The Class of 2003
BBC Radio 2
January 7, 2004
PAUL GAMBACCINI: Another unorthodox artist to emerge recently in a nontraditional way is Josh Groban. A college student trained in classical music, he left university when offered a record contract. His debut was a self-titled CD that took off when he sang the track “You’re Still You” on the Ally McBeal television show. Here’s the way most Americans first heard Josh Groban.
(Plays “You’re Still You”)
PAUL G.: Josh, I love the fact that you have managed to do an end run. You’ve gone around the traditional routes.
PAUL G.: Do you feel…does it feel like that?
JOSH: (Laughs) It definitely feels like that in the best possible ways and sometimes the worst possible ways. Yeah, I mean I’ve definitely always tried not do the obvious. You know, there’s—especially with the kind of singing that I do—there’s always the obvious things to do or the obvious paths to take. And I’ve always been most intrigued by those routes that are not the obvious choices. And so it’s a little bit harder to get there, but ultimately a lot more rewarding.
PAUL G.: For those who don’t know, you got your real break with the producer David Foster.
JOSH: Mmm Hmm
PAUL G: And his faith in you was astonishing, but his ability to plug you into situations which had large ramifications was quite amazing, wasn’t it?
JOSH: Yeah! (Laughs) Indeed! He had a real knack for putting me in situations where it was really sink or swim, and there was no preparation time for me experience-wise to ever get myself ready for something like that. It was all of a sudden something very comfortable like a meeting or a lunch to the next day, “Oh, the president of Warner Bros. is having a big party, and Cher’s going to be there, and there’s a tent, and everybody’s going to be there and you have to sing three songs. Get ready. By the way, it’s going to be about 30 degrees, and, uh you know, dress warm.” So, you know, stuff like that where I would just be shaking in my boots. I think it has a lot to do with…I mean, singers are neurotic anyway, and it’s a good thing that I was young and I had just been starting and I was a bit blissfully naïve in terms of what could go wrong. You know, I just went in and did it for the fun of it, and it turned out to be great. And everything that I did, and everything that David pushed me to do, was a new lesson. And it taught me to take every single situation and every single opportunity that I could from then on because you never know when something is going to be the right moment.
PAUL G.: And Ally McBeal was the right moment.
JOSH: Ally McBeal was the right moment, and that was not a hesitation for me. That was something that…I had sung at a charity event and David E. Kelley was there and the whole cast of Ally was there and I was such a fan of the show and I had sung and gone home and thought, “Oh my God, the whole cast saw me sing! How cool!” And then I got a call that said, you know, David E. Kelley wanted to put the music in a show. I thought, okay that could mean anything. That could be five seconds during a love scene or something. And then he sent a script and he’d put my character, this guy Malcolm Wyatt, into the entire script. He takes Ally to Prom; he wants Ally to help him get the girl back; he goes to court, he sings to Ally at the Prom…it was just, and it was the season finale of all things! So, the immediate reaction is, “God, can I do this? Should I do this?” You know, and again it was just, “Just do it!” I’d never acted on film before. I’d never done anything like that. The whole thing again was just go in, take direction, and adapt, and it wound up being another moment that changed, you know, the path.
(Plays “To Where You Are”)
JOSH: On the Christmas episode that I did on Ally McBeal he used the song “To Where You Are” which is basically a tribute song to…not so much a tribute song, but a song that is for and about that person that you’ve lost that you want so desperately to be with you again. And so for so many people even before 9-11 it had such an impact, and then when that happened I think a lot of people listened to the song for comfort. And it’s always a wonderful feeling when you can…when someone can listen to a song like that…it’s where I go for comfort, is music. So he made the episode as a tribute to 9-11 and used the song in the episode, and that was a really wonderful feeling.
PAUL G.: Because both of those songs, “You’re Still You” and “To Where You Are,” are English language songs, at first I thought that your repertoire would be mostly English language.
JOSH: Mostly English pop songs, yeah.
PAUL G: But it’s about 50-50.
JOSH: It is about 50-50, and I think that the English language is definitely so much of who I am just because I speak English and I grew up with pop and rock and there’s so much in that world that I need to hang on to. I don’t want to abandon it completely, otherwise I don’t think I’d be true to myself. But on the other hand, the kind of voice that I have and the kind of singing I love to do also is very much a classical nature. And I am in love with the romance languages, and I think that they’re so beautifully sung and so beautifully tell the story of the song in another language that I wanted to keep that as well. So, you know, it’s confusing to some people, but it was exactly what I wanted to do and I think it’s great that I can mix the languages for a couple of reasons. One, because when I go to another country and sing in those languages, it’s wonderful to communicate. And on the other hand, if I’m in L.A. say, and a young kid is listening to “Gira Con Me” and saying, “Oh my God, that’s a beautiful song! I don’t know what it means, but I want to learn what it means. It’s really exciting!” Then I’m doing for those people what my parents and my teachers did for me when I was younger in terms of opening up my mind and getting me excited about stuff that is not in my face all day long, stuff that I can go out and search for and find new things. So, for me it worked in all ways.
