. “I was in such a cozy position,” Groban says of the period after “Noel” blew up and soundtracked family Christmas dinners across the world. “I had the No. 1-selling album of the year and I could have just kept doing that. But then I started to have an itch.” RUBIN SANDWICH Groban first appeared on the music scene when he was barely out of high school, working as a rehearsal singer for events like the Grammy Awards and performing at former California Gov. Grey Davis’ inauguration. He studied drama at Carnegie Mellon for a few months but dropped out to focus on music. He released a self-titled album in late 2001 that has so far sold 5.1 million copies, according to SoundScan. After a galvanizing star turn on the TV dramedy “Ally McBeal,” he would perform for everyone from Oprah Winfrey to the Prince of Wales, and release three more studios albums (“Closer,” “Awake” and “Noel”) and three live sets (“Josh Groban in Concert,” “Live at the Greek” and “Awake Live”) during the next nine years. The success of “Noel” as 2007′s best-selling album is doubly impressive since it streeted Oct. 9 of that year and only needed 10 weeks to claim the title; it sold 3.7 million copies of its current 5 million total by the end of 2007, according to SoundScan. In the midst of the post-”Noel” haze, Groban had a chance encounter with Rubin while at lunch with Madonna’s manager Guy Oseary. “I told Guy I wanted to meet Rick and he set it up, and it turned out we had a lot in common,” Groban recalls. “I followed up with Rick to say that I enjoyed chatting with him and wanted to be friends, and then he heard some music and said he wanted to produce on the record.” Rubin says he wasn’t apprehensive about working with Groban, despite the fact he had never tackled a project of this nature. “I like working with different kinds of artists,” he says, “and working in Josh’s medium seemed like an exciting challenge.” The next step, according to Rubin, was to “build up a body of material suitable for recording.” Although Groban, who owns his own publishing, has previously co-written and arranged music, “Illuminations” represents the most work he has ever done on one album, co-writing six of the tracks with former Semisonic leader Dan Wilson. As with his other efforts, Groban sings in several languages, including Portuguese, Italian, Latin and French. “I study all these languages — I really do my homework,” Groban says of his ability to sound natural in multiple tongues. “There was a time when I would try to translate these songs into English, and things would get lost in translation both lyrically and musically. And it’s also been fun for me to sing songs in these languages in the countries of their origin and reach out to fans that way, and maybe even encourage some fans to learn other languages.”
Groban also chose to cover Nick Cave’s “Straight to You,” which might seem like a puzzling choice. But Groban says he’s a longtime fan of Cave’s, and when Rubin suggested he try it out, he went for it. “I trust Rick for a gazillion things, and I certainly trust him for cover songs,” Groban says. “We got James Newton Howard to create a sonic atmosphere to represent what the words are. At first, I started off telling him, ‘I want Terry Gilliam, I want Baron Munchausen, I want cannons coming through the opera house.’ And then I realized that was exactly what we shouldn’t be doing; that we should just let the words do the talking. We wound up making it more haunting, and when I went back and listened to it, it moved me.” Rubin’s expertise as a producer is evident throughout the album; while both Groban’s voice and the orchestration are full and rich, they always strike a balance and one never subsumes the other. “Bells of New York City” is an homage to Groban’s adopted hometown and also slyly riffs on the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York.” There are plenty of Groban’s bread-and-butter love songs, with oceanic vocals imploring the listener not to “keep [their] love hidden away” and that he “can’t breathe without you.” The album has a timeless quality — while “War at Home” serves as a nice salute to heroes and veterans, the track could easily be directed at those returning from World War II as those coming back from Iraq. Groban was happy and excited to stretch artistically with Rubin, but there were some things he just couldn’t be as flexible about. “Rick saw I was a type-A personality, so he suggested I try meditating, and he gave me these apps, but I couldn’t do it,” Groban says. “I just fell asleep.” IN HIS (Q) PRIME In 2009, legendary rock manager Cliff Burnstein was in Los Angeles, attending “one of those functions,” when now-departed Warner head Tom Whalley introduced him to Groban. “He told me Rick Rubin was producing the album, and that piqued my interest,” Burnstein says. “Then I spoke to Rick and he told me he was enjoying working with Josh, and mentioned that Josh was looking for management. After that, we started talking.” Burnstein says that while the Rubin connection was what initially attracted him to Groban, the more he learned about the artist, the more he wanted to work with him. “Josh’s music is not a genre we had a lot of experience in,” he says. “But then Rick started telling me what an accomplished writer and musician he was, and I knew we had a lot of familiarity working with people like that.” While Burnstein is technically correct that Q Prime has never managed another artist in Groban’s genre, the question of what genre Groban fits into still seems undecided. His music is often called “popera,” a somewhat dismissive amalgam of pop and opera — think Andrea Bocelli, Susan Boyle, Celtic Woman, even Andrew Lloyd Webber. It’s a label he has mixed feelings about. “Take a genre like rock’n'roll,” Groban says. “In lots of cases, you’ve got four dudes: guitar, bass, drums, vocals. But because the genre has so much history and has been around for so long, you don’t get a knee-jerk reaction — people don’t say, ‘Oh, this has been done before.’ They evaluate a work based on it being a new album by Radiohead or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and they don’t immediately write it off.” Groban says that part of the reason he thinks popera gets a bad rap is that the genre is still relatively new. “If you take someone who is classically trained and sings with an orchestra, the immediate reaction seems to be, ‘Bah, that’s what that other guy who was on PBS did,’ ” he says. “And you know, I do have a problem with the popera thing at the moment because it is just wholly uninteresting right now. That’s not to say there aren’t talented singers doing it, but nobody seems to know what the genre is trying to say. Is it about mood songs? I feel like ‘You Raise Me Up’ has been recorded over 400 times in the last several years.” Regarding the assumptions made about Groban’s “mom” demographic, he’s understandably wary. “It’s easy to generalize,” he says. “But I’d love to take people through my concert audience and point out all the different types of people who are there. I think at the start of my career my audience was older and more female, and that image has stuck around for the rest of the time. But what I think happened is these women brought their husbands and their sons and their daughters, and everybody had a great time, and now it runs the gamut.” GETTING ILLUMINATED While Groban’s fans might be diverse demographically, many of them share one common thread: loyalty. “Josh has a fan base that is very engaged,” Warner marketing manager Esther Somlo says. “And we are in communication with them year-round, even when there is not a new record or tour on the horizon. Obviously there is a spike in activity when we are rolling out a new project, but we are never not talking with them.”
