04 February, 2010
Inside the "We Are The World" Remake...
The singer shares memories from Monday's historic session — where he joined Barbra Streisand, Wyclef Jean, Usher, Adam Levine, Kanye West, The Jonas Brothers and more — all to benefit Haiti.
josh_groban.jpgJosh Groban was only three years old when the original version of "We Are the World" exploded onto the music scene, inspiring millions to help fight famine in Africa. The 28-year-old singer and songwriter grew up with the charity classic, which he has checked out over the years on YouTube and "which was ingrained in our psyches," he tells Tonic.
"Never in a million years" did he think that one day he, too, would be a part of the 25th Anniversary remake of the landmark, multi-platinum song, which raised more than $63 million for Africa, he says. Yet, on Feb. 1, a day after the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, he stood with other music industry giants at the former A&M Studios in Los Angeles — the very spot where the first version was recorded on Feb. 18, 1985 — to use his God-given talents to sing for Haiti.
The new single will premiere on Feb. 12 on NBC during the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics. Proceeds from the sale of the record will benefit Haiti.
"There was so much electricity in the room," Groban says. "When everybody who was going to be a part of it was in the room at the same time, it was amazing. The vast number of artists and the breadth of genres represented there was unbelievable."
A spirit of goodness filled the room: "For the hours that everybody put into it, I guess the one thing I could say is that everybody was just so kind and so thoughtful," he says. "Everybody was just in really good spirits. I hope that comes across. No matter what genre or what mix of artists was in there, everybody was there with the same inspiration — to help Haiti."
A Who's Who of the Music Business
As big a star as Groban is, even he was a bit star-struck. "When you have a moment like this one, when you are surrounded by people you really respect and admire in the process, it's a big pinch-me moment," he says. "I looked down and saw Brian Wilson and Tony Bennett. When Barbra Streisand walks into a room, it's impossible for your breath not to stop. It was great seeing people who are so respected walking into a room to do so much good."
Among the music industry superstars who came together to raise money for victims of the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated Haiti were Haitian native Wyclef Jean — who flew to Haiti immediately after the earthquake to help victims firsthand, and whose Yele Haiti Foundation has raised more than $2 million to date — Celine Dion, Natalie Cole, Carlos Santana, Harry Connick Jr, American Idol judge Randy Jackson, Natalie Cole, Earth, Wind & Fire, Gladys Knight, the members of Heart, and Freda Payne.
Lionel Richie, who co-wrote the original song with Michael Jackson (whose previously recorded vocals will be included in the new version) said he wanted a modern take on the song, which is why none of the stars from the original — such as Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper and Bruce Springsteen — were there. (Spur your memory with this YouTube post of the original video!)
New music royalty present for the recording session on Monday included Usher, Jamie Foxx, Pink, Maroon 5's Adam Levine, the Jonas Brothers, Jennifer Hudson, Enrique Iglesias, Jordin Sparks, Raphael Saadiq, Rob Thomas, India Arie, Jason Mraz, Tyrese, Will I. Am, Miley Cyrus, Mary Mary, the Fray's Isaac Slade, child prodigy pianist Ethan Bortnick, Robin Thicke, Nicole Scherzinger and Julianne Hough, Akon, Brandy, Melanie Fiona, Mya, Musiq Soulchild, Katharine McPhee, Trey Songz, and Faith Evans. Lil Wayne told the press that he was proud and humbled to sing the solo that Bob Dylan made famous in the original.
Rappers such as Kanye West, Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg, T Pain and Bizzie Bone also added their unique sounds to the mix.
Even some actors joined in. Jeff Bridges, who sings in his Oscar-nominated film, Crazy Heart, Heroes star Jimmy Jean-Louis and Vince Vaughn lent their musical talents for Haiti. "It was really brave and very cool of people like Vince Vaughn to stand among all the singers and just kind of belt the song out," says Groban. "At one point, I think Harry Connick, Jr. made a joke saying, 'We have to get a move on because Vince Vaughn has to do his solo.'"
This time around, it was a family affair for Richie and Quincy Jones, who co-produced the first version and produced the 2010 version. Richie's daughter, Nicole Richie, her daughter Harlow, and husband Joel Madden and his brother, Benji Madden from Good Charlotte were on hand, along with Jones' daughter, Parks and Recreation star Rashida Jones. Jackson's nephews, 3T members Taj, Taryll and TJ Jackson (the sons of Jackson's brother Tito), and former Michael Jackson guitarist Orianthi pitched in as well.
