Eons Interview: Josh Groban
By Chad Capellman
Multi-platinum artist talks about his new album, his wide-ranging fan base and his dream of one day being on the Simpsons
On the eve of the release of his third studio album, "Awake", multi-platinum artist Josh Groban spoke to Eons about the album, his wide-ranging fan base and his dream of one day being on the Simpsons.
Does it get easier with each album?
No. this was hardest one ever to make, but I think at the same time the best one I've ever made, and I think what stops getting easy about it is with success there's pressure to raise the bar and pressure to top yourself and surprise yourself and surprise your fans. There's always gonna be things you're stressed about. I mean when you haven't released anything yet, you're stressed about getting people to know you, but at the same time nobody's expecting anything. So the expectations are definitely there, so I really wanted to match those.
So is there kind of a hidden meaning in the lyrics, "Don't give up, it's just the weight of the world"?
Yeah, well I really needed to hear that song when I heard it, and when it came to me and they asked if I wanted to sing it, and said, "Oh God, this is perfect." Because yeah I mean that song kind of represents how, you know, that and a song called "February Song" for me are both songs that to me really represent how the world feels at it craziest and having to find the answers on your own. But "You Are Loved" definitely is one of the songs that makes you feel like when you see the world as being very, very tiny when you're in a depressed state of mind, that you know this too shall pass.
You've made some kind of expansions on your repertoire with this album. What were your goals going into it and how do you feel it turned out?
I just didn't want to rest on any of the safety blankets. I didn't want to make it a formula. I wanted to put myself in positions and work and write and produce with people that I felt were very different from what I did and went into this project with a mindset of wanting to do something nobody had heard before; that I had never done before. So keeping that in mind, it was like I said, one of the hardest experiences for me but at the same time it was the most rewarding because really when you put yourself in a place where you really have no other option but to create something beautiful, failure is definitely one of those options as well, then sometimes the most exciting things can happen. So my thanks go out to people like Dave Matthews, Imogen Heap, and Glen Ballard, various degrees and all these people that really took a chance with this and helped to make something just better than I could ever expected. Yes, it did come out exactly as I'd hoped it would.
The last three songs sound a lot different than the first three on the album; I was wondering, were you kind of trying to ease your audience into some of the transitions with the way the arrangement was?
Yeah. Good question, yeah. I think that this definitely is a bit of a transition album for me. It doesn't mean I'm not going to continue to pay homage to those things that have worked for me in the past, like the first two songs. The reason those three went at the end, first and foremost was just because I felt musically and message-wise, I felt they all went together really, really well. When I had recorded them separately, I was expecting to mix them up throughout the album. But as I was kind of coming up with the songs list, they just, I felt like those three together really had an incredible message to them, and it felt really right. "Machine", I felt was always gonna go at the end just because I didn't think there was anything that could follow it. There's not really one of those songs that you can lead in something else with.
And yeah, you know I think that it's always nice to put the thing at the end that expresses where you'd like to go in the future. I feel like this is everything that I could have possibly wanted to put out right now, but hopefully the three songs also at the end will also show the kind of the tip of the iceberg where I'd definitely like to go in the future.
What was working with Herbie Hancock like?
Oh, it was such a huge honor to work with him. I mean we had met at a concert for Stevie Wonder that we did together, and I had complimented him on the Possibilities CD he had done, a duet CD. And he goes, "Oh man, I'm thinking of doing another one, you know. We've got to do something together." And I'm thinking, "Are you kidding me? You serious?" And I just kind of kept that in the back of my head, and then when I was writing this song and the different elements musically started coming together on it, it just kind of started taking on this very jazzy kind of funky feel. We didn't know that that's where it would go, it just kind of did. And we were kind of pulling the faders down, thinking, "Oh, wouldn't it be cool if Herbie was here? Wouldn't it be cool if Herbie was here?" We were just kind of dreaming. And so I finally got the confidence to call him, just to say, "Hey, I wrote this song and you said you were interested in doing something. Let me send it to you. If you like it, great, if not, don't worry about it." And he liked it.