To reward that devotion, Somlo says that fan club members will have access to everything first. “They will be the first to see art, the first to hear music and the first to know about TV appearances,” she says. As it has been in the past, TV will be a huge part of the campaign. Groban’s album will be in stores on a Monday instead of the usual Tuesday release day, due to the fact that he’ll have two major TV appearances on Nov. 15 — a morning show and a daytime show, although his camp declines to specify which ones. “His is an audience that still buys physical product,” Somlo says. “And because of that, we want people to be able to go out and buy the record the same day they see him on TV.” He’ll follow those up with another daytime appearance on Nov. 17, and will also take part in the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony the following week, an event he’s participated in twice in previous years. Jonathan Norman, supervising producer of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” says Groban has been on the show five times and will be returning for a sixth appearance. “He has a great sense of humor and doesn’t take himself too seriously, but he takes his music very seriously,” Norman says. “He’s up for anything. When Ellen was doing a skit last year recapping the Oscar nominations, he came on and covered himself in blue paint and was willing to be totally silly. But he came on the show another time and performed with the African Children’s Choir, and he was so wonderful and sincere with them. And he’s just a nice guy; he’s never been a diva.” While Groban is in demand as a musical performer on TV, he’s been shaping his acting chops, too. He willingly pokes fun at himself in the viral video hit “I’m Fucking Ben Affleck” and told a middle-aged woman “Josh Groban loves a blousy alcoholic” when he guested on “Glee.” He’ll also appear on the big screen next year in the Steve Carell film “Crazy Stupid Love,” playing Emma Stone’s fiance, whom he describes as “a douche bag lawyer.” It’s hard to imagine Groban playing a douche bag — part of his appeal is that he comes across as a genuinely nice guy. In a way, he’s a perfect fit for the “Glee” audience: sincere, serious about his work, but with a sense of humor. “I was so happy that I auditioned for a comedy role playing someone other than myself and got it,” Groban says. “I started in theater, and while I don’t want to take on any huge roles, it would be nice to keep coming back and doing funny, silly things.” While Groban’s campaign will focus on traditional media, Somlo says that efforts are being beefed up in the digital space, too. “This is Josh’s first original album in five years, and the space has changed,” she says. “We have a great plan to do a countdown at iTunes, and we’re developing a strong viral campaign.” Somlo says that Warner has built a series of widgets designed to encourage fans to introduce friends to Groban and to “take Josh to work or school.” “We want to cultivate a community and also keep Josh top of mind for fans,” she says. “So the widgets will live on a desktop, and throughout the day, Josh will pop up with a video message.” The increased use of technology is one way Groban and his camp are reaching out to potential younger fans. “There is no reason he can’t have a young fan base,” Bernstein says. “I mean, he’s not going to be in the teen magazines or anything, but he is a young guy.” Groban says that he feels just as comfortable joking around with Jimmy Kimmel as he does sitting on the couch with Oprah Winfrey. “I’m an old soul and an opera guy, but I’m also a twenty-something who loves poop humor,” he says. “It’s important to make sure people see both sides of that.” The last time Groban toured was in 2007, doing arenas in the United States and Australia; according to information reported to Billboard Boxscore, he grossed $40.7 million from 56 shows and sold 533,664 tickets. His booking agent, Gayle Holcomb of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, says an arena tour for May and June 2011 is being routed. Holcomb adds that Groban will also tour overseas afterwards. She says tickets for the 2007 tour all cost fewer than $100, but prices for the next run have not been set. To keep Groban’s reputation as a live performer top of mind for fans, he will perform four intimate shows (three in California and one in New Haven, Conn.) in early November, and Somlo says he will perform a “private concert” after “Illuminations” is released. “We wanted to reward people who bought the CD, so every disc comes with a unique code that allows a user to access a site to view a stripped-down live performance, followed by a question-and-answer session.” The event will be powered by Ustream and will take place in early December. As the release date for “Illuminations” approaches, Groban has time to reflect on the major changes he’s made within his team and the new approach he took to record the album. Looking back, he says he is grateful for all the chances he took. “It’s been a terrifying couple of years, but I guess I’m a glutton for punishment in the best way possible,” he says. “I’m grateful for the itch. When it first started to bug me, I thought I was crazy. I had just sold a gazillion records and could rest on my laurels. But I owe it to myself and my fans to try to keep making things better. The day I lose that urge is the day I should just put on a jumpsuit and move into a nice retirement village.”
Josh Groban recently relocated from Los Angeles to New York to start a new chapter in his life. The single musician, who is preparing for the release of his new album ‘Illuminations,’ had professional and personal reasons for the move, admitting to PopEater, “I’m single, I’m almost 30, and there’s a ton of reasons why now is the time to escape from Los Angeles.” “Now is the time for me to do it. And if I don’t do it, I’ll always wonder what if,” Groban said at the opening night concert of the New York Philharmonic’s new season. The ‘Hidden Away’ singer opened up about his admiration for jazz icon Wynton Marsalis, whose ‘Swing Symphony’ received its U.S. premiere at the concert, his move to New York, being single and his new film with Steve Carell, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love,’ out next year.
What brings you here tonight? I wasn’t expecting to meet you.
Maybe because I’m a West Coaster, you weren’t expecting to meet me here tonight. I just moved to New York. I’m bi-coastal, but I’m going to be here primarily for the next year. I’m a huge fan of the New York Phil. This is my first time seeing them all perform live together. I’ve gotten to know the LA Music Center so well. It was exciting for me to go to an opening night in New York. I love Wynton Marsalis. He and I met in Washington, D.C., when we were both testifying to Congress to try to get more money for arts education. He gave one of the most remarkable speeches. We got to hang a long time. I always respected his musicality, and I came to just respect the human being that he is. It’s always fun for me to see a symphony like this one take on a new work. It’s fun to see a symphony get a little nervous. And so to hear this composition, there really is no end to what [Marsalis] can do. The New York Phil is just classic, classic, classic all the way.
What brings you to New York for a year?
