Plummeting sales have beset the music industry, yet American pop singer Josh Groban retains a loyal worldwide following. The 30-year-old is anything but complacent. “It’s sobering to say the least. It’s a song-by-song industry now,” says Groban. “People aren’t really buying whole albums. I am really lucky that I have a fan base that is still interested in the whole record. I have been able to do all right. The record sales have always been great, and I have been pleased I’ve been able to buck the trend a little bit. But for me, it’s about getting on stage and playing live.”
Groban is on an international tour promoting Illuminations, his fifth studio album. It’s produced by Rick Rubin, a seemingly unlikely collaborator considering Rubin has worked with Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and an assortment of hip hop artists, all of whom have little in common with Groban, whose name springs to mind when the term “popera” is pronounced. (Previously, Groban had worked extensively with his mentor, composer/producer David Foster, the man who plopped him on stage when Groban was a nervous 17-year-old to sing “The Prayer” with Celine Dion during a rehearsal for the Grammy Awards show.) Groban’s songwriting skills shine on the album, the first on which he fully composed one of the songs. He also co-wrote 10 of the 13 tracks, the most he has ever co-written on one album.
“Rick’s a real stickler for songs, and he will straight up tell you if something makes him feel ill,” Groban says, laughing. “So in that way it was harsh. But I trusted him. Every time I came back with something he liked, I was thrilled, and I just kept going. He put me with the right people to collaborate with and he really supported and nurtured my writing. Then he said, ‘Now think of yourself as a writer. Write every day—don’t think of it as an album-to-album thing.’ ” Buoyed by the popularity of the single “Hidden Away”, Illuminations debuted at number four on the Billboard 200 chart.
When he was a theatre student at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University, Groban listened to such diverse artists as Tony Bennett, Peter Gabriel, and Nirvana. He shocked his parents by dropping out of college after four months when he was offered a recording contract. They weren’t pleased with his decision, “especially since they got a negative letter from the college saying, ‘He’s out of his mind’, ” Groban says. “I think they wanted my brother and me to have security and be happy. My brother graduated from USC [University of Southern California] film school. College is a step, but I think I have learned it’s not everything. Your education really begins after they close the doors on you after your fourth year. I just feel I got a bit of a jump start on all that.”
Fortune smiled upon Groban when his former manager Brian Avnet introduced him to David Foster. Television appearances soon followed, and he went on to sing with such stars as Plácido Domingo, Elton John, Sarah Brightman, and Stevie Wonder. Groban counts singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water” with Paul Simon as a career highlight.
“I would have loved to have had a chance to do Pavarotti & Friends,” he says. “It was one of those things—I was born in the wrong decade. But he [Pavarotti] is somebody who was a real hero of mine. He was somebody who brought classical music to the masses, who sang in his style with every other kind of style under the sun next to him.”
Groban is an admitted workaholic and claims he hasn’t taken a vacation in five years. And as if being a recording artist doesn’t take up enough time, he will appear alongside Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Julianne Moore in the film Crazy, Stupid, Love, set to be released at the end of July. So how does he get away from the perils of being a pop star? “Time with my family is always well spent,” he says. “I like to go for long drives in California. Sometimes I will pack my dog in the car and drive to Napa or San Francisco and take a 10-hour drive up the coast.”
This is the life Josh Groban has chosen. He couldn’t be happier.
Photo ©Warner Music Group Canada.