Josh Groban on His Music, Broadway and 'The Simpsons'
August 22, 2014
By Brian PJ Cronin
If Josh Groban didn't exist, Hollywood would have had to invent him.
Groban was just a teenager studying music when his vocal coach introduced him to the Grammy-winning producer and arranger David Foster. Foster booked Groban as a rehearsal singer, which led to making his public debut as an emergency replacement for an ailing Andrea Bocelli on a duet with Celine Dion at the 1999 Grammy Awards. That led to sitdowns with Rosie O'Donnell, appearances on the TV show "Ally McBeal" and gigs alongside everyone from Elton John to Stevie Wonder. His self-titled 2001 album went double platinum.
Groban could have kept making crossover classical albums forever and packing arenas, but he's got a lot more tricks up his sleeve besides his easygoing stage presence and a voice that can flow from the tenor range down to the lowest baritone as fluidly and smoothly as water rushing downhill. In the past few years he's started to feature his own songs on his albums alongside covers by such artists as Stevie Wonder and the Swell Season. And he's become a staple on the late-night talk show circuit thanks to his impressive comic timing and his willingness to subvert his squeaky-clean image in order to sell a joke.
Groban's had a busy summer, filming a part in "The Office's" John Krasinski's upcoming film "The Hollars," and serving as one of the judges on ABC's singing contest show "Rising Star" alongside Ludacris, Kesha and Brad Paisley. Somehow he's managed to find the time to squeeze in a two-week East Coast tour of outdoor performing arts centers alongside local orchestras and choirs. He brings his tour here on Sept. 23 when he plays the Bethel Woods Center of the Arts.
We caught up with Groban on the phone from his tour bus as he headed toward our area:
Q. First off, how's the tour going?
A. It's been everything I could have hoped; it's why we continue to do these summer orchestra shows. Perfect venues, wonderful audiences and the opportunity to work with local orchestras. It gives us a chance as a band to explore stuff we haven't done in a while. So it winds up feeling very fresh, very organic and a lot of fun.
Q. I understand you're working on a new album of your favorite songs from theater and film. What can you tell us about the album so far?
A. The album is all songs that are musical-theater-based, but they're from shows that either crossed over into film music or vice versa, from film to stage. It's given me an opportunity to sing stuff that I've grown up singing and listening to. I was a theater major in college and I've always dreamed of finally making a record like this.
Q. You've covered such a wide variety of artists. What is it you're looking for when you're picking out songs to cover for a new album?
A. It's a daunting task. You try to start early with it and gather a list that is either your bucket list of songs, or a producer comes to you with ideas, or sometimes it's as easy as sitting down to dinner with family and friends and saying, "What do you think I should sing?" So you go into the studio early on to do demos and you just sing through a bunch of stuff. You start to realize very quickly which melodies are more universal than you thought, what songs you sing through once and say to yourself, "OK, this is just going to be one of my karaoke songs for the rest of my life because I'm never recording this," and sometimes things really surprise you.
Q. So what are some of those karaoke songs that you love to sing for yourself but you'll never record or sing in concert?
A. (Laughing.) Maybe "November Rain," by Guns N' Roses, "We Are The Champions." A lot of '70s and '80s rock, I've found, doesn't lend itself well to the style that I do.
Q. What would be your dream role on Broadway?
A. Probably one of the Sondheim roles. I would love to play George in "Sunday In the Park With George" and "Sweeney Todd" is a favorite of mine. I loved doing "Chess" a few years ago at Royal Albert Hall and I'd love to bring "Chess" back to Broadway. Those songs by ABBA's Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus are so much fun to sing. But I also love "Tommy;" I think it would be a lot of fun to play Tommy.
Q. Over the past two albums we've gotten to see a different side of you, as you've written a lot of the songs yourself. Who are some of the songwriters you admire most?
A. I turn to songwriters who are not only amazing melody writers but also great storytellers. I grew up loving Paul Simon; he just has an uncanny ability to meld different genres and worlds on top of his sort of Americana poetry and make it work. I also grew up listening to some of the interesting, weird, off-the-wall songwriters like Bjork and Peter Gabriel, but also James Taylor. With all of them, the storytelling came first and genre has come secondary. I liked the stories they were telling.
Q. One last question, because I've that heard that you're a big fan: What's your favorite episode of "The Simpsons?"
A. (Laughing) Oh man! To me all of the Halloween episodes were the best; I don't think I could pick just one. My parents have been "Simpsons" fans for a long time, and my brother is as well. I've never been a big Halloween party kind of guy, so me and my family would get together on Halloween, watch all those classic Halloween episodes and just laugh our asses off.