It’s personal and professional. Personally, I’ve just always enjoyed the energy of the city. I’ve enjoyed the friends I meet in the city, and I enjoy the culture of the city. Professionally, I have a new album coming out this year, so the traveling I’m going to have to do is pretty extensive. And it’s a great place to be if I have to hop back and forth between here and Europe. I’m single, I’m almost 30 and there’s a ton of reasons why now is the time to escape from Los Angeles. Now is the time for me to do it. And if I don’t do it, I’ll always wonder what if.
Can you tell me about ‘Illuminations’?
I’ve worked with Rick Rubin on the whole project. It’s his first foray into more orchestral music. We just had an amazing time. He really allowed me to work very, very hard at showing my strengths, while shaving some things off sonically [that] he hasn’t really been a fan of in the last ten years. I can’t say I disagree with him. He really forced me to do a lot of writing. He liked my writing, so 11 out of the 13 songs are written or co-written by me. I really feel like I’ve had the most involvement that I’ve ever had on a project on this record. Seeing as … most of [the songs] are one take, it’s for me the most gratifying artistic experience that I’ve had making music.
What else is new about it?
I left the pop world behind for a moment, and I tapped mostly into the world of folk, world music and classical music on this record, just as far as what the arrangements are like. As an American who sings this kind of music, you really want to dive into the grandeur of American classical music and folk elements as well. So while the songs are new, what they’re surrounded with is a very deeply-rooted, American feel.
I understand you’re acting. Tell me more.
I was on ‘Glee’ a couple of times last year. I just finished a movie with Steve Carell that comes out next year called ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love.’ I went to school for acting. Singing was a side thing, and it wound up being the full thing. Acting is something that I enjoy doing very, very much and would like to do it again soon.
What’s ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ about?
It’s about a family. I play the fiance of a daughter played by Emma Stone. Steve plays a guy who’s just in the process of getting a divorce. He’s so deeply rooted in the love that he’s had for this woman that he doesn’t really know how to be a bachelor again. He doesn’t really know how to be cool, how to be single … Ryan Gosling, who’s kind of a cool guy at the bar, trains him and grooms him to be a cool guy again. Of course, he and his wife reconnect at the end. It basically follows every relationship, whether it’s his son, who is just now starting to like girls at school, or whether it’s his daughter, who just can’t seem to get a date. It’s a little bit like ‘Parenthood,’ in a way.
Tell me about your character?
I play the douchebag lawyer who is Emma Stone’s fiance. He’s basically the guy that everybody says, “Why are you with this guy?” And I’m the guy who’s telling the bad jokes at the party. It was kind of fun to play somebody who’s so over the top, crude and douchey. Most of it was improvised. We just had so much fun on the set.
Are you going to be performing in New York?
Once the record comes out, I’ll be doing some performances, and the tour will start after the first of the year.
A FUTURE INTERVIEW WITH JOSH IN A MAGAZINE. What I posted here is all I know about it. I’ll update as I get information.
Josh speaks about working with Rick Rubin
Shana’s Los Angeles Blog
By Shana Ting Lipton, Los Angeles Guide
Josh Groban Talks Rick Rubin Collaboration in W. Hollywood
Tuesday August 17, 2010
I interviewed singer Josh Groban at the new-ish private club, the SoHo House in West Hollywood, yesterday for a magazine feature I’m working on.
The LA native chatted with me about a new and unusual creative collaboration he’s embarked on. He recently recorded an album with revered producer Rick Rubin.
For those of you unfamiliar with Rubin, he’s famous for having produced the likes of the Chili Peppers, Metallica, Run DMC and Slayer, among other great edgy musical acts.
This marks a big departure for the multi-platinum Groban who has famously worked with mega-producer David Foster (of Celine Dion renown).
The album doesn’t have a release date as of yet but it’s clear from what I have heard so far and my interview that Groban is really growing as an artist. He’s even gotten Beck’s dad, David Campbell (who worked on Sea Change) to arrange the orchestration for the record.
Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Stringer/Getty Images
Interview from Bon Appetit Magazine 9/2010
The pop singer has toured the world performing for packed stadiums, has sold more than 23 million albums, played a guest role on Fox TV’s hit Glee, and holds the record for best-selling holiday album (his 2007 recording Noël beat the record previously held by Elvis Presley). He’s currently in the studio working on a new album (due out this fall) with legendary producer Rick Rubin. We checked in with the laid-back, food-loving baritone to find out how he keeps his creativity fueled.
Do you eat before performing?
Being a food lover on the road can sometimes be a real pain. On a show day I have to be really careful and boring. From the moment I wake up to the moment I get onstage, I’m drinking apple juice. Don’t ask me why; it’s just so cold and delicious! Other than that, I eat anything with protein—like sliced turkey or edamame. After a show, I almost always have a craving for barbecue. And apple juice.
You’ve been all over the world. Where’s the best place to dine?
I love eating in Paris. I’m a big cheese fan, so I go a little nuts when I’m there. I look forward to eating in New York the most. Every taste imaginable is packed into little hole-in-the-wall hideouts. The hunting and discovering are half the fun. Lastly are the breakfasts in Norway. I’m half Norwegian, so I think pickled herring at 9:00 a.m. is in my blood. Don’t hate.
Tell us your idea of the ultimate romantic meal.
It’s the one where the lighting is awesome, the music is perfect, this incredible plate shows up in front of you, and Oh my God, where did my appetite go?
Do you have any favorite restaurants?
Anyone can find a great place to get a lavish meal at a reasonable time with friends. But where can I go to chill out alone with my thoughts late at night and still get something super-healthy? An old standby for me is Kate Mantilini in Los Angeles. Without fail I get a grilled artichoke and the Life Rice, which is brown rice, tons of steamed veggies, and scrambled egg whites with salsa. It’s insanely good after a long day in the studio.
What do you eat that you know you shouldn’t?
The Monte Cristo sandwich at the Blue Bayou restaurant at Disneyland. This isn’t just a “me” thing. No one should eat this. It should be written into the new health bill. Good Lord, it’s delicious.
What’s a meal you’ll never forget?
My most memorable meal was probably at Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. My brother and I went there to have one of those “oh to hell with it” dinners. This place is over the top. Everything from the lady whose sole purpose was to man a wooden cart with 25 types of bread to the chocolate dessert garnished with Pop Rocks. It has to be the most lavish place I’ve ever eaten at, and totally worth spending my winnings on.
What would people be surprised to find in your kitchen?
A knife collection that does not match my knife ability.
What did you have for dinner tonight?
