Josh Groban finds hectic pace much to his liking
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When does Josh Groban find time to sleep?
The question makes the 37-year-old singer chuckle a bit during a recent chat. But it’s a logical one, judging by the whirlwind trajectory his life has taken in the past few years, which included the release of an album (“Stages Live,” 2016), a concert tour through much of 2017 (and continuing through the end of 2018), making his Broadway debut in 2016 in “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” which earned him a Tony Award nomination, and co-hosting the 2018 Tony Awards telecast along with Sara Bareilles. He’s currently co-starring in the Netflix dramedy “The Good Cop,” opposite Tony Danza.
And in September came the release of the aptly titled “Bridges,” his eighth studio album — a collection of original material and covers and featuring several duets (including the much-anticipated recording of “Run” alongside Sarah MacLachlan), a fiery turn with flamenco guitarist Vicente Amigo, and two more with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and the recent chart-topping Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.
With: Idina Menzel
When: 8 p.m. Nov. 6
Where: United Center, 1901 W. Madison
Groban bowed on the music scene in 2001 with his eponymous debut, an adult contemporary classical outing that yielded some big hits for the young star with the big, lush voice, including “The Prayer,” “You’re Still You” and the Richard Marx/Linda Thompson charttopper “To Where You Are.” His followup in 2003, “Closer,” featured his biggest hit to date, the inspirational “You Raise Me Up.” His last studio outing, the 2015 “Stages,” featured Groban covering a slew of Broadway musical pleasers and earned him a best traditional pop vocal album nomination at the Grammys.
“My whole career has been like a kid in a candy shop making music,” Groban says. “Whenever I tried to make formula music it didn’t work. So my formula has always been to not make formula music.”
“Bridges,” is a perfect example of music that’s anything but formulaic. Groban does not have his eye on the charts, just on making great music, he says. It’s a return to his roots in a way, but with a fresh, contemporary spin. It’s not his comfort zone by any means, but then the past three years have shown Groban that stepping outside that zone is precisely what he needed to recharge his music batteries.
Groban talked about taking chances with his career during a recent phone chat. Here’s some of what he had to say.
Q. You’ve had a very busy couple of years, with your Broadway debut and your TV show. What did it feel like to finally get back into the studio?
A. It’s been a hectic couple of years but I’m very grateful. … I made a couple of original music albums and just felt burned out as to what to say musically and why. Luckily as a vocalist I was able to detour and sing some musical theater songs I’ve loved since I was a kid [for “Stages”]. … It was soul-recharging for me to take it back to my childhood. That led to an unexpectedly long tour that led to an equally unexpected run on Broadway that led to a most unexpected Tony nomination. It was a two-year path that I thought would be a three-month path. But it took me to incredible places and introduced me to the most incredible people. It made me stronger as a singer and an artist. Most importantly when it came to making “Bridges,” every step of that way I felt inspired to sit down at the piano and keep writing melodies and music. The muse was back. It was just time to re-embrace what my lane had been but just continue to widen it. I didn’t feel the need to jump out of it anymore. I felt very inspired to find a fresh approach to my music.
Q. You have a duet with Andrea Bocelli, who in a roundabout way was responsible for helping launch your career in 1999 when you filled in for him at the Grammy rehearsals to sing “The Prayer” opposite Celine Dion.
A. His missed flight [in 1999] is the reason that I got that first opportunity with [record producer] David Foster, to sing for him and the people at the Grammys and enter the professional stage for the first time. Now all these years later how the stars have aligned to bring us together for this song, aptly titled “When We Meet Once Again.” We first made it as a solo song, but when we wrote the melody, immediately I said there’s something on this that needs to happen. I had it in my head that it would be a baritone-tenor duet. From that moment Andrea said yes, it went from being a really good song to a really, really great song.
Q. Not too many Broadway newcomers snag a Tony Award nomination their first time out on the boards. What did that whole experience — the musical, the nomination — mean to you?
A. The embrace that I felt from the Broadway community at large was unlike anything I’ve ever felt. I’ve always felt like an alien in the music business. I’ve existed successfully much to the head-scratching of the movers and shakers of the actual business. On Broadway I felt that I had a welcoming place. My big break in music started at the Grammy Awards, but when I started making my music there’s no category for me at the Grammys. On Broadway I immediately felt there was a table for me at the cafeteria. I felt like these were my people. These were the hardest-working, most multitalented people I’ve ever known. Doing such a a genre-bending show was so fulfilling and so challenging.
Q. What’s it like working with Tony Danza on “The Good Cop”?
A. Andy Brickman, who created the show, plucked me from his own imagination, in the same way David Foster all those years ago said I believe in you and we can do something together. … I think nobody was more surprised by Tony and I being together as father and son than me and Tony. But Andy said don’t worry about it. So the three of us went out to dinner and I’m being my weird, awkward self and Tony’s telling these incredible stories about his life and loves, and Brickman says, “This is my show right here.”