The Big Day
Stars who arrived at the former A&M Studios, which is now Henson Studios, on Monday at 3 p.m., hung out in the green room, waiting to go into the studio to record the famous song, which will reportedly have more of a Southern, hip hop beat to it. "The first thing that hit me was the fact that really none of us knew other that than we showing up and knowing what the song was, we had no clue as to who else was going to be there and or even what line we would be singing solo," says Groban.
He found out later that he would be singing the line that Kenny Rogers sang in the original version: "We can't go on pretending day by day...."
Artists showed up to the studio without any of their publicists or entourages in tow, he says. "We just kind of went into the green room by ourselves and hung out, which in itself is so rare," he says. "As a relatively new artist, I feel that opportunities like this don't come around very often. To be able to hang out in a room like that with your peers and with people you respect was a huge amount of fun."
While he waited to go into the studio with the others, he caught up with fellow stars like Jason Mraz and Anthony Hamilton. "The Jonas Brothers walked in," he says. "They're really nice guys. Just to see Natalie Cole sitting there chatting [was amazing.] For everyone to be in one room for a good cause with a couple of snacks and good conversation was really nice. It got everybody into a really nice mindset."
The conversation focused mainly on Haiti. "We talked about how excited we were to be there. There were a lot of people from organizations that are helping Haiti, so a lot of people were talking about the money we were hoping to raise and what the money that has been raised has done so far."
He said that everyone there had given their own donations to Haiti. (According to JoshGroban.com, The Josh Groban Foundation made a donation to Operation USA for Haiti Relief and will continue to provide support for Haiti Relief in the future.) As artists, he said, they hoped they could "do a little singing and hope that inspires people."
At around 4:30, the massive group squeezed into the recording studio. "It was a very small room for 80-plus artists," he says. "Paul Haggis (the Oscar-winning screenwriter and director who filmed the session) told us that since they had done the last one, the technology was a lot different. The equipment was bigger and the lights were hotter."
This group of pros took it all in stride, he says. "Everybody just wanted to go with the flow and stand on their spot and sing when they needed to sing. It felt like going to school again. When Paul Haggis came in, it didn't matter how many Grammys you had, you sat there and paid attention like you were in class. It was really cool to see so many legends there [doing exactly as they were told]."
The stars there had a lot of fun re-recording the global hit, he says. "There were a lot of light-hearted moments," he says. "At one point during the session, Celine Dion began singing 'Lean On Me.' Everybody started singing along and it just kind of became a free-for-all. We would have ten-minute breaks and no one left the room. Everybody would just stand there and talk to each other, waiting for the next time to sing."
Groban spent most of his time during the long session talking to the people standing next to him —Raphael Saadiq, Zac Brown (whose Zac Brown Band scooped up a Grammy for Best New Artist the night before) and Adam Levine.
"Adam and I were discussing whether or not to sing high notes," he says. "We've both been known to sing high notes in our day and there were times definitely when Mervyn Warren who was conducting most of the time would say, 'OK, guys. Pick whether you are going to hit the low note or the high note,' and Adam and I would look at each other and say, 'I'll go for it if you do.'"
In addition to singing Kenny Rogers' line from the original version, Groban was asked to do an additional solo. "Humberto Gatica, a longtime friend of mine and legendary producer who invited me to do this, said to me at one point, 'We've got to get a big note for you at the end.' I said, OK!' So I had to stick around and did a high note at the end."
He says he had had no idea that the session was being broadcast into the courtyard outside the studio. "When I walked outside, everybody was like, 'That was really great!' and I was like, 'You saw that?' It was way better that I didn't know that," he joked.
A Moment in History
As for whether he feels that he is now a part of history, Groban says, "That's for history to decide. I was definitely part of an amazing event. All we can hope is that it has the same impact as the original only because of the amount of money that the original raised. There's no question that we feel that we were part of something that we will always remember and that we will always be grateful for the opportunity to have done. As far as how I hope it impacts history? I hope it impacts history as one of the great money raisers for Haiti. If that's what it accomplishes, it will all have been worth it."
When Gatica invited him to take part in the remake, Groban said yes without hesitation, because he says he wants to do as much as he can to help Haiti. "I imagine that I feel the way everyone in our country does," he says. "Our hearts are broken for Haiti. Personally I feel very proud of our country for really hearing the call and not just in a superficial ways. The country as a whole has felt what happened over there very, very deeply and very sincerely. We understand that they are a friend and neighbor of ours We've shown that we've really gotten it."
Source - Tonic.com