Lyrical Groban Returns to Wow Fans
August 24, 2007
By Linda East Brady
(Thanks to permuda for transcribing this)
Josh Groban is as comfortable singing a centuries-old classical aria as he is singing Sondheim.
His Rolls-Royce tenor pipes can tackle almost anything -- as long as it's good, with lyrics that speak to him.
"I admit to being kind of a stickler for lyrics," said Groban, calling from Connecticut, in the midst of a worldwide tour.
"But sometimes a lyric looks ridiculous on paper, yet it works with the melody, the performance. And it sounds good in the voice somehow. For instance, when I sing in Italian or Spanish, I make sure to learn the song backward and forward and make sure every word is appropriate. But the nice thing about Italian and Spanish is they are so vowel-oriented, you can make them sound so beautiful."
No matter the language, Groban has been a hit from the beginning in Utah, and has a special fondness for the place.
"The very first arena I ever played was what was then called the Delta Center." he said. "Salt Lake City is really special. Just being there for the Olympics and everything was really great for me, too."
Groban returns to his very first arena when he plays the renamed Enerty Solutions Arena on Tuesday.
Groban was raised in Los Angeles, where his parents exposed him to musical theater and opera. However, Groban didn't realize what a voice he had until in his early teens.
"I was always writing music, interested in different styles. I just didn't know what my path would be, but I knew it would be in some type of performance."
In 1998, while still in high school, he started working for producer/writer/arranger David Foster, singing at high-profile events such as Gray Davis' California gubernatorial inauguration and at the Grammys.
Just as Groban was beginning studying at the prestigious Carnegie Mellon's conservatory in musical theater, he was offered a recording contract.
"I was really excited to be (at Carnegie Mellon), and some of my best friends are still there," said Groban. "Since I was going to school for performing, I realized this was an opportunity I couldn't pass up. I took two years' leave of absence, so I could have gone back had it not worked out."
WRITING HIS OWN
Groban has long been a careful listener of songs. The stories they tell are one reason he enjoys songs from theater and opera. The goal is to find material that speaks to his heart.
To get the internal feeling and the material to match up, Groban has tried his hand at writing of late.
"It is hard work, writing, but it has freed me up quite a bit," he said. "Sometimes you get songs sent to you and you think, "Ew, is this what people think of me?" Or, even more often, you think, "I like that part, but I can't stand this part." It gets harder and harder as you create an identity for yourself, to have songs custom-written that make every fiber of your being love every moment of the song.
"The nice thing is that I have realized I can write. It is something I always wanted to do but was shy about."
NO DELETE BUTTON
When Groban writes the music always comes first.
"I still get help with the lyrics mostly, but the melody I try to do myself. Sometimes I'll play something, sing gibberish, and then words will come out that mean something to me. I can't think too hard about them.
"I have gotten to work with some great lyricists, Dave Matthews and John Ondrasik, Imogen Heap. From each one, I have learned a different thing, and can adapt it in my writing.
"For instance with Imogen, we would write essays online, words that made no sense, and send them back and forth," Groban said of the song "Now or Never" from his "Awake" CD.
"We would send just words strung together," he laughed. "You were not allowed to use the delete button! But every once in a while, we'd find a word or two that went together so poetically, it really couldn't come from anywhere else. It had to happen through nonsense.
"I like the idea of sitting down at the piano and saying, "Well, you didn't like that part of the song, so write what you would want to listen to." My dream is to write a whole album myself, but there are beautiful songs out there, and first and foremost, I view myself as a vocalist and look for things I can wrap my voice around."
Groban's latest album, "Awake," allowed him studio time with some of his musical heroes. He did two songs alongside the renowned African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and also one with jazz legend Herbie Hancock.
"Just the idea of being in the studio with Ladysmith, producing and working with them -- they were childhood heroes. You talk about the universality of different languages, they are a perfect example. When I was little, I first heard Joseph and the guys singing in Zulu. I didn't fully understand everything they sang, but the pathos in their voice, the way it was sung, that made it fun and moving. And their voices are the same after 20 years."
As for Hancock, Groban seized a moment at a Hollywood party with Hancock to get his talents for the record.
Groban was working on a song called "Machine" that was taking him by surprise as it developed.
"I hadn't expected that funk vibe. So, I'd talked to Herbie at a Grammy fundraiser a month prior. He'd said, "Give me a call when you want to do somthing." And honestly, I thought, 'We're just schmoozing. He doesn't mean it.' But with this song going as it was, I called him."
Groban said he learned from Hancock how to work spontaneously. "From him I learned those first instincts come and go so quickly. You lose them if you don't get them down. Herbie is incredible when the red light turns on."
Though Groban has done a few small parts on TV, he has not ventured onto Broadway or musical film in any meaningful way. It has more to do with time that anything else.
"With the recording and touring right now, I couldn't give my all to it at the moment. When I am old enough and the right part comes along, I will be thrilled to get back into that kind of performing. I am always reading scripts. But I don't want to do it just to do it. I want to do it right."