Josh Groban is no slacker. Having sold more than 25 million albums worldwide since his debut in 2001, the 29-year-old multi-platinum recording artist and L.A. native has been nominated for numerous awards, including an American Music Award, a World Music Award, a Juno Award, two Grammy Awards and an Academy Award for "Believe" from the 2005 film "Polar Express." His long-awaited fifth studio album, "Illuminations," is the fruit of a collaboration with friend and famed rock producer Rick Rubin, and it's due out November 15th on Reprise Records. Josh took a few minutes out to chat with momlogic about the making of his new release, and why his mom totally rocks.
Josh Groban: I was having lunch with our mutual friend, Guy Oseary, and he asked if I knew Rick. He said he was a cool guy and that I should meet him at some point. I didn't know if he'd even be interested in having a meeting; I'd just assumed he was Mr. Rock Guy. I guess I didn't give him the credit in my own mind of thinking that he would be into my music. So when I met with him it was immediately erased, and it was amazing to me to see how open he was to what I do and that he had so many opinions about how he'd want to work with an artist like myself. I was shocked and thrilled! I said, "OK, here we go, leaving the comfort nest." After having the biggest record in 2007 with David Foster, it would've made more sense not to fix it if it wasn't broke, you know?
ml: He didn't want a one-time stand, he wanted to commit!
JG: He did! He wanted to go there with me. If anything, the success gives me the comfort zone to really explore. For me, there's nothing like a huge amount of success that makes me want to do something completely different.
ml: What was the overarching inspiration behind "Illuminations"?
JG: Rick and I had some pretty lofty goals as far as how we would figure a formula of the two of us in one room together. He was interested in making a classic kind of record and I was interested in his ear and how he records music, so together we came in the middle and were able to get out of each other exactly what we wanted. And it didn't seem like such an odd-couple collaboration after all.
JG: Exactly! It's those subtleties and the cleanliness of the sound that can lend itself ... it's a genre-less pursuit. It can lend itself to heavy metal, folk, country, and in this case, in more of a classic way.
ml: You wrote "The Wandering Kind" when you were 12! Did you always know you'd make music for a living?
JG: I knew I loved playing piano and expressing myself through playing piano after school, so that kind of became my outlet. I started playing that song out of nowhere. I played my whole life and I don't know where it came from. I kept trying to make a proper song out of it on this record, but I told Rick it was too wandering, it goes all over the place, I can't find a discernable chorus in it. So we made it an instrumental. We got in a room full of musicians, and the track that's on there is take five. We got it out in about 45 minutes. It was definitely a full-circle moment. Definitely an emotional way to start the record.
ml: I read somewhere that when you first sang in public, your mom was there and visibly so moved. Does she inspire you?
JG: My mom is an extraordinary woman and she's been my biggest fan. I think that from the first moment I ever sang in junior high school and she was in the audience, I surprised her and didn't tell her what I was going to do. I was kind of having a hard time at school at that moment. I sang and she was crying and I just kind of felt like OK, