Wednesday January 2, 2013
Echoes of Josh Groban
By NIKI CHEONG
Multi-platinum recording artiste Josh Groban has readied up a diverse spread on his eagerly anticipated sixth studio album.
IT HAS been more than a decade since Josh Groban first entered the mainstream consciousness of many Malaysians when he appeared in an episode of legal comedy-drama Ally McBeal, singing his popular song To Where You Are.
When that episode aired, people were talking about the show – and Groban in particular – for days: Who was this guy? Is he an actor or a singer? Where has that voice been hiding?
All evidence showed that the episode was going to be the start of an amazing career for the singer (he was so popular that the producers brought him back for another episode the next season). That same year, he released his self-titled album – the first of five successful albums which in all have sold over 25 million records.
The story of how he got onto Ally McBeal is already legendary amongst his fans – the Grobanites – and those who have followed his career. At the 1999 Grammy Awards, Groban stood in for Andrea Bocelli in the rehearsals, singing The Prayer with Celine Dion. This led to Rosie O’Donnell booking him to appear on her show the week after. Then came Ally McBeal.
Since then, the 31-year-old has performed with many notable classical performers. There was The Prayer with Charlotte Church at the closing ceremony for the 2002 Winter Olympics, singing with Sarah Brightman at the 2007 Concert for Diana, as well as a 2008 tribute to Luciano Pavarotti with Bocelli.
Perhaps it was how his career started, these landmark performances or just the nature of his voice that has in many ways pigeon-holed Groban in the minds of many people. While much of his music sits comfortably in the adult contemporary charts (easy listening), Groban has over the years experimented with different sounds within his genre.
“I think I’ve actually done quite a bit of experimenting with this genre,” he said in a recent interview at The Soho Hotel in London. “I think my last album was very broken down – I took out a lot of elements – and was much more like a folk pop kind of record. This record has much more rhythm than I’ve had in the past.”
Groban is referring to his upcoming album – to be released early next month – titled All That Echoes. The album, produced by Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Paramore), features 12 songs, seven of which were co-written by Groban.
The other five are covers, including Stevie Wonder’s I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever), Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová’s Falling Slowly (the Oscar-winning song from the film Once), and Jimmy Webb’s The Moon’s A Harsh Mistress. Special guests on the album include Grammy-winning trumpet player Arturo Sandoval on Un Alma Mas and Italian superstar vocalist Laura Pausini on E Ti Prometterò.
Members of the press were treated to a preview of nine tracks from the album at the hotel and for the most part, the songs sounded really fresh despite the fact that they remain well within the genre of music he has made his career out of.
“Staying fresh is really a unique thing to each particular artiste. My idea of staying fresh isn’t by saying, ‘Oh Kanye’s really big right now, I guess I better do a rap song.’ It is about keeping things interesting,” he opined.
“Every time you make a record, you have the chance to do what you do best, but you also have the chance to really push some boundaries and explore. Sometimes you p--- off your fans a little bit, and sometimes you go a little too far, but I think better that than bore them. And I think they would much rather go on this journey hit and miss than just be spoonfed the same stuff over and over again.”
To make sure this happens, Groban takes a hands-on approach in working on an album (“I’m a control freak!” he confessed). And with the success he’s had over the years, he’s in a better position to make things happen.
“Obviously, when you sell a certain amount of records, you have doors that are open to you and you can make more phone calls, which is nice (because) when you can have more tools on your tool belt, you can make a more versatile album. At the same time, you still have to use the tools – I will never hand that to someone else,” he said.
One wonders if it is that conviction that is the secret to his success. In many ways, Groban has done things the way he wants and has become so successful at it. For one, he deals with his detractors matter-of-factly.
“I can’t help if people don’t look at the big picture and if they have pre-conceived notion about me based on the voice that I have. There will always be people who are closed minded and I can’t change their minds,” he shared.
But he also sees music as more organic whole than a sum of various genres. He listens to songs from a variety of genres and has been inspired by talents ranging from Freddie Mercury to Radiohead. He even covered a Linkin Park song. The only difference between songs, he feels, is the genre. For Groban, the energy and the intent may be exactly the same.
“When I hear Freddie Mercury sing a rock note and when I hear Pavarotti singing a high C, I see the same intent, I see the same energy and the same passion and maybe the same exact emotion,” he explained. “I view the genres that I am inspired by the same way. I can be thinking the exact same thing that the rocker is thinking off, we just have different ways of singing it. We have different voices, we have different styles but the energy and intent is the same.”
Perhaps it is this approach to not pigeon-hole things that has kept the Los Angeles-born singer relevant over the years. His songs may not always appear on the popular charts, but he is firmly established in popular culture, thanks to his side acting career (since Ally McBeal, he has made appearances in other TV shows, including Glee and The Office, as well as in the movie Crazy, Stupid, Love) and numerous appearances on award ceremonies and talk shows. In these live shows, Groban has been able to show a different side of himself – often humourous – including appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show dressed as a character from Avatar, and a video clip of him singing out Kanye West’s tweets.
On the subject of tweets, Groban also enjoys the ability of tools on the Internet that helps him keep in touch with the public.
“With the Internet now, you have the opportunity to show all sides of you. You don’t have to wait to sit on the couch with Jay Leno, you can just do an interview for an hour with your fans online and tell them exactly who you are, you can tell stupid jokes on Twitter, you can send home movies through YouTube,” he shared.
“If you are disgruntled about what your image is, there really is no excuse for that now because there are so many ways to show people who you are.”
Many people may have a different impression of him, but over the past decade, and with an upcoming sixth album, one thing is for certain – Josh Groban is no longer just that kid who mesmerised the world with his amazing voice on that TV show.
> Josh Groban’s album All That Echoes will be released by Warner Music Malaysia on Feb 5.