Energy of Live Show Inspires Josh Groban on New Album All That Echoes
March 1, 2013
By John Terauds
Singer credits new producer with helping capture sound of his live concerts
A new album is a fine way for Josh Groban to wish himself a happy 32nd birthday on Wednesday.
Thanks to his sixth studio effort, All That Echoes, the ever-boyish baritone has spent the last month brushing his ever-tousled hair near the top of the Billboard charts.
This is nothing new to Groban, whose combined album sales have topped 25 million copies. But the sound on All That Echoes has veered gently toward grassroots pop. It starts with “Brave,” which might be a metaphor for the singer’s charmed connection with loyal fans.
That opening track, which Groban co-wrote with Canadian Chantal Kreviazuk, has a distinctly guitar-rock drive to it, thanks to Warner Bros. Records chairman Rob Cavallo, who took this album on as a personal project.
Cavallo had produced Fleetwood Mac, Green Day and the Goo Goo Dolls before turning his attentions to the poster boy of popera.
On the album, evenly split between Groban co-written originals and cover songs, Cavallo’s influence comes through in the directness and prominence of individual instruments alongside Groban’s honeyed vocals.
The two connected as Groban was touring his 2010 album, Illuminations. The singer had just moved from his native California to New York City, and the resulting album was as grey as February slush.
Cavallo suggested that the next album try to capture some of the infectious energy of Groban’s live shows instead.
In his suite at Toronto’s Ritz-Carlton hotel for a publicity stop a few days ago, Groban visibly brightens as he describes his working relationship with Cavallo.
“He’s someone who could bring a fresh energy to the sound without making you feel like a square peg in a round hole,” says the singer.
He describes how energy came not just from the choice of songs, which includes an endearing cover of Stevie Wonder’s “I Believe,” but in the recording process itself.
Usually in the pop world, singers add vocal tracks separately from the instrumental studio sessions. But Cavallo had Groban working in the Hollywood sound studio at the same time as the instrumentalists.
“I got tricked into final vocals on this record,” smiles Groban. “I would walk in and sing with the band, thinking to myself, well, this is just scratch vocals so we can get a good track and I’ll come in later to do my hot-tea, warmed-up, 8-hour vocal day later.”
But there was a level of cohesion and nuance in these sessions that the baritone couldn’t match on his follow-up studio session. “There was an energy that happened immediately with everybody,” says the singer.
He credits good preparation: “Any concert that you’re doing is a night of one-takes. If you have musicians that are as amazing as who we had in (the studio), and you blueprint correctly, you train right, then there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to do a good live performance without an audience and record with great mikes.”
The album’s original songs include Groban’s trademark lover’s forays into Italian — “Sincera” and “E ti prometterò, in duel with Laura Pausini — and Spanish (“Un alma mas” with Arturo Sandoval). The English songs also tend toward the introspective, but Groban takes flight vocally in a way that never sounds contrived.
“I write songs that I’m going to present from within rather than just as a vocalist,” says the baritone. “So, there a little bit more intimate feeling and I write a little rangier because I don’t want to have any limits.”
The singer describes himself as a restless creative spirit.
“My favourite thing is to give people something they didn’t know they wanted,” he declares. “So I’m glad to have a producer who can pull me in a little bit.”