Pit-roasted wild boar with a pear reduction demi-glace, grilled sunchokes with garlic and kale, black truffle-infused potatoes gratin, a glass of 2002 Pétrus, and a banana-chocolate soufflé topped with cherry foam for dessert… Fine, it was tomato soup.
What’s the perfect snack?
I love dried fruit, especially dried mango. I don’t like the super-sugary kind, though. I’m into the organic, nothing-added, boot-leather stuff. It makes me work for it, and I respect that.
Do you have a go-to recipe that you like to make at home?
Absolutely. Got a minute? Grab a pen. Campbell’s tomato soup.
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten?
Probably the most head-scratching thing I’ve ever ingested is lutefisk. It’s a kind of whitefish soaked in lye and water for a few days. It’s very pungent, jelly-like, and probably completely void of any nutritional value. But it’s a [Norwegian] national treasure and goes down best with any drink 100 proof or above.
What food always reminds you of home?
Probably a good chili. My mom makes an amazing chili. It’s full of ground beef and chunks of tomato and whole pinto beans, but the broth is really thin and soup-like. Whenever I’m traveling overseas for a long period of time, I get cravings for it.
Read More http://www.bonappetit.com/magazine/2010/09/josh_groban#ixzz0wkraSmqy
Tavis: Josh Groban is one of music’s biggest-selling artists, as evidenced by last year’s Christmas CD, “Noel.” That disc sold nearly 4 million copies – more than any other CD of 2007. His latest project is a CD and DVD based on his most recent sold-out tour, called “Awake Live.” From the DVD, here is some of the performance for “You Are Loved, Don’t Give Up.”
Tavis: So I just met Josh Groban for the first time. He walks in the studio and I was talking to him about growing up in Los Angeles, and I just discovered that his parents live, like, two blocks down the street from me (laughter) in the house you grew up in.
Josh Groban: That’s right, yeah.
Tavis: I’m not going to mention the neighborhood or the address, to protect your parents and me.
Groban: You never know.
Tavis: So I should say I live in their neighborhood, since they were there first. But you grew up right here in the city of L.A.
Groban: I did, yeah. I was born and raised here, one of the few that were born and raised here, especially in the entertainment industry. It was not something that I knew I wanted to get into. My parents are not in the entertainment industry. So yeah, no, it’s great, and I love the fact that they still live in the house that I grew up in, and I try to go over there every few days and just hang out and get into the neighborhood again.
Tavis: So if I just come and knock on the door a couple days from now, you’ll let me in?
Groban: Oh, absolutely, yeah. (Laughs)
Tavis: I could meet your parents?
Groban: Yeah, absolutely, it’s a great neighborhood. I remember there was a basketball player that lived a few houses down and he played for the Clippers. (Unintelligible) “I really want to go over and say hi to him, I’m such a big Clippers fan. Can I go over and say hi?” “Well, go over and ask him for an egg.” (Laughter) “Tell him Mama’s cooking and ask him for an egg, and if you give him an egg, we’ll give you some cookies.” And then he gave me an egg and we brought the cookies. It’s a (unintelligible).
Tavis: Well now that I know how close we are, I’m going to have to meet your parents.
Groban: Please, absolutely. Come over any -
Tavis: I’ll make that happen.
Groban: They would be honored. They’d be thrilled.
Tavis: “Honey, there’s some Black guy at the door.” (Laughter) “We don’t know who he is.”
Groban: My mom would have to meet you; she would just have tears in her eyes.
Tavis: No, I will make that happen. To your point, though, how does it feel to have grown up in Hollywood, to have grown up in this city and to have made it so big on the world stage?
Groban: It’s funny, I was reading a commencement address by Danny Elfman, and he was talking about how paths are very different and how you do things and it feels like a failure at a certain time and then it winds up – there winds up being a reason for it later on. I didn’t know at all that this would be the kind of thing that I’d be getting into.
I was always interested in the arts. My parents, like I said, were not in the business, but were adamant about getting my brother and I out to see theater, classical music, pop shows, whatever. The nice thing about growing up in L.A. is that you have the opportunity, if you choose, to see a huge array of stuff.
So I kind of had the bug, and I didn’t know what that would turn into. I knew I loved to write music, I knew I loved to play the drums and act and do shows and stuff, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that a teacher said, “Would you like to sing a solo?” And I came out and I sang, and my mom was – my mom and dad were there and they’d never heard me sing before.
And again, junior high school’s such a kind of confusing and frustrating time; you just don’t know how you want to express yourself. And so lots of things had to happen, lots of stars had to line up for it to turn into what it is now, but I feel very fortunate.
Tavis: When did you know that this instrument was going to be – or not was going to be, when did you know that this instrument was your gift? You get a high school teacher who says, “Josh, sing a solo.” So you could have sung the solo and went on back to doing whatever you were doing. When did you know that this instrument was your gift?
Groban: I think that at that moment in seventh grade, I was pretty shy, I was having a hard time making friends, my grades weren’t all that they could be. When I sang and got, like, a standing ovation from the class and then the next day I wasn’t just the guy sitting alone being shy.
Everybody was coming up to me saying, “Oh, man, that’s great, don’t ever change, you got this great voice, keep doing it.” I felt like oh, okay, and boom, that was it. I found my way to communicate. And even though I didn’t think that it would be a profession at that point, I knew that that was my way, just like the guy running the ball on the football field.
That was my way to make waves. And so I didn’t know it would be everything for me until maybe four or five years later when I met the next person in my life that brought it to the next level, which was David Foster, my producer, and he was that other person, just like the teacher at that high school that said, “I know you think you can’t do it, but I know you can, and you better get out there and make me proud.”
Tavis: I’m fascinated, Josh, by your formulation that it was a discovery for you of a way to communicate rather than the applause or the adulation. And again, every one of us wants to be appreciated. We all love the applause, we all want to be loved and respected and paid attention to. But I’m fascinated by your formulation that you discovered it as a way to communicate.
Groban: That was the greatest opening for me, was just feeling like – because no, yeah, the adulation – every now and again when I would do something for David Foster in the early, early years, he’d have me sing at a charity event or something like that, and that applause was so much fun, and you get people coming up to you afterwards and saying, “Great job.”
And I would go back to the hotel room with my dad and say, like, “Oh, man, can you imagine people get paid for this? Can you imagine people?” (Laughter) “At some point, someone might want to give me money for this.” And he’s like “Oh, Josh, well, back to school tomorrow.” (Laughter) And that’s how it was.
