Home > Entertainment > The Fort Wayne Reader talks to one of the worldís biggest ó and most unlikely ó pop stars
The Fort Wayne Reader talks to one of the worldís biggest ó and most unlikely ó pop stars
Josh Groban tells FWR about his hopes for the future and why he doesnít sing many ďhappyĒ songs
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
At a glance, you might mistake Josh Groban for another twentysomething waif of the American Idol variety. Thatís until he opens his mouth to sing. His massive voice seems as though it should be coming from someone twice his width, while thereís a discipline to his delivery that should be coming from someone twice his age. He seems a natural for Broadway, maybe even opera (though he doesnít like being compared to an opera singer), but over the last couple of years, Groban has instead become perhaps the least likely pop star around.
Grobanís seemingly meteoric rise to stardom has been well-documented: last minute replacement at the Grammy rehearsals several years ago for ailing tenor Andrea Bocelli, an appearance on Ally McBeal, a debut album that went on to sell over 3 million copies, and a follow-up (Closer) which hit #1 on Billboardís album chart.
In early 2004, a Rolling Stone profile on Groban quipped ďIf you donít know who Josh Groban is, ask your momĒ (this from a magazine that puts more movie stars on its cover than rock bands). Maybe, but these days, quite a lot of people of all ages know who Josh Groban is. When we had the chance to talk to Groban, it was a couple weeks before his appearance in Fort Wayne, and just a few days before his duet with Beyonce on the Oscars, where the song ďBelieveĒ from the soundtrack to The Polar Express was up for Best Original Song.
Fort Wayne Reader: The story is that you were studying theater at Carnegie Mellon when (producer) David Foster offered to make an album with you. Was that a tough decision to make?
Josh Groban: It wasnít a hugely tough decision, having known David, and known how brilliant he is, and knowing what an amazing album he would have made for me. I was in theater class, and wondering if I was in the right place, so when David called and said ďyou can take a leave of absence. Letís make an album,Ē there was almost no hesitation, except for the fact that I would miss the college experience, I would miss my friends, obviously. But I knew if I were to go with this, and take this risk, that I would be venturing on a whole other educational endeavor, and I would be learning so many different things. I would essentially be taking a year-long master class, which I really went to with open arms. I knew everyone I would be working with would be top-notch, from David to the musicians to the songwriters, and you just donít get an opportunity like that everyday. So I think we all kind of looked at each other ó my family and my friends and everybody óĎ and said ďletís do this. Letís take the risk.Ē
FWR: It doesnít seem like the kind of offer someone would hesitate overÖ
JG: Granted the music business is fickle and it could have turned out poorly. They could have decided after I left that they didnít want to release the albumÖ Thereís so many things that could have gone on, and I think in that way, I was kind of blissfully naÔve, and I didnít know of all the horrible, crappy music business stuff that could have happened to me. It didnít, and thatís because of my manager Brian Avnet and David really stuck up for me. The people who were interested in me fought for me all the way, which I was very, very lucky to have.
FWR: So you havenít been hit with any of the horrible, crappy music biz stuff?
JG: You know, honestly, when I look back on the last three years, I canít complain. I think Iím truly blessed, and with the people Iíve encountered these past few years, Iíve met very, very little negativity. Getting a thicker skin is something that any new artist has to deal with. You read your first bad review and you think the world is going to end, but when it comes down to it, it doesnít matter. You canít make everyone like you. Thatís been the only thing. Ignore the critics.
FWR: Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Are there other genres of music or entertainment youíd like to explore?
JG: Sure. Iíd love to do some theater. I would love to do something on Broadway at some point. I would also love to explore more musically on my next album, take music from different parts of the world, and take the fans on some new journeys.
FWR: Actually, I wanted to ask you about musical theater. It seems a natural choice for a voice like yours, rather than pop music.
JG: That was my first dream. Yeah, when you wake up in the morning with a voice like mine, you donít immediately say to yourself: ďpop star.Ē To me, that didnít feel like a realistic dream. I had a huge passion for the theater. My parents were so great in introducing me to the arts. Growing up in Los Angeles, you get to see a lot of shows, a lot of concerts and stage productions. So very early on, I caught the theater bug, and I joined an improv group and joined the theater club in my school. There was something about live performance that I was just so inspired by. I became serious about it, and the fact that Iím sitting right now in the front of a tour bus on my way to play an arena, is a completely new and different, but equally enjoyable thing to me.
FWR: A lot of people have described your voice as operatic, but Iíve heard where you donít like thatÖ
JG: I would not describe myself as an opera singer, and I think most classical critics would probably say the same thing. I would agree. Iím not singing any songs from actual operas. I sing with classical training, but I would rather say that this is a different type of pop singing, this is a different type of pop music, than say Iím trying to be an opera singer, because I really donít think thatís what Iím trying to be. This is just the voice that I have, and I would much rather look at what I do as pop.
