For those occasions requiring one of those big, soulful, unifying, aria-building voices – think Olympics, Grammys, Nobel Prize ceremonies – Josh Groban is your man.
His mournful, anthemic balladry may be regarded as ‘nana music’ by some, but it sells in its bucketloads = 25 million albums’ worth so far to be exact - making Groban, at 32, the world’s best-selling classical music artist of the last decade.
Josh Groban has sold 25 million albums worldwide, hence he's not bothered by being 'cool accidentally on purpose'
While the sound is one of a highly-polished, clean-cut, almost earnest performer, Groban in person is smarter, quicker, more mischievous and.. yes, more crumpled than you’d expect, and incapable of giving a dud answer to a question. With the release of his sixth studio album, 'All That Echoes', he talks to HuffPostUK about keeping his fans happy, NOT falling out of nightclubs (despite romances with resident news headliners January Jones and Katy Perry ALMOST), and keeping it real, even if that means ending up in the same popular but uncool category of, say, James Blunt…
“Too many women? It's a problem. I'm exhausted,” he agrees. “I'm not the best at shaving, and my hair is far from combed, so I'm not clean cut physically, but I guess you could say I'm a nice guy. And I sing music that has a bit of a romantic feel to it. Any time you're not singing on the fringe, and something with a pure tone, or something that has a classical tone, then you're on a pedestal making people cry…"
At what point, if you know it works, both with sales and awards, does it lead to an itch?
Do I experiment? How do I keep my fans happy and stretch? That's a question you could apply to anybody in any genre. You could ask Dave Grohl, 'Hey look man, this whole rock and roll thing, every time I hear your songs, I get a rock vibe, so my natural question would be, do you have the Bruce Springsteen dilemma? Your fans are always going to want to hear rock music and you want to go off and sing that aria?’"Proving he's the go-to artist for that moment that requires some awe-inspiring unity...
As well as his albums, Groban has appeared often on screen, since his breakout role singing and acting in an episode of ‘Ally McBeal’ back in 2001. Since then, he’s made it from the US version of ‘The Office’ to a film role in Steve Carell’s ‘Crazy Stupid Love’, where he played against type. He explains…
“Everybody wants to experiment, wants to explore. You should hear me at karaoke. I can sing anything you throw at me, I can do a good Dave Grohl. But it wouldn't be honest. Apart from in comedy, where anything goes. I just made a movie (Coffee Town) where I played a disgruntled rocker, goatee and fake tattoos, I love exploring realms outside my voice but, to be clear, any time I would do that, it would be an imitation. It would be a copy of something for a laugh.
"Part of it is owning your lane, and understanding what it is you were truly put on this earth to do. And part of it is just loving it, but also it's not making creative decisions based on ego, but on what it is you're trying to do, which is reach people, move people.
"But what people want in an artist is uniqueness, a sense of identity that nobody else has, and I could fake it, and somehow sound like loads of other voices, prove the point, but it wouldn't be me, and I don't think people would buy it, because I'm a really bad liar."
At what point did you realise this was why you were put on this earth?
"I did start with the intention of doing theatre, Broadway, and strangely ten years later, I'm now talking to people about doing a West End or Broadway show. I don't think I could have done anything else. I've always loved music and live performance. Other things confused me. I wasn't the best student, and for some reason, I always got music. While other people were having trouble figuring out notes on a page, I could listen to it once and play it back.
"It was a tool that I was given, one that I've been able to use in day to day life. It was my salvation, my escape."
What’s changed since our last chat about three years ago?
"I'm trying to relax a little more, I am trying to have more fun in my life. I didn't look at any of the perks getting started in this business because I was too terrified to even let go at all, because I was just thinking ‘keep earning it’, but you can enjoy some of the fun that comes with it. Because the pressures are going to be there. The biggest perk of all is still the perk of travel, to personally see the world, and I don't take that for granted. "
“How many times are you cool by accident before you're considered cool, secretly on purpose?”
“I've always been a self-flogging workaholic, so my version of trying to relax more is to go out after a show and have a drink with the band, not going back to the hotel and start writing more music. I'm trying to go with the flow, not be such a control freak."