To me, it really was just about – that was the fun part. That was the little goody extra stuff. But it was just that feeling of – and I was lucky that I even found it in the seventh grade. Some people don’t find that thing until they’re in their twenties or thirties.
Tavis: Or ever.
Groban: Or ever. So no, that’s exactly right. It was my way of expressing myself, and it was a really wonderful experience to feel that at an early age.
Tavis: You describe your music how? And I raise that because one could, theoretically, walk into a music store and find this CD or any CD of your music, except the Christmas CD, of course – that should be in the Christmas section. (Laughter) If you want it to be found, it should be in the Christmas section.
But anything else you do could be placed in any number of different sections in the music store. So how do you describe what your gift is, what your style is?
Groban: Just hearing you talk about a music store is making me feel all tingly. (Laughter) Really? Music stores? We have those still?
Tavis: Yeah, yeah. (Laughs)
Groban: It is great, because I’ll walk into a music store and I actually don’t mind – it used to frustrate me. When I first started out I used to think, easy listening? That’s not me. Or I’d go, rock music? What do they think I am? (Laughter) Now I actually have grown to really appreciate that it’s great, that each store, whoever the general manager is of that store, thinks of me as a different thing.
Because everybody’s made up of a number of different components, and I certainly feel, especially when I started making my first album and the record label said, “We just want you to be you. We want you to go and make the most beautiful album you can make. We don’t care about MTV, we don’t care about radio. If we get those things, great, but we want to see what you can do just going at it.”
And so David and I had this goal, and ever since then my fans have appreciated it, we’ve all kind of gone on this thing together of just that it is many things, and I classify myself as a pop artist. I think that I would rather widen what people think of as pop music in a world where it’s constantly being narrowed into a very, very small format than create yet another sub-genre of something else like classical crossover or whatever.
I think that I have a classical voice, I have classical training, but the music that I’m making is mostly all original, and I do view it as pop music.
Tavis: What do you make of the fact – and here’s where I give a lot of credence to your fans, lot of respect to your fan base. It’s not easy to have an artist that can sing and does, in fact, sing, to your point now, in so many different genres, does so many different styles of song rendition and have the audience get that. Because if you’re not – to your earlier point, if you’re not pigeonholed, if you’re not labeled a certain way, then it makes it harder for people to get.
So to have a fan base that really does get you, that allows you to be you and still puts you on the charts, that’s pretty special.
Groban: It’s very special. I don’t take it for granted for one minute. I’m very, very, very honored to have them as a fan base, and very proud of them. And just they’ve done so much. A lot of them first discovered me as an actor, when I first did “Ally McBeal” six or seven years ago. I was acting in the episode and then by the way, I sang at the end.
And I think ever since that moment they kind of started this grassroots thing of we know that this is different, we don’t care how it’s classified. We’re here to go along for the ride. And the fact that the album wound up bringing about a number of different languages and different styles and lots of different world rhythms and things like that, I was thinking I hope that they kind of go with me on this, and especially the last album and the “Awake” tour brought some different things.
But they’re right there with me and they’re open-minded and they are just as open-minded and energetic about my music as they are compassionate and ready to help me with my charity work and things like that. So they are, to me, the uber fan.
Tavis: So just between the two of us, just you and me here, just the two of us, have you and Foster – that would be, of course, David Foster – have you and Foster ever thought about trying something or in fact tried something that the fan base just said, “That’s pushing it a little far, Josh. Now you’ve gone too far.”
Groban: (Laughs) I would actually say that Foster has a real finger on the pulse of what my fans, my core audience, wants. I would say that I think that whenever there seems to be a bit of a controversy among my fan base, it’s the things that I’ve done away from Foster. There is a certain thing that David and I do very, very well, and the Christmas album is certainly an example of that.
And there are things sometimes where he and I will both agree, “Josh, you got some wacky ideas. Go out there and get that out of your system and go do it.” And so I spend a lot of time, this last album I spent at least half the album working with other producers and other writers and doing a lot of writing of my own, and I think that it’s very important for me to get that out of me.
Obviously, you try to learn from other mistakes and try not to scare your audience away, but at the same time sometimes as you grow as an artist you have to make decisions for yourself, where you know you’re going to tack on a little bit on one side and lose a little bit on the other.
And I think that whenever that has happened, it’s been because of a little bit of left-of-center creative decisions that I’ve made, but it’s a risk and it’s a sacrifice that I’ve been very willing to take.
Tavis: The back story behind “Awake Live” becoming a dual-disc CD and DVD is what?
Groban: It is first and foremost a DVD. This is for me the best DVD that I’ve made. We’ve done some – we’ve taped the last couple of concerts. But this was the one where we really thought we want to take it to the next level. We hired a great director named Hamish Hamilton, who has directed a number of amazing – Peter Gabriel, U2, a lot of great stuff – and we used half-35mm film and half HD, which gave it a very kind of multitextured approach.
And the audience was incredible. I think that the reason I’m so excited about this DVD is because I think that the songs on the “Awake” album were represented better as a live concert than they were as a studio album, and sometimes that just happens. This DVD was the representation of about 50 concerts’ time, to let the songs grow.
And the CD is almost like a bonus. There’s nine songs on there and we picked the ones that we thought were some of the best sounding, and there’s some great behind-the-scenes footage on there, too. So it’s nice. It’s a great archive for us; I know the fans always appreciate, especially if they couldn’t get to a concert, to have it.
Tavis: Let me close with this. As I said at the top of our conversation, you and I just met for the first time when you walked on the set here today, but I’ve always gotten the sense, watching your stuff, watching it and really listening to it, to the point, that lyrical content is important to you. It’s not just the performance, not just a DVD. That’s not a suck-up to you.
I’m just saying for some people, lyrics are less important than the bass line or than the beat. But from you, I get the sense that the lyrical content is pretty important.
Groban: It is; thank you. I think that comes from my loving theater from a young age. I think that just growing up listening to people like Stephen Sondheim, it’s first and foremost as a singer, as a song stylist, you want to tell a story and you want the – as the triple thing, you want the lyric and the book and the music to all come together.
For me, my love of theater, when those three things come together, there’s nothing more powerful. And so when I’m auditioning songs and when I’m looking at songs, that standard, just because of what I grew up loving, is really, really high. And I think that’s one of the reasons why I actually decided to start writing a little bit, was because I started receiving songs that I felt weren’t exactly what I wanted to say.