Working with him couldn't have been easier, just because there's nothing to worry about when you work with somebody like Herbie Hancock. You just press the big red button and let him play. And he's just, that's why he's such a genius. His musical mind works so fast and the way that he can compute melody and then translate that to what he plays is just absolutely beyond what you could have expected. It is just why he's Herbie Hancock. So that's pretty much what the session was, it was just playing the track a few times; he'd lay down some tracks and being a co-producer on that song, I was very, very nervous because the other producer really didn't speak any English, so it was up to me that day. And it just, he just was so friendly, so humble, and just kind of walked in and blew everybody's mind in pure legend fashion. And he's a great, great guy.
So in your fan club, do you know kind of roughly the age kind of breakdown, how that spreads out? 'Cause you've got quite a wide range of ...
Yeah, I think that this music is has been and I think for the most part generally is more of an adult sound. I think that there are a lot of adults that listen to this music. But the cool thing for me to have seen after having done a tour and played more arenas and especially with the Internet thing and all that, is that it's really gotten younger and younger and even older and older. I mean it's widened both directions and in a day and age where parents don't want to be like their kids and kids don't want to be like their parents, it's nice to have seen that I'm making stuff that everybody's being able to enjoy. So, 'cause I'm twenty-five and it's nice to see young people into it as well.
Do you get a lot of people just staring and going, "I can't believe you're twenty-five"?
I think a lot of times people hear me sing; they think I'm older. And that's a compliment. And but I look young, so --
Do you still get carded?
I do get carded.
So you're on this media tour; you're promoting your album but I've been reading a lot about your desire to be on the Simpsons one day. Seems like maybe an alternate campaign there almost.
Yes. Yep. It's just one of those classic shows, what in it's eighteenth year now or something like that?
So if you were cast, who would you be related to?
Oh, I would hope, you know the biggest honor is to play yourself on that show.
But I would hope that at some point in the show my DNA, from maybe a fan that pricked me with a pen or a pin or something during my show, DNA shows that I was somehow related to Ralph Wiggum.
I'm glad we're doing a podcast.
I choo choo choose you. Yeah, he's kind of my favorite.
So now you've never performed on American Idol as a guest, correct?
No, I have not.
'Cause a lot of contestants have been singing your songs, and they seem to try to play to Simon who has said he's a fan of yours.
He said that a few times.
Have you ever seen a participant on American Idol try to cover your song?
I think I did once, yeah.
What were you thinking as you were watching that?
Well I mean it was kind of surreal because when you think of American Idol, you think of like the epitome of like pop, mass pop media, you know. And when I first started, I knew that the kind of voice I'd have was a little bit different. And I knew that the kind of music I was gonna be making would be somewhat not you know, not pop. Not pop. I wanted to think of it as pop, my ideals were saying, "Oh just say it's pop music because we can kind of change the way people think of as pop music." But the fact that now it's kind of accepted as that, and that kids on American Idol are singing it, you know, however you feel about the show I think it's a huge compliment; I'm really, really flattered.
I know this is a while back, but I wanted to ask you about the time that you filled in for Andrea Bocelli and you described it as preparation meets opportunity. But how do you prepare for that?
Well, I mean I was in a voice lesson when I was asked to do it, so I mean it was at that time when I knew that I wanted to be a singer. I was taking the initiative to go out and get trained, and I guess I wasn't as prepared as I could have been because I was still only seventeen and would I have preferred to have sung that song with Celine when I was twenty-five? Of course. I think I would have done it that much better. But I was really thrown into the fire and it was just, for me it was like just enough preparation. I mean I was really kind of plucked from such an early time for me training-wise. And I think anybody who's had their big break would say that so much happens because of one moment where somebody from way high up threw them into a situation where they had to really perform. And luckily they had just enough where they were able to get through it, because it is nerve wracking and it kind of becomes that Nike phrase, "Just Do It." I didn't want to do it when I was asked; I thought I'm gonna make a fool of myself. Bocelli's just got the most enormous voice, I'm a baritone, how am I gonna do this? And I had all sorts of demons running through my head. And that first moment really taught me to kind of try and quell those demons more and just go for it, you never know how much you can do 'til you try.