08 July, 2011

Don't hate Josh Groban because he's a nice guy...

Interview by Allison Stewart from the Chicago Tribune

Josh Groban can't help it: He's nice.

Moms like him. Their daughters like him. Puppies like him (probably). He made his name as a masterful purveyor of chest-thumping big ballads like "You Raise Me Up," but lately he seems to be chafing, however politely, against the constraints of his classical crossover stardom.

He collaborated with producer/guru/professional strange person Rick Rubin, known for his work with the Beastie Boys and Johnny Cash, on 2010's stripped-down, cred-enhancing and frankly really good "Illuminations." He also acts in the upcoming Steve Carell/Ryan Gosling film "Crazy Stupid Love," in which he plays against type as "a d----- bag lawyer. It was awesome."

Earlier this year, he famously appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," dramatically re-interpreting some of Kanye West's crazier tweets. Before hitting town for Wednesday night's United Center show, Groban, 30, called in to explain it all.

Q: With "Illuminations," did you decide you were going to just bust out and make the album you always wanted to make?

A: Well, it was definitely a very personal decision. For me it was the idea of expanding and growing and not thinking, "Oh, now is the time to do what I want to do." I've enjoyed and I've loved every record that I've made but when you stick to a certain formula for a little while, it's nice to shake things up. … I had just finished a Christmas record, and Rick Rubin had just finished a Metallica record, and we were feeling like we'd done a certain thing for a little while. We were starting to feel like we were on autopilot.

Q: You might reach a point where what pleases you might not always please the people who love you. Do you think about that?

A: I think there's always an ebb and flow. I think that sometimes you do stuff that's an acquired taste for fans. … I think that sometimes you guide them to a place (where you can) include them as part of the bigger world. This record to me is an idea of something that I'm adding on to the family tree of what I love to do, not a declaration of "This is me now" to my fans. I would never want to alienate anybody that way.

Q: Did you get the full-on Rick Rubin treatment? Was he wearing robes and scratching his beard thoughtfully and saying metaphysical things? Because you want that, right?

A: (Laughs) Yeah, I got Rick. Rick is amazing. And I got a little nervous because as you mentioned there's a whole mythology to him. I was a fan of his other work, but I knew his other work was like nothing I'd done. I didn't expect to be a blip on the radar in his world. … (His methods) inspired me to do things his way, because I can be a bit of a control freak. He's got a very kind of Zen, very laid-back way of taking the time to make sure things fall into place. So there's a huge amount of patience he taught me, along with the beard scratching.

Q: There's talk you're going to do another album with him.

A: Rick and I are always emailing with each other and staying connected. Regardless, I know I've made a friend for life. We'll see if it feels right to do something again immediately, or whether we'll save it for another day.

Q: I don't know how much of a backlash you've gotten, but the album still sounds like you. It's not like you've made a metal album or something.

A: People keep saying, 'Where's the metal album!' I think it did what I would have wanted it to do. I was very happy with the reviews and (the response) from the fans. This was something that was made to be a quieter experience. It doesn't have the big, key-changing, (dramatic) ballads fans are used to. So if anything, I think they might have been missing things from the last album … but that doesn't mean I won't do that in the future.

Q: Do you feel the need to burst people's bubble a little? To be like, "I'm not what you think. I drink, I curse." How much do you chafe against (your nice-guy image)?

A: Well, it's a little bit of a fine line. I think it's clear to my fans that I'm a normal guy. That doesn't mean I'm an overly obscene, alcoholic guy. It just means that sometimes people get a preconceived notion about you from your music that might not be accurate. But that's OK. I think there's something to be said (for mystery), for not overindulging the idea of, 'But wait! That's not me! Let me show you who I am!'

I'm very lucky that I make a living singing my heart out, and I'm not going to hide if I'm going to a party, or if I feel like saying s---, I'm going to say it. It's not like I'm trying to put across an image that isn't me. I think I'm really able to get myself across when I get to do comedy stuff, like when Jimmy Kimmel invites me on to do stuff. That's the side of me that feels like more me. My whole life I was the class clown, I was in improv, I was in comedy troupes and stuff.

Q: Have you run into Kanye after you sang his tweets on Kimmel?

A: I haven't run into him yet. I know he re-tweeted them, so I hope he got the humor, but it certainly wasn't meant to poke fun. It was a celebration of his quirkiness. Maybe he can retaliate by rapping some of my decidedly less interesting tweets.

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