It’s been just 13 years since Josh Groban catapulted into fame with his self-titled debut album, but he’s already achieved a lifetime’s worth of success. With more than 25 million records sold to date, the Los Angeles native quickly became one of the world’s best-loved vocalists, merging pop, rock, and classical styles into his own inimitable sound. Josh recently spoke to us at the end of a yearlong tour supporting his sixth studio album, 2013’s All That Echoes, which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. Even after performing more than 60 shows around the globe, the 32-year-old Groban was as gracious as ever— and looking forward to a new year of musical adventures.

You did so many shows this year, including a series of In the Round shows.

Yes—doing those In the Round shows was really exciting, and it was a great way to end the tour. It’s not an easy thing to do, and you need to have a very special connection with your audience. I feel like that’s something I’ve really developed with my fans over the past few years, as my shows have become a little bit looser, with a little bit more audience involvement. It provided a very spontaneous, creative atmosphere for myself and my band. Because suddenly they aren’t behind me anymore—they’re just as front-and-center as I am!
jg2So many shows have these multi-gazillion-dollar backdrops. But having the backdrop be just the music and the audience really puts the pressure on you to make sure everything you do on that stage is its own special effect. There are no dancers, and nothing to do except play your music to the best of your ability, and feed off that 360-degree energy. It inspires you to dig that much deeper into the music side of things and give people something they didn’t expect.


Does it change the dynamic between you and the audience?

It does, completely. I think that an audience can usually pick up on whether or not the performance is special for the person onstage, or whether they’re phoning it in. And it’s always very, very special when you feel something that unique every night. Once you walk out there, there’s nowhere to hide. Someone’s going to be looking at you no matter where you go.

joshgIt really is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of experience, for me and for my band. You hear every little thing. At one point, someone just put their kid on the stage. It was like, “Who left this
toddler onstage?” [Laughs.] When we packed up our final date, we just said, “We’ve had fun on the other tours, but this is the way we need to be touring.”

Are you planning to go back into the studio anytime soon?

I am, yeah. Now that I’m off the road, it’s time to start writing, and finding songs, and brainstorming the next album or two. I’m probably going to head back into the studio sometime in early February.

 Many of your songs are originals, but others are covers. What inspires you to cover a particular song?

We usually come into the studio process with 20 or 25 ideas, but three or four always rise to the top. A couple of things need to fall into place for a cover song to be right for me. First, you’ve got to ask, “Is this the right song for right now?” You don’t want to do a song that was a hit just two months ago. It’s got to be something that you feel deserves a kind of reinvigoration and a reinterpretation.

You also want to make sure you can do something with it that doesn’t take away from the original. You always have to ask, “Can I give tribute to this by lending my own style to it?” You don’t want to copy it, but you don’t want to trample on what made it unique and wonderful to begin with. And the other thing is just the goosebump factor. Sometimes we take a song into the studio, and it hits all those marks I just mentioned—but as soon as I sing it, I just go, “Oh, I should never sing that song again. That will always be Björk’s, darn it!” [Laughs.] Sometimes there’s a song you just want so badly to sing, but it’s really the kind of song you should keep for your shower. But with some songs, the whole band gets in, and you sing through it once, and you say, “Well, I’ll be damned. There really is something special about that.” You’ve just got to play it to know it.

You play Yamaha MIDI C7 pianos live. What makes them work for you?

Well, they’re extraordinarily versatile. Onstage, when you’re switching styles as often as I am, these pianos really give us everything we need. The sound is tremendous. So they’ve always worked really, really well for us.

And you also have a Yamaha grand at home.

jg1I sure do—and it’s amazing. I started getting into Yamaha pianos when I worked with David Foster on my first album. For me, it was that happy medium of warmth and fluidity and musicality. There’s a great classic sound to them. But at the same time, I like percussive- sounding instruments with strong attack. I grew up playing piano and drums, so for me, the warmth alone isn’t enough. I need to really feel the hammer on the string, and feel it punch through the clutter. Some pianos out there have all of the attack and none of the warmth, and some have all the warmth, but just don’t have the punch. Yamaha pianos have that happy medium. They really allow the player to decide what color to express. And that, to me, is the sign of an amazing instrument.

You recently crossed paths with a special green Yamaha piano. I understand there are Muppets involved?

[Laughs.]Yeah. It's to celebrate Disney's new Muppets Most Wanted movie, and it's stunning. It’s Muppet-inspired green, which is really amazing—I’ve never seen a piano this color. And it sounds great. I got to play around on it, which was nice. From what I understand, it’s going to be signed by a number of different artists, and auctioned off to give money to VH1 Save the Music. I’m totally jealous of whoever gets that piano, because it truly is one of a kind. And I will be bidding, because I want that piano in my living room. But I also hope it raises a lot of money.

And this isn’t your first Muppet encounter.

No, it’s not. I had a cameo in the new Muppets movie that’s coming out in a couple of months. I got to meet all the Muppets firsthand, which was an enormously exciting experience for me. My inner nine-year-old was completely freaking out—as was my inner 32-year-old! It was just a blast. I’ve loved the Muppets since I was a little kid, and the songs are so great. And this movie is truly hilarious. I was honored to have a small part in it.

What do you find creatively rewarding about acting versus music? Do you draw from different aspects of your creativity for each, or does it all come from the same place?

It’s not totally different. It’s still storytelling. But acting is kind of freeing, because it gives me a chance to put on a different hat. I can put away the pressure of my name, and my image, and my face. I started acting because I wanted to get away from that, and that was when I was 13!

I’m so hyper-focused and serious about the music side of things that when I do comedic acting, it really frees up another part of my brain that can let go of that pressure a little bit. So it’s cathartic, and it gives me a chance to show a different side. And it happened very naturally, which is nice. I’m happy to work my way up in the acting world, and I’ve been very grateful for the opportunities.

groban3You’ve had such a successful and varied career so far. Is there anything left on the list of creative accomplishments that you’d still like to try someday?

had a lot of things thrown at me fairly quickly. I would love to write a film score one day. I would love to focus on symphonic music and composition, without the thought that I have to sing a melody on top of it. And I’d love to do Broadway. I think that’s been the elephant in the room for me. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid. When I was signed, I was going to college for musical theater. So I think that one of the great creative experiences for me is yet to come, and that’s doing a show.

Do you consider yourself more of a songwriter or a composer?

They don’t necessarily need to be mutually exclusive, but I would probably consider myself more of a composer. Melodies are what draw me to songwriting. The lyrics are a little bit trickier to come up with, and when I have co-writing credits on an album, it’s almost always because the lyrics are the collaboration. But I’ve always composed music. When I was a little kid, I would jump out of bed and run down to the piano and just have to get things out of my head that I was hearing. Not voices, thankfully! [Laughs.]

It’s actually a really interesting question. Because a lot of times, the composition side of things is very long-form. Meanwhile, the songwriting part of it is about, “How do I splice and dice that long-form musical sentence into something that fits into the organized thought of a song?” One of the reasons I want to do film composition is because it would be amazing to think about letting that musical sentence run as long as it needs to, without having to squeeze it into a song. So yeah, I would say I‘m a composer. But a singer before all those things!