04 May, 2011

A Conversation with Josh Groban...

A great interview from the Huffington Post.

Mike Ragogna: Josh, are you there?

Josh Groban: I am here.

MR: Let's talk about the tour.

JG: Yeah. Finally, after four years, I'm excited to get back on the road. It's the most fun I have in my whole career, getting out there and kind of reworking new and old songs for new audiences every night. It's the perfect chance for my band and I to show the experiences we've had over the last few years, and for us to say thanks to some very patient fans. It's always a blast.

MR: Josh, you've given your tours various titles. The last one was the "Before We Begin Tour," and this tour has a title too, right?

JG: Yeah, this one is the "Straight To You Tour." We did the "Before We Begin Tour" as sort of a "getting our feet wet" experience this last year. We decided to call it "Before We Begin" because, quite literally, most of the shows were before the record came out, and before we started the whole journey of this record. So, we went out and did, basically, a touring boot camp. We played some very small theaters around the country, and my management seems to think I'm a glutton for punishment, so they said, "Hey, go out with no set list, no script, and try to fill 90 minutes. We'll see what you guys play." I had a piano, a guitar, and that's it. Honestly, it was the most fun I've ever had on stage, and I think some of the most fun my fans have ever had with me. We learned a lot from that tour. We learned what it meant to connect with your audience again, and what it meant to really get out there and be vulnerable again. We definitely learned a lot of things that we want to throw into this tour as well.

MR: What do you find the similarities are between the tours?

JG: Well, of course, one of the things that I want to do with the "Straight To You Tour," even though we are playing larger venues, is to keep that intimacy--trying to find a way to project that energy to the back of the house that is the same as when you're playing the smaller venues. That's the goal of me and my band, that's the goal of my design team--the people that are designing the stage--to make sure that everybody in the audience is getting the same experience. The other thing that we learned is that, while there are definitely songs that we can't leave the stage without singing and visuals that we can't wait to show our crowd every night, there are moments that we know, before we go onstage, that are going to happen, and we can't rehearse. I think that's about expecting the unexpected, and the excitement of knowing that we're not just going to be performing at an audience, we're going to be performing with them, and the crowd is going to be dictating, every night, how the show is going to go, which is a really fun feeling to have every night.

MR: Nice. What is the musician setup?

JG: Instrumentally, I've got my band of about five or six guys. This time--and this is kind of a new thing for me--we usually pick up about 20 strings in each city, which is risky. It's fun to kind of have that local flavor, but at the same time, it's sometimes risky because you don't know what you're going to get. This time around, based on the instrumentation of the new record and based on what I think we can accomplish with a "less is more" feel, we're going to bring out our own four string quartet, and then we're going to bring out four horns as well that are rehearsed and know the show backwards and forwards and can take solos. So, I think onstage, there is going to be no such thing as a click track or a pro-tools computer track. This is going to be live, live, live, and I think that's another thing that is going to create a vibrant atmosphere. I think these guys are going to be so well versed in these songs.

MR: Now, you've had a live album before this.

JG: Yeah, I've had a few DVDs and a couple of live albums, and I think that just expresses how much we love doing it.

MR: Which do you prefer? Do you prefer the live shows or do you prefer recording in the studio?

JG: I prefer live, to be honest. I do love being in the studio, I like the idea of kind of going to the office and playing around until you get something that you want on record forever. It's a very exciting and rewarding experience, but the whole reason I got into this business is because I love live performance. That's why I went to school for theater, that's why I started taking voice lessons, and that's why I write music, so I can eventually play them for people. It's all about the connection that you can have in a room with somebody, and that kind of X-factor between them and you. So, it really is my favorite by a long shot.

MR: Beautiful. Josh, I always wanted to ask you, and I didn't ask you the last time we spoke, but how involved do you get with or entrenched are you in the arrangements? Do you get in there and say, "How about this figure or that figure," because you're trained?

JG: Yeah, I love doing that. I love sticking my nose into what I can just to add my ideas to the pot. I never try to overly influence what people in my team do very, very well. I love letting people just do their thing as well. I've got some extraordinary arrangers that I just feel so lucky to have working on my songs. But at the same time, during the rehearsal process, that's what we do, we play around. If any of us has an idea, we share it, and I think by the time the tour starts, all of our ideas have kind of been thrown in there and the arrangements are familiar but give a different kind of experience as well.

MR: Obviously, you've toured a lot, but are you looking forward to some of the places that you're visiting on this tour?

JG: I am. Selfishly, it's a really great, rewarding experience just to drive across your own country. I am so excited to get back on a bus, pack up our circus, and go across the U.S. Sometimes, you hit cities that are old favorites, where you know it's going to be a killer experience every night--like Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York--and then sometimes, you run into places that you say to yourself, "I would never have expected in a million years to ever have visited here if it weren't for the music," and you have an audience that just shows you the love that you've never expected and it blows you away. It's a great combo, and my band and I certainly don't take it for granted for one minute. We have a great time.

MR: Nice. Now, looking at Illuminations this year as opposed to Illuminations last year when it was released, what are your thoughts about it at this point? When you put it together, you probably had a certain perspective. Has your perspective changed on the album now that this much time has gone by?

JG: I think the perspective I have now is that I feel we can add to the songs in a live environment the way Rick Rubin and I had always planned would happen once the tour would start. I think that there were certain things that Rick and I chose not to do on this record, that in the past, have felt very much a part of my world. But we left them out because that's not what this project was and that's not what this record was to us. He always said, though, "Rules change when you go out on the road." I think that the perspective is that, now that we've lived with the songs for a while and we're still just as proud of the record, we feel like we're able to explore more energetic ways to put the songs across. And maybe I can play around a little more with instrumentation that we didn't use on the record, but we can absolutely use on tour. So, I think, basically, the live experience and the listening experience on the CD are going to be entirely different experiences. I'm excited about reworking the songs in a way that may not have worked on the record, but definitely will work better, I think, live.

MR: That was exactly the meaning of the question because you had Rick Rubin in the mix when you recorded the record, resulting in a different feel than your previous albums. It seemed more intimate to me.

JG: The intimacy for the show, I think, is going to represent what I've been doing, both with this record and with these smaller gigs that we did. That said, a listening experience with your headphones or in your car can be a very "silo'd" experience. With the tour, I want to get across to fans that are thinking about coming to the show that we want a total vibrancy and a real open energy and big feeling to these songs. When we've got venues as big as we're lucky enough to be able to play, it's important that we find ways to do that.

MR: Of course, I wasn't implying that this tour is going to be any less energetic...

JG: ...well, it could be, it very well could be. Certainly, when people hear a new record and they say to themselves, "Okay, this is a little bit of a slower or darker record than I'm used to," it's very easy to assume that the tour that came immediately after the record might be the same. I'm glad you brought that up because I'm always trying to reiterate that a tour is about the entire body of work, it's not about one record, and it's not about the mood of one record. Anybody who has been to my shows in the past knows that we do really like to play around up there.

MR: I've asked you this before, but again, do you have any advice for new artists?

JG: The business is changing so rapidly, I would say that the biggest thing that any new artist has is their grass roots connection with any and all new fans. I would say keep your head down, focus on what makes you and your fans happy, and be nice to people.

MR: Nice. Josh, I do appreciate the time and good luck with the tour.

JG: I appreciate you having me. Thank you.

Transcribed by Ryan Gaffney


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