And it started out of frustration and I’d say to myself, “Okay, Josh, well, that’s what you don’t want to say. What is it that you want to say? Sit down and don’t be lazy – get it out.” So that is kind of why that started, but yeah, I do think it’s exceedingly important, even in the other languages. It’s fun for me when my fans who don’t speak those languages go and they translate them and learn about them.
Tavis: So because Josh is so adept at recording everything he does, I will know that I’ve arrived when I end up on a Josh Groban DVD. (Laughter) This conversation, that is.
Groban: This is going to be a special feature, I promise. (Laughter)
Tavis: This is our behind-the-scenes, repurposed on a Josh Groban DVD. Until such time, the new DVD from Josh Groban is called “Awake Live,” at a store near you. And to the Grobans watching right about now; how’s Sunday at 7:00 sound? (Laughter)
Groban: I could speak for them, that’s absolutely perfect.
Tavis: I’ll be down for dinner Sunday at 7:00.
Groban: I’ll see you there.
Tavis: Nice to meet you.
Groban: You too, Tavis, thanks a lot.
Tavis: Thanks Josh.
Why yes, baritone Josh Groban can tweet
Josh Groban stays connected, which is not unusual for 28-year-olds.
But the singer with the “indisputably beautiful voice” — as the New York Times described it — knows it’s important to stay in touch with his fans. So he Twitters and blogs.
“Look, for an artist like me, the mainstream means of getting your music out there has not necessarily always been available,” he says from his home in L.A.
“Top-40 radio, forget about it. MTV, forget about it. And I haven’t necessarily been a press darling. So really, it’s become your connection with your fan base — period. You make music; they listen to it. I think with business changing the way it is right now, it’s increasingly obvious that connection is the most important thing. That’s your insurance policy.”
Especially now, since Groban will be mostly off the road until the new album he’s working on comes out around next February, he estimates. However, there are two notable exceptions when he will take the stage. One is tonight, when Groban will be inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame along with opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa. The event will include presenters Garth Brooks, John Williams and special guest Trisha Yearwood. The other is “The Mandela Day Celebration,” a tribute concert honoring human rights leader Nelson Mandela, on July 18 at Madison Square Garden in New York.
“It’s embarrassing. … but I’ll take it,” the singer says about being inducted into the Bowl’s Hall of Fame. “Growing up in Los Angeles, it was my childhood place to see music. So I just grew up loving the atmosphere.”
He then cites seeing a Bjork concert with fireworks, Elton John when Groban was 12, the Simon and Garfunkel reunion. “And I’ve always enjoyed going to the John Williams film nights, and the Fourth of July concerts are an amazing institution.”
A baritone (verging on a tenor), Groban has been known for his semiclassical and inspirational material (“You Raise Me Up”), but his approach is neither stiff nor kitschy. And over the years he has been branching out. On his last studio album, “Awake,” he did two songs with the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. He also collaborated with Dave Matthews, Herbie Hancock, Imogen Heap, Glen Ballard and John Ondrasik’s Five for Fighting on the CD.
Groban’s career took off after performing “You’re Still the One” on the 2001 finale of the television series “Ally McBeal,” but it seems like the singer is trying to shake off his choirboy image.
To prepare for his new album, he has been listening to jazz greats Chet Baker and Nina Simone, really trying “to get deeper into the spaces they were in when those records were made … . (My producer and I) want to take the fluff out of the recording process, and really just think about those great melodies and what it feels like to be in a room just playing them together.”
Besides looking for songs, Groban also has been writing.
“It’s been a longer process than I’m used to … but the idea of coming up with something for forever is exciting.”
And while he has been concentrating on his new album, Groban hasn’t been entirely out of sight. He starred in a 2008 London concert presentation of the musical “Chess,” which came out on CD and DVD this week.
The musical, which involves a romantic triangle between two players in a world chess championship, features music by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bj rn Ulvaeus, and lyrics by Tim Rice. It flopped when it debuted. Groban says he thought because he hadn’t heard it, it couldn’t be that great, but when he listened to it while driving through traffic, his jaw dropped.
“It was so stunningly beautiful and intricate and clever. As a singer, I just wanted to sing it.”
Groban also has recorded a song for an album by his pal, violinist Joshua Bell, and he performed “America,” “Silent Eyes” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” at the Simon tribute – the last two with the legendary songwriter.
In the fall he’ll play himself on the television series “Glee,” but don’t expect him to be pursuing many acting gigs.
“I’m just so deep in the recording process. I like reading scripts, and I go in for meetings. But ultimately it comes down to time. `Can you give three or four months? Can you block out that amount of time?’ No.”
So Grobanites, as his faithful fans are known, will have to be patient. The singer says that he’s proud of his fans, pointing out that they have raised millions of dollars for charity. His Josh Groban Foundation helps children in need through education, health care and the arts.
“It’s flattering … that if I’m going to do a show with 20 artists, I always have fans waiting for me. That’s cool.”
1/26/2008~ Sundance Q & A:
A few weeks ago, my colleague Simon Vozick-Levinson posted a PopWatch item wondering if the first-week sales totals for Josh Groban’s Noël — 669,000 copies sold — were just one digit off from indicating the bombastic young singer had a close and personal relationship with Satan. (The record went on to sell more than 3 million copies, making it the highest-selling album of 2007.) Nearly 100 of you responded, many violently, defending the singer and calling poor Simon a variety of not-so-nice names.
Whether Simon deserved it for poking the wasp’s nest is beside the point. All I know is that when I heard Groban would be performing a small acoustic show here at Sundance, I had to grab a couple minutes with him to get to the bottom of his fans and their devoted behavior. After the jump, my exceedingly pleasant — and dare I say opinion-altering — conversation with the man himself, in which he discusses fan loyalty, his plans for the Grammys, the surprise success of Noël, and moving away from “the glossy thing.”
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ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What the hell are you doing atSundance?
JOSH GROBAN: Oh man. Just FREE STUFF. No. I canceled all myswag suites to go see movies, and I’m glad I did.
What was the best thing you saw?
I was expecting to like the Patti Smith documentary [Patti Smith: Dream of Life] morethan I did. I was really giddy to see it, because I love who she is on stage and was looking forward to seeing who she is offstage, but it just lacked structure, it was too long, it was a little bit self-indulgent.
