Popera's Prince Charming
Globe and Mail
February 27, 2008
By Brad Wheeler
Josh Groban reveals a kindred spirit with Celine Dion,
how much his voice is insured for, and what he sings when he's in the shower
Canadian acts Bryan Adams, Jann Arden and Sarah McLachlan rarely take back seats to other performers, but at Thursday night's One Night Live benefit concert in Toronto they'll be smaller big deals. The headliner is assuredly Josh Groban, an adorable young pop-ballad baritone who pays no attention to record-selling recessions.
As your new digital single is a live duet of The Prayer with Celine Dion, you must know her a bit. So, be honest, is Celine nutty or what?
She is, 100 per cent. That's one of the things I love about her. When you see her perform, what you see is what you get. She is really that enthusiastic about her crowd and about her music. There's no phoniness to the fact that she just is that exuberant and that wacky. I think of myself as the same way, so it's nice to meet someone who has that sense of humour.
If I were to call you the American male equivalent of Celine, would you take offence?
Of course not. She's certainly had a career that if I can equal half of, I would be thrilled. We're in the business where comparisons are made all the time, and obviously they're a lot of differences between Celine and I in what we do. But she's one of the great voices of all time, and of course I'll take that as a compliment.
What do you think of the criticism she gets from snobby music critics?
It's like spaghetti sauce - everybody likes different things. Sometimes critics view a pure sound or something that's lush or something that's beautiful but with not enough grit on it, as being somewhat insincere or not worked for.
Which isn't necessarily fair…
It's a total discrimination against the sound. She's working just as hard as any rock singer or rapper, certainly any manufactured pop artist out there. And it's not as though she can't sing, right? Of the pop ballad world, she's what Placido Domingo is to classical. She has that incredible of an instrument.
You've faced a similar backlash. Can you figure out why?
Maybe those critics don't like the songs or maybe they don't have love in their life, so they don't want to listen to songs about happiness and love. I don't know. You can never understand where a critic is coming from when they wake up in the morning. I put it into two categories: people who get it and get what I'm doing, and people who just don't get it. And that's fine.
Your last album, Noel, was the top selling album of 2007. Can 3.7 million fans be wrong?
[Laughs] Well, you know, it was complete surprise to be honest. However you feel about Christmas music, the songs are timeless and the melodies are gorgeous. It was not an over-thinky kind of album. We just went in and sang these beautiful songs and gave it to fans as a way of to say thank you at the end of the year.
You recorded it at Abbey Road Studios. Did you do anything crazy, like pop up to the roof and smoke a joint, like the Beatles did?
No, I wasn't able to get high during my recording session with the London Symphony this time. In all seriousness, it was really, really fun just scoping out all the little rooms and checking out things like the stand-up piano they have in a closet that the Beatles played on.
How much is your voice insured for?
I don't think it is, actually. I've got life insurance, if I die. My insurance for my voice is that I'm going to be very careful about taking care of it. I think of it as an instrument, that I have to put it away and rest and keep healthy.
So, no shot-gunning of beers for you?
No. Not on weekdays, anyway.
Your fans call themselves Grobanites. That sounds like something you need to get exterminated.
Or get a vaccination for. I remember being on the Internet, early when there were only 50 fans, when they were starting to talk about what they wanted to call themselves. I was thinking to myself, 'Oh my god, this group of fans is going to choose, right now, a word that's going to haunt me for the rest of my career.' It could've been worse, though. Grobanite is cute.
Who's your favourite singer?
I don't look at myself as doing anything involving opera, but I would have to say Pavarotti. I think he was the greatest voice of our generation, no matter what you sing. Listening to him is a complete master class in control and beauty of voice.
Your style borders pops and classical. What about doing opera?
Coming from a pop, theatrical style of training, contemporary material is easier for me. The stuff I don't necessarily feel is right or natural for my voice, at this moment in time, are the grand classical composers.
The Christmas album was your most classically styled work yet, though. Can you develop that?
The range is there. I just don't put it out there onstage. But if I were to go into the grand operatic thing and really do the classical thing 100 per cent, I would have to shift my voice a little and manage it in a different way. I'd have to really lock into it, and I'm not sure it would be reversible.
Puccini in the shower maybe?
I'll sing everything from Nessun Dorma to Pearl Jam. But I've always said, in the shower, you can't do anything halfway. You're either a rock god or an opera diva.
Josh Groban, with Jann Arden, Bryan Adams, RyanDan and Sarah McLachlan, headline Thursday's One Night Live benefit for Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. For details, visit onenightlive.ca.