Live Daily Interview: Josh Groban
August 2, 2007
By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
While attending Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan and Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania, Josh Groban focused on theater and drama. But singing slowly took over his life.
"I thought that [drama was] what my path would be," the classical pop singer told LiveDaily. "But this is something that has taken over my life in the best possible way. To be able to tour like this, to reach more people than I ever could have imagined, and just making these albums has been the great joy of my life."
Groban's latest bundle of joy is the album "Awake," which includes collaborations with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Dave Matthews, Glen Ballard, Eric Mouquet, John Ondrasik (Five for Fighting), Marius DeVries, David Foster, Imogen Heap and Herbie Hancock.
Groban, whose acting credits include a stint on "Ally McBeal," talked to LiveDaily about covering Linkin Park's "My December" in concert, working in France and why he decided to call his new album "Awake."
LiveDaily: You've scheduled a tour throughout the United States. What can we expect on this leg of the tour?
Josh Groban: I've only done two tours, but this is my favorite one that I've done. It's an amazing stage show. Having three albums' worth of music now means I can choose what I feel will be the highlights for every show and create a really great live show. It's an eclectic show. It's a lot of fun.
Why did you decide to do Linkin Park's "My December" live?
I had heard it on KROQ, which is a rock station in L.A. They kind of play it every once in awhile during the month of December. I looked and looked and looked for it, and I realized it wasn't released. They had it as, like, a B-side on a single. I thought it was such a haunting, beautiful melody. It was one that, whether it was by them or any other group, it just had a universal appeal. I thought, "This is kind of a really interesting song. I can make my own version of it."
I'm originally from Michigan and I saw you went to Interlochen. What was your experience like?
It's just kind of a magical place. It's for young people who want get their first foot in the door, as far as arts training. It is one of those places where you lay out the foundation for the rest of your life and your career. I have so many incredible memories of that place. Since then, I've been back to do a concert there, which was really a lot of fun. I can't say enough good things about it.
Tell me about the funky song "Machine." That's one of the most fascinating songs on the new album.
Well, that song, to me, is in more of a direction that I'd like to explore in the future. It's a song that went through a number of different changes as it was being created. I wrote that with my friend Erik Mouquet in France. He's a great, great songwriter that I've written a few songs with. It started out with a world groove kind of beat. As we were adding the live instruments and as Herbie [Hancock] came on, it became this jazzy funk song, which is not at all the type of song that I thought I would originally start writing. But it worked. It felt like it was in between 10 different worlds. It was fascinating to produce. It turned into a song that is so much fun to perform live, as well.
It seems like it could be a big crossover hit, as well.
Yeah. The fans really like it, and it's fun to do at the end of the show. I love that kind of music. I think it would be fun to explore more avenues like that in the future.
On "Awake," you have so many interesting collaborations, ranging from Ladysmith Black Mambazo to Herbie Hancock. Which one, for you, was the most educational and interesting?
Especially with both the names you just mentioned, they were so unexpected for me and both [provided] such a learning experience for me. Working with Ladysmith Black Mambazo was just a dream come true. I've been a fan of theirs for so many years. To get them in the studio and hear them performing live on the mikes and hearing just how beautiful they still sound, was a great thrill. To have them on a song that meant a lot to me, "Weeping," that I found in South Africa about the end of Apartheid, and also on a song that I wrote about a trip that I took [to South Africa] and some kids that I saw at this orphanage, I'll never forget it.
With Herbie, I ran into him backstage at a charity event for the Grammy Foundation. I complimented him on some of the duets he was doing on his new album. He said, "Oh, we have to do something sometime." I said, "Are you serious?" He said, "Yeah, let's try something really, really different." So I sent him something really different ["Machine"]. When you're working with Herbie, he just knows immediately where to go with music. It's a master class every time you get to watch him play. His musical mind moves so quickly You can put something in front of him that he's hardly ever heard before and he'll know where to go with it. That's his genius.
You mentioned you wrote a few songs. Did you write them in the studio, or before you went into the studio?
I mostly wrote them in my house at 2 in the morning. For a couple of them, when I worked with Eric Mouquet, I [went] to France and [stayed] with him for a week or two weeks. We work in his studio nonstop and just explore.
I think it's fascinating that you're able to record all over the world. You must get different kinds of inspiration from the different producers and different places.
Absolutely. It was really important for me on this particular album to get out of my comfort zone, to get out of my bubble at home. Part of that was just travel to begin with. Part of it was also working with people I hadn't worked with before. Coming from that place of both of us [being] a little scared as to what might happen is actually a good thing because it forces you to kind of think harder about it and come up with something ultimately unique for both of us.
Would you say that reflects why you named your album "Awake"?
Um, yeah, actually. It started with the song "Awake" that I wrote and put on the special edition of the album and I do in the show. To me, it was a word that represented that feeling of starting in a place so uncertain with this project and ending it with the feeling that every step of the way was one enlightening moment after the other. That, combined with the meaning of the song "Awake," just felt like a good expression to title the album.
Did you know Italian before you started singing.
No. I started singing when I was 14 and before that I took Japanese lessons. Italian was not what I learned in school. Growing up in Los Angeles, it wasn't something that was taught in school. As I started training classically, and as I started learning about music, that's when I started learning about the languages.
What is it like to work with David Foster, the man who discovered you?
He's a really powerful guy in the studio. He has such a way about him and such a way of bringing out the absolute best vocals in singers. He's my favorite vocal producer to work with, for sure. He's the guy that discovered me. We're always going to have that connection. We have our disagreements sometimes as far as creative directions. But he's an absolute genius, so you learn so much from him every time you work with him.
What was the most important thing you learned from him this time around?
We did four songs together, I think, on this album. What I learned from this album, to be honest, like any married couple or creative relationship, sometimes you need to take some time apart and work with other people and take that breath from each other so that it doesn't get stale. That's exactly what he and I did on this album. We kind of decided we were going to go our separate ways on this album for a little bit. When we got back at the end of the process, it felt better than ever.
3 - Hershey, PA - Giant Center
4 - Pittsburgh, PA - Mellon Arena
7 - Milwaukee, WI - Bradley Center
8 - Green Bay, WI - Resch Center
10 - St. Paul, MN - Xcel Energy Center
12 - Winnipeg, Manitoba - MTS Centre
14 - Edmonton, Alberta - Rexall Place
15 - Calgary, Alberta - Pengrowth Saddledome
17 - Vancouver, British Columbia - General Motors Place
18 - Seattle, WA - Key Arena
21 - Nampa, ID - Idaho Center
22 - Portland, OR - Rose Garden Arena
24 - Stockton, CA - Stockton Arena
25 - Anaheim, CA - Honda Center
28 - Salt Lake City, UT - EnergySolutions Arena
29 - Denver, CO - Pepsi Center
31 - Omaha, NE - Qwest Center Omaha