And I heard it wasn’t much about the ’70s.
But there’s such a story there! And that’s the thing, even a documentary is still a story, and it was just kind of like, She’s onstage, nowshe’s backstage…. It was interesting, and I liked watching the footage, but Iwould have liked to have known more about her family and the ’70s and all the things she did to break those rules and become such an icon. And then I saw areally cute film a couple nights ago called The Deal, written by William H. Macy. I thought it was really funny, and I love William H. Macy. Meg Ryan and LL Cool J are great in it, too.
How long have you been here?
Four or five days? The official reason I’m here is cause I’m singing.
Wait, you sing?
Uh. I’m starting to get into that a little bit. You know. I can’t be a drummer forever. My band’s not too happy about that, but there’s a voice in me, and I know I can get it out.
There was some rumor on the Internet that you were here doing a concert for Brad Pitt last night?
I heard that rumor, too. I love that rumor. I’ll take it.No, I think at one point he was interested in showing up last night, but he couldn’t make it. You know, he’s one half of Brangelina. He’s a busy man.
He’s gotta save New Orleans.
I’d much rather him be there than at my show. But anyway,last night we did a benefit for my foundation, and it was really fun, we raiseda lot of money.
What’s your foundation?
It’s just called the Josh Groban Foundation. It started twoyears ago through a check that my fans gave me backstage at a show for $25,000.They knew that I always sang for charities, they knew that was something that was part of my life, but I didn’t have my own foundation at that point. So they came up to me and said, ”All this money that we’ve gathered, we want you to have in your pocket. We want you to have a foundation.” So my mom and I have just kind of been doing it. We’ve raised $2 million so far.
And what’s it benefiting?
Organizations that generally benefit children around the world through music, health care, and education. We try to find those places that fall through the cracks, where a little bit goes a long, long way. Were furbished an orphanage in Durban, South Africa. We found a place in L.A. called the South Central Gifted Scholars fund, which is for kids who are absolutely brilliant in hopeless surroundings. It’s a combination of home town stuff, giving back to the music education I had in Los Angeles, and then stuff we find around the world.
You mentioned your fans, so I have to ask you about this:You fascinate me, because you’re this guy who obviously has this great sense of humor, and yet your fans tend to be a little humorless when defending you. [Grobanlaughs] Like, if anyone writes anything even hinting at making fun of you…
Is that NEW to you from fans? [Laughs]
But they’re a specific breed. You, Rascal Flatts, Clay Aiken— what is it about you that compels these people to be so overprotective?
Um… I don’t know. They’ve got my back for sure when it comes to that stuff. It certainly isn’t on orders from me. They’re very passionate about the music. Maybe it’s the fact that it was kind of a slow climb from the beginning. This wasn’t something that people wanted to pay much attention to,so my fans were very much grassroots. It spread because they were the ones getting someone else to listen, stomping the sidewalk, because I was never really a press darling. And slowly but surely, we’ve made our mark. And I wish I could kind of tell them, ”I’m okay now. I can take care of myself. I don’t mind a little jab now and then.”
well A colleague of mine wrote something alleging that the 669,000 records you sold the first week of Noël were one flipped digitaway from the mark of the devil — 666 — so his theory was that Josh Groban isin cahoots ith Satan.
Kind of mean, but funny. But so he got dozens of commentsdefending you. Someone wrote, ”Who the heck do you think you are, writing this garbage? Oh, and for the people that say you hate Josh’s music or whatever, I pity you, your shriveled up from rap-crap brain, and your bleeding ears.”
Yeah. Well, every fan is their own individual with their own brain. I can’t take responsibility for anything they say or write.
Does it make you feel more self-conscious about not wantingto disappoint them, because you know they are so dedicated?
I know that whether or not I disappoint them has everything to do with music, and nothing to do with whether EW writes something snarkyabout me. So I know that my position with them is that I’m gonna just keep making music that I like, and they like, and we’ll just keep moving forward.Personally, I don’t give a rat’s ass what people write about me in magazines. They do. So they’re gonna write you. You’re not going to geta letter from me, though. [Laughs]
Noël did end up selling more records than anything onthe planet last year. Did you see that coming? It’s just Christmas carols.
Not at all. It was a surprise. But all the ducks lined up.It gave me an opportunity to sing melodies that were really right for my voice,we had the opportunity to work with the London Symphony at Abbey Road, and whether you’re a fan of Christmas music or not, these songs are absolutely gorgeous. I’d already had agreat year on tour, so the album was a gift for the fans, a chestnut I recorded for them. It became a perfect storm. I was in Europe doing promotion for other stuff when that came out in America, and was getting the numbers every week, and it absolutely boggled my mind. Iwas thinking, Really? Because Ididn’t expect ANYONE to sell those numbers anymore, least of all me.
What are your Grammy plans? Lots of rumors there, too.
I have been in talks with everyone at the Grammys, and certainly everyone there has always been really supportive of me. And we’ll see. I don’t feel I have any right to talk about it if it’s not set in stone yet, but there’s something that possibly might happen.
And you’re gonna be in town regardless?
Yeah. It’ll be my first time at the Grammys since I stood in with Celine [Dion] when I was 17, so that’ll be a nice moment for me.
Maybe they won’t make you sing opera this time.
[Laughs] They might.
I was scanning your Wikipedia page on my way over here, and it said your influences include Radiohead and Björk. For the hipsters whoaren’t as familiar with your music, can you point to where they can hear those influences? They might like that.
I think the influence I get from them is not so much a sonicone, but the idea that they went into a genre that had a specific identity, and they broke that identity. They are genre-less. You go to a Björk concert because you like Björk, not because you’re an electronica fan. You go because she has a personality, and she has a voice and a pathos that is unique from anybody else. Radiohead did the same thing with rock and roll. They dismantled the genre and made it their own. And I think more and more in this day and age,when record labels have a gun to their head, and everybody’s trying to get into cookie cutter mode and radio has become so much more compressed nonsense, I’m inspired by anybody that wasn’t afraid to go out there and do it the hard way. And even though what I do is extraordinarily different from them, I think it’sbeen really fun for me to kind of do it that way, and kind of scoff at anybodywho couldn’t put us in a category and got mad at it. If I can see 10 years downthe road that somebody would say, ” I like Josh just for Josh” — not because they’re into whatever genre they’ve put me in at the moment — then that would be successful for me. That said, I kind of like to dip into electronic music. I had a great time working with Imogen Heap on the last album, and people like[producer] Marius de Vries, who worked with Rufus Wainwright and David Gray.Through them, I’m having a really fun and interesting time using my voice indifferent ways, and surrounding it with not so much the glossy thing, buttrying to let it just be a little more naked.