PAUL G.: Being familiar with all sorts of music as David Foster is, you know as well as anyone else it’s a thin line between fromage and cheese.
JOSH: Mmm Hmm (chuckles)
PAUL G.: Do you ever when you’re having your A&R meetings say, “Wait a minute. We can’t do that.”?
JOSH: Oh, sure, absolutely. I think, uh, you know, and a lot of times it does go that way with things that the fans want me to sing. You know, back to the obvious choices, you know, the things that sometimes with my voice and the kind of thing that…I’d rather not do what people who aren’t familiar with me are expecting me to do, because then I would fall right into a category that they want that I want to try and stay out of. I don’t want flip right into a specific genre. I think it’s great to kind of balance the line between many. And so, yeah, for me it’s very difficult to keep the cheese factor out of it just because with the kind of singing that I do, you know I can’t do stuff like, (singing) “Be my love! La, La, La, La…” You know, beautiful songs. We love to sing them around the house all the time. But there’s certain stuff I guess to the public, and even to myself, I think can get a little bit that way. So there is a fine line between gorgeous and then moving over to the cheese factor. So, I try very hard to keep away from that.
PAUL G.: The fact that you have sold four million albums so far and that Norah Jones did as well as she did…
JOSH: 14 million! (Laughs)
PAUL G.: Yes, that’s right. I didn’t want to compare.
JOSH: It’s okay. (Laughing)
PAUL G.: But there is clearly a hunger for quality music that bypasses hit radio, shall we say.
JOSH: Okay, yeah.
PAUL G.: Since this affects you so personally, you must have analyzed this in some way. What are your conclusions?
JOSH: Sure. Well, my conclusions are that I think that ten years ago this album would not have gotten any attention. I think that Norah, myself, whoever else is out there making music that is a little bit different but ultimately breaking through to people and getting people to listen to it, I think that’s great. And the music business is changing so much. A lot of times there are songs that are hit songs on radio, but they don’t translate to people going out and wanting to hear the whole album. It’s becoming more and more pop, quick entertainment rather than, “What am I getting out of this?” It’s a nice feeling for myself and whoever else who is going to come out and has come out to feel like you can do something different and people will still be there to listen to it. And it’s a great feeling that as I’m working very hard to change people’s minds, minds are being changed and people are listening. So, it allows me to keep doing what I love to do every single day, so it’s real a blessing.
PAUL G.: Because you have long-term musical goals and are “a lifer”…
PAUL G.: …does this make it easier for you to avoid stress about the particular situation you’re in at a moment?
JOSH: Um, yes and no. I think that I feel very confident that I’ll be able to continue singing for the rest of my life. On the other hand, there’s no doubt that the real world and “the biz” so to speak is in your life at all times and you realize how fickle it is and how it could be gone in the blink of an eye. So, it’s the combination of having a life-long goal to strive for plus knowing that the golden microphone is in front of my mouth and I better sing into it while I can that keeps me, I think hopefully, grounded and doing the best work that I can do right now.
(Begins playing “You Raise Me Up” intro)
JOSH: But as of now, I think that I’ve just been able to pour myself out on the new album, and it is for me the best that I have to offer at this moment. And so because of that it’s hard to say what will happen a year from now, but no doubt, just like in the last two years, six months from now, twelve months from now, I’ll have a completely different idea about where I want to go, and I just have to keep trusting my instincts.
PAUL G.: And you know because of your early experience with television shows, that there are other ways that you can get your music across.
JOSH: Yeah. Oh, certainly. I think TV and the internet together have been a major force in getting my music and other people’s music out there in different creative ways so that people can feel like they’re discovering it on their own, and TV also provides more of a story, just like the Ally McBeal. It provides a visual with the music and people get it more with TV, I think. That’s a real comfort to be able to have that.
(“You Raise Me Up” plays)
PAUL G.: “You Raise Me Up,” by Josh Groban, an optimistic way to speak of the inspiring young artists who give me considerable hope that, if not the best, at least the good is yet to come. The Class of 2003 was an independent production for BBC Radio 2 by Howlett Media Productions. This is Paul Gambaccini. Thanks for listening.