FWR: On your last full studio album, Closer, there were three songs that were written or co-written by you. Is this something you want to do more of?
JG: Oh, absolutely. It happened very naturally, and it happened in a way where we all looked at each other and said ďyeah, these are great, these work.Ē Iíll be the first one to say if I write anything that I donít think works. But sure, I think thatís a part of me that Iíve wanted to get out for a long time and I think thereís a lot that I want to say. More and more, when I receive songs that I donít think are right for me, Iím inspired to sit down and do it myself.
FWR: How do you choose your material?
JG: I get sent lots of songs, and I have to find something that I really feel I can sink my teeth into more than anybody else. I have to find something thatís uniquely me, that I can relate to story-wise, that I can relate to lyrically, and itís got to be a melody that just catches my ear. Something that I can listen to over and over again. You sift through a lot of things that are only so-so before you find stuff thatís really, really other worldly.
FWR: Is there a certain type of song you find yourself drawn to?
JG: Iíve always found myself drawn to sad songs. I donít know why. I just, uhÖ I love sad songs (laughs)
FWR: You donít seem like a particularly sad guyÖ
JG: Iím not a sad guy at all, but I like sad songs. You know, for me, and the kind of voice that I have, itís really hard to find happy or upbeat songs that donít sound cheesy.
FWR: Youíve done a lot of duets. Is there anyone out there youíd really like to work with?
JG: Well, Iím looking forward to singing with Beyonce on the Oscars. Thatíll be fun. Weíre doing a duet together. I would love to do a song with someone like Bjork or Peter Gabriel. Thereís a lot of people Iíve grown up really loving. It would be the thrill of my life to sing with Paul Simon.
FWR: When I told people I was going to talk to you, one of the questions they wanted me to ask was what music you listened to when youíre just hanging out ó assuming you listen to music at allÖ
JG: Sure I do. My iPOD is stuffed. Iíve been really into a band called Keane lately. Theyíve got one of the most beautiful sounds out there that Iíve heard recently. Umm, Iíve got the new Green Day album in thereÖ I love rock music, so I listen to a lot of rock.
FWR: In the last year or so, youíve moved to playing larger venues. How has this changed your performance, or the way you prepare or warm up for a performance?
JG: It hasnít changed the way I warm up. I warm up the same way for a thousand people as I do for 10,000. But it has changed the way I react to the audience on stage. I think that when I first started getting into arenas and started playing for 10 or 15,000 people, it was all of a sudden fill the space, reach the back of the house. When thereís that much more space between you and the back row, and when thereís that much more energy and excitement and that many more people you have to reachÖ thereís no question that when I jump off stage after an arena show Iím dripping, Iím tired, itís a workout because you really have to reach everyone. But thatís fun. I love taking from the rock groups that would kind of eat that up. The energy they put out there. I watch a lot of concert DVDs and just think ďwow, how do they do that? Thatís amazing.Ē I actually feel like Iíve found myself more as weíre playing arenas instead of theaters. It was a much more stiff show in the theaters. Iíd start out in a suit and tie (laughs).
FWR: Who do you watch?
JG: Peter Gabrielís performances are always out of this world. Phil Collins is just an incredible, incredible live performer. Of course, heís also inspiring to me because heís a great drummer. I think Freddie Mercury is one of the greatest live performers of all time. Thereís a lot of people that just blow your mind. I wish I could have seen some of those people live in concert.
FWR: Speaking of the drums, Iíve heard in your latest show you play the keyboards and drum a little bit. Are you still doing that?
JG: Absolutely. Itís a great moment in the show for me, not only because I can take a break from the singing, but because itís something that I enjoy as much as singing. The nice thing about a live performance is that you can play around, you can have fun. You have 10,000 people packed into an arena, theyíre ready to have fun. I donít want to be the guy standing in front of a microphone with an orchestra behind me, saying (in a deadened monotone) ďand for my next pieceÖĒ Thatís not what Iím about. When I look at people like Freddie Mercury or Phil Collins and people like Sarah McLachlan or Elton John that have made the piano another part of them, itís inspiring for me to be able to want to do the same. You donít have to be trapped by one thing. Maybe Iíll do more of that on the next tour.
FWR: Has there been a particular highlight for you these last three years?
JG: Honestly, the highlights donít seem to stop. From meeting the Pope, singing for the Pope, to being able toÖ I donít know. The Superbowl, the Olympics, being nominated for a Grammy, itís all been such an amazing ride, and the Oscars are just a new chapter. I canít wait to perform.
FWR: I thought I read somewhere that the Oscars take place on your birthday. Did I get that wrong?
JG: No, thatís rightÖ
FWR: So youíre going to sing a duet with Beyonce on your birthday?
JG: Yes. Thatís exactly what I asked for this year (laughs).