Okay, last thing. I was once at the Rockefeller Centerskating rink with my mother, and three times in a row, they played ”You RaiseMe Up” as some dude proposed to his girlfriend in the middle of the ice.
Like, the song would come on, some guy would propose, thesong would end, and then I am not kidding you, it would start right back upagain as some other dude proposed.
And by the third person, we were like, this is ridiculous.
So my question is, How do I get that song out of my head?
[Laughs] I don’t know! If I could tell you that, can you tell me how to get ”You’re Beautiful” out of my head? That’s the thing about a hit song. I will never be able to get away without singing that song onstage. It’s just a damn near perfect song as far as its universal appeal. It can be about a friend, about getting engaged — anybody can listen to that song,and not only is the melody sweeping and beautiful, but the lyric is poignant but generic enough to let anybody put their own story to it. And again, it wasa surprise for us. And I’m always flattered. You get the negative letters, Iget the ones from people saying, ”I got engaged to that song.” So. [Laughs,possibly at Simon's expense]
And that’s why Josh Groban’s life is better than mine.
If Josh Groban is carrying around a little more swagger these days, can you really blame him? At just 24, he is one of the most popular singers on the planet, having toured the world twice over, sung for dozens of dignitaries and performed on every major stage from the Vatican to the Olympics. And consider this: Groban has sold more records worldwide than Justin Timberlake and John Mayer combined-and he did it without the help of an obligatory celebrity romance or a single video on MTV.
If Groban is feeling more self-assured, he’s not saying. He’s gracious and polite in person, accepting compliments with a quiet “thank you” and quick to deflect any praise. But it’s clear something is different, from the way he commands the room with his boyish grin and contagious laugher, to the way he skillfully changes the conversation so he can rave about the John Legend concert he went to the other night. He confesses to a love/hate relationship with CNN, then talks about how awkward it was for him as a lifelong Democrat to sing at the White House for President Bush. Clad in a loose-fitting T-shirt and faded jeans, with his trademark curly hair disheveled just so, Groban is surprisingly casual, a stark contrast to the image of a tuxedo-clad soloist belting out arias in front of the Pope (though the singer has done that too).
Groban found his voice early, performing at home for his family when he was just eight. In high school, the budding entertainer enrolled in the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts, where he fell in love with musical theater. He got his first lead in a “dorky musical about leprechauns” before land a role as “Shinny Tevye” in the school’s production of Fiddler on the Roof. “After that”, says Groban, “I was hooked.”
Groban thought he would eventually pursue a career on Broadway. It wasn’t until a chance meeting with record producer David Foster that the budding thespian began to see himself in a different arena. Foster was convinced that the boy with the big voice could be an international superstar, and the two began working on songs in the studio. A few months later, Groban appeared before millions of viewers as a singer on Ally McBeal. The stage was set for a breakout debut. Groban’s self-titled debut album was released to rave reviews and went double platinum in less than six months. His next album skyrocketed to number one and spent an astonishing 62 weeks on the charts. Groban had enrolled as a musical theater major at Carnegie Mellon University, but put the academics on hold as his career took flight.
Groban splits his time between a house in Malibu and a non-descript condo tucked into a tree-lined Beverly Hills neighborhood not far from where he grew up. It’s at his condo where we meet, on the day before Groban is scheduled to leave for Washington to sing for Barack Obama;s inauguration. Leaning back in an old leather chair in his home office, the singer is modest about his success. “I really feel like the best is yet to come,” he says. “I want to surprise people and show them what else I can do.”
It’s hard to believe there’s anything left for Groban to do. He’s already achieved more in his short career than most singers accomplish in their lifetime, his successes laid out in impressive plaques and frames that hang delicately along his office wall. There are platinum discs representing his millions of albums sold; there is a picture of Groban at the White House; there’s even a framed article about his appearance on Oprah.
But Groban insists he has yet to reach his prime, He knows he wants to write more, and has been hammering out melodies on a keyboard at home, while scanning his piles of notes and journals for lyric ideas. He’s also pursuing collaborations with a wish list that includes Paul Simon, Neil Young, and Annie Lennox. And then there are late nights in the studio with legendary producer Rick Rubin, of Beastie Boys-fame. The two have been trading ideas about melodies and concepts for Groban’s next album. And while an anthemic rap track isn’t in the cards right now, Groban says “You never know…” and you can’t help but believe him. After all, this is a guy who gamely spoofed his “clean cut” image in a Jimmy Kimmel video about “fucking Ben Affleck.” “Did you see that?” Groban asks. (We did. And it’s hilarious). But how will his fans-some of the most loyal in the world-react to Groban’s new direction?
The singer isn’t concerned. “My fans are amazing,” he says, nothing he often logs onto message boards to read what the fans are saying. “I love when people are like, “What’s your favorite Josh song?” because I really care what my fans think.” (For the record, “You Raise Me Up” currently tops the list).
“I want to grow without alienating my fans and my listeners,” he continues. “As long as it’s still my voice and the songs are still me I think my fans will respect that.”
While his fans will hopefully remain steadfast in support, Groban cares less about what the critics are saying. He’s been pegged as everything from a young prodigy to an overwrought pop star, and Groban seems to fall somewhere in between. The “pop” label though, is something Groban is happy to embrace. “Why not widen what we think of pop music?” he says. “I hate having to describe myself as “classical-pop” or whatever. At the end of the day, a good “pop” song is just a song with a good melody. And I’m a real melody guy.”
“I feel like I’ve been given this gift”, he continues, “and I just want to sing songs that allow my voice to shine as much as possible.”
It’s a bold statement from a young artist, even cocky perhaps, if read the wrong way. But this isn’t just another wannabe pop star. This is someone who is instantly likeable, friendly, unfussy and someone who’s carrying the quiet confidence of a guy who knows he’s at the top of his game. At the end of the day, Josh Groban just wants to make his fans happy and he just wants to sing good songs. And he can, and he will, because this a guy who’s earned the right to do whatever the hell he wants.