Josh Groban has sold 24 million records, dueted with Andrea Bocelli, and packed concert halls across the globe. Not bad for someone who did not set out to become a singer.
Groban launches his “Straight to You” tour of the U.S. and Canada on May 12 in New Orleans. It is his first full-scale outing since his sold-out 81-city “Awake” tour in 2007.
This summer is shaping up to be a busy time for the 30-year-old southern California native, who will make his feature film debut July 29 in the comedy “Stupid, Crazy, Love” with Emma Stone and Steve Carell.
Prior to tour rehearsals, Groban spent part of a fine spring afternoon talking about touring, acting and his critically acclaimed, best-selling album “Illuminations.”
A 61-date North American tour has to be daunting. What do you do to keep your voice in shape?
I do a number of things to make sure my mind and body are ready to go through that. I do travel with a voice coach because it is easy to fall into traps. It’s great to have someone that is really listening to you outside of yourself. That’s a necessity for me, just to make sure someone is out there looking after me. Other than that, it is setting up a show so that you are singing songs in the right order that really kind of warm you up as you go. I think the other dirty little secret is that when I am on tour it’s actually a luxury not to have to worry about doing anything else in my life, except for worrying about those two hours every night. My voice is actually more tired when I am off the road and my phone is going constantly and I am in meeting after meeting. I may have to sing one song on a talk show, but that one song feels like so much more work than 15 do on a night when I have had nine hours of sleep and I am rehearsed and ready and inviting people into my world every night. It goes by very, very quickly. As long as I eat right and don’t burn the candle at both ends, my voice is pretty strong.
You will soon be making your feature film debut in “Crazy, Stupid, Love” with Steve Carell and Emma Stone. What was that like?
It’s a small role in a very, very big film and I am very excited for the chance to be in that. I started in theater. I started in comedy and so to be able to work with such extraordinary actors and to be able to find myself in an environment that was not totally familiar to me after being in a (recording) studio all year and then to be on a movie set was really, really fun. Emma Stone was so great to work with. She was so nice. It’s a fun thing when something extracurricular comes your way. It’s something I’d like to do more of in the future.
What is your role in the film?
I play Emma Stone’s fiancé. I am a jerk, kind of caddish kind of lawyer, who tells bad jokes at the dinner parties and embarrasses her in front of her friends. I will leave it at that. Very funny things happen. It was great. I nailed it on one audition, which really made me happy at first, then I realized what the part was and it was like “Oh God, that’s not really the kind of person you want to nail.” (chuckles)
So acting was your first love?
It was… I went to Carnegie Mellon for musical theater before I got signed. The singing was something I was kind of doing on the side to be a better actor – and it turned out I was way better at singing.
For your latest album, “Illuminations,” you teamed with producer Rick Rubin of Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers fame. How did that come about?
We were introduced by a mutual friend, a great guy named Guy Oseary, who is Madonna’s manager and creator of Maverick Records. Guy and I have dinner every now and then. He asked if I ever met Rick, and I said no. I am a huge fan of his work and he’s one the only guys in the industry I haven’t met because he is a hard guy to meet because you don’t see him at things. He doesn’t show up at the awards show for his own Grammy. It happened very naturally. We had lunch and had such a great talk about music and what we were working on and what we wanted to do in the future. I quickly realized that any kind of fears I had about his mythology were for all the right reasons as far as how successful he’s been, but for all the wrong reasons for the kind of guy I thought I would be meeting based on the kind of music he made. He has single handedly shifted rock and hip hop and I thought, “Oh God, is he going to get my world? Is he going to be hard edge to talk to?” He just couldn’t have been nicer. He was so open-minded about my music and all types of music. I realized right away we had the potential to have a really amazing musical friendship. We became very good friends at first. Once he started listening to songs I was writing he started giving me some great notes on them. Those notes turned into us saying “Why don’t we just do this together?”
“Illuminations” has a very clean sound.
That’s one of things I was excited about working with Rick on. My kind of music is big on its own. My singing is fairly large and the orchestrations and arrangements – just the content of the songs – are all pretty grand. And yet, it seems to be a genre that producers want to throw as much on top of that as possible. Rick and I both didn’t think we needed it. People can call it intimate or they can call it a quieter record if they want, but we didn’t think it was all that quiet at all. We wanted it to sound like what it sounded like. We wanted the mikes to be just turned on. We wanted to be in there playing music. I like that Rick had the bravery to make a record like that with me.
Do you think that particular sound will transfer to a live setting much better?
I think it definitely gives us, me and my band, the inspiration to take the new songs live. In some ways, we are going to shape them and shift them a little differently live. I think we can add things that Rick has always said, “Just because there is a continuity to what a record is, doesn’t mean you can’t completely rework them for a tour.” Sometimes we are going to that and sometimes we are going to take from that intimate feel and create a more intimate vibe with them on stage. Yeah, whenever you record like that live in such a live atmosphere it just makes the bringing-that-out-before-an-audience part so much more fun.
Is this a recording sound you want to continue making?
Any time you do one thing for a couple of years, you get the itch to try new things. It’s a combination of certain things that I can’t wait to do again, but that I have been spoiled with on this record – just the way recorded and the integrity in which we got in there with the musicians. But, at the same time, I don’t want to make this record again because I just made it. There are a number of things I am definitely going to want to put back into my melting pot for the next record. Whether that means it’s a project for Rick and I or whether it means we will part ways, we really haven’t decided. We’re kind of enjoying what we’ve done now. The fun that we have with these songs on the road is going to tell us a lot about where we go for the next record.
Recording, touring, acting. What do you do in your down time?
Today was a great day off. I woke up in New York. It was 60 degrees… I just walked in the park with my dog. I hit a taco truck and kind of people watched and enjoyed breathing for a minute. I just came off a grueling European promo tour and your life is not your own sometimes when you are being dragged around like that. It’s very rewarding, it’s very fun and I love the work, but there is something about going back doing real simple things like going out to a movie or having a drink with friends.