Groban Bridges Genres:
Vocal wonder puts classical, pop and more into his mix
February 18, 2004
By Jordan Zivitz
Josh Groban's operatic tenor is enough to send mountains crashing to the sea, television ratings crashing through the roof - and classical-music critics crashing to the floor. One of the most popular of the so-called classical-crossover artists, the 22-year-old vocal wonder doesn't concern himself with the opinions of those who write him off as a dilettante diluting "serious" art.
"I always try desperately to keep my CDs out of the hands of reviewers of classical music," Groban said shortly after the release of his second album, Closer, in November. "Someone puts it on their desk and says, 'You're the classical reviewer - review this.' But it's not a classical CD. I very much look at this as a pop CD with lots of different influences, including classical."
Indeed, Groban's work isn't fish, fowl, or any other beast. Even when compared with his self-titled 2001 debut, Closer's stylistic borders are barely defined. After the multilingual ballads, after the grandiose uplift of the single You Raise Me Up, there's Never Let Go - a collaboration with French world-music group Deep Forest that, like much of Groban's repertoire, will never be featured in an MSO program.
With his voice acting as a bridge across genres, Groban doesn't tend to draw purist listeners. Even so, Never Let Go in particular has the potential to alienate fans who don't want to see the singer wander too far into pop country.
"There's so much on the album that appeals to those people who might not find that (song) all that great, that I wasn't really worried about it. I also didn't think the fans wouldn't be willing to hear something new. I really had the feeling from the last few years of singing for them and talking to them that they had the same eclectic taste that I did, and that they'd be perfectly happy to hear a cooler, edgier song at the end of the album."
Groban could have gone farther than he did: Included on an Internet-only version of Closer is a cover of the Linkin Park ballad My December.
"I just thought it was a gorgeous, haunting song, and one that could transcend genres," Groban said. "It wound up garnering a lot of press. Three months before the album was released, I was seeing headlines like 'Groban strolls in Linkin Park.' I started going, 'Whoa - wait a minute: I don't want people to get the wrong idea about what I'm trying to do here.' I didn't want fans to think I was just doing it as a gimmick."
Before his current tour, the best chance fans had of seeing Groban came with a Vidéotron connection. Appearances on Ally McBeal, a profile on 20/20 and a Great Performances special on PBS helped create a phenomenon in the way only mass media can, but live performances didn't come to fruition.
"It was a blessing and a curse: Every time we would plan a tour, something else would come up. The reason the tour kept getting cancelled was that we kept finding ourselves in situations where we could get the music out there to a larger audience and get more people's attention first."
Groban said his tour features 15 to 20 local string players and a choir hired for every date, in addition to his six-piece band. As for anyone who would rather see the singer perform with only classical backing, or only working from a pop palette, he says the chance will come.
"Maybe 10 years down the road I'll start really getting into classical, and maybe three or four years down the road I'll put out a really pop album," he said.
"There are definitely times when I'm not going to want to mix the two. ... But the people I've listened to a lot - Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel, Sting, Björk - are people who aren't afraid to take a step out of the box they'd been categorized in and take risks. So I've always been interested in mixing genres and styles and sounds."
Josh Groban will perform at the Bell Centre on Friday.