Despite a high-profile three-year romance with January Jones which ended in 2006, as well as a fledgling courtship of Katy Perry back when they were both starting out (“we might have skated on the line of dating”), Groban, who now lives in New York, is determined to keep his head down…
“I've seen a lot of people burn very brightly and very quickly, and I think you can become overindulgent sooo quickly in this business and so I try not to fall into any of the trappings that would affect me very negatively. If I decided to live my life as a circus, can't go anywhere without the entourage, I've seen people get so used to that that, whatever the situation is, if the circus isn't following them, they don't feel important.
“And I love living in NY for the very same reason that I don't love that world. I can walk places, I can take the subway. Once you get thrown those perks, you have life choices to make, and I choose to use those perks in ways that are important to me."
Josh Groban performing with Charlotte Church at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, 2002
What’s your biggest perk then - three pillows?
“Yeah, I am a pillow diva.
“I'm ruthlessly picky when it comes to the crafting of an album, the choosing of musicians, the right mikes, the right studios. There was a time when it was 'whatever you want'. Then, as you learn a little bit more about your tastes, I don't give into that kind of thing.
“I love wine, and I've become a bit of a wine snob. My cellar's growing a bit. But I don't own a car in NY, I like the subway just fine."
No falling out of nightclubs with a new lady of an evening, then?
"I could probably survive it from a PR perspective, I'm sure my agent would love it if I fell out of nightclubs, but I can't just put my guitar away and go party.
"The most crazy-making thing is a vocalist, it doesn't have to be external, just having anxious thoughts can affect your voice, it's all a connected and non-scientific thing. All it takes is a few situations where you're not at your best, and you realise… that's my power, that's how I reach people, that's why I even have the chance to go to that club and get in to begin with, is if I sound good, so without doing what I do musically, then all that goes away.
Josh Groban with former love January Jones
“The most important thing to me is being the best that I can be. And anything that comes my way, I am careful, a) because I don't have that much time off so my recovery time I always have something to do the next day, and also I am a little bit of a control freak, and I don't like getting out of control, especially in public. Some people get great pleasure out of losing themselves in public, it only makes me paranoid. I would hate to think I'm acting embarrassingly, it doesn't take much for me, a couple of whiskeys, just enough to get me dancing and I'm good, and on the karaoke machine.”
Do you still get intimidated performing with other artists?
"My first instinct after excitement is intimidation, but I think that's healthy. I’m singing with Barbra Streisand o her next album. Any time I sing with anybody I've looked up to since I was little, out of nostalgia, that makes it more difficult, because it is huge, but the best you can do to counteract that intimidation is kick arse."
Give me three pinch-me moments, off the top of your head…
"Hmm… meeting Nelson Mandela, singing with Paul Simon because he was the biggest hero of mine as a young person, and standing in the middle of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony, knowing my family were in the audience, singing for the extinguishing of the flame.
“It was after 9/11, the country needed to come together and sports did that, it was the biggest thing for me... and it was freezing. But we had a blast.”
Josh Groban famously got his big, big break, standing in for Andrea Bocelli at a Grammy Awards rehearsal, shaking like a leaf as he sang with Celine Dion. What would would he say to that quaking teenager now?
“It would be very easy to say to him, ‘relax man, it's going to be okay,’ but he was right to be terrified. This business has been nothing but setting tables on the Titanic since 1999, so my instinct not to get ahead of myself and be terrified was the suitable reaction.
“This has been an ever-changing, extraordinarily difficult world in the last 10 years. The regime at my label has changed three times since I've been there. You have to build self-discipline and a self-nervous-system - once I lose that, I'm shot.
“You can always go back and say you should have stood up for yourself to this person, you should have stuck to your guns about that song, but I wouldn't be here talking to you if I hadn't made some mistakes... 10/11 years is an eternity in this business, you don't want to make all the right decisions, and sometimes you just have to trust your gut."
Josh Groban's 'All That Echoes' album is available now on Warner. Listen to the album trailer above, and below are some songs he might want to start tuning up for his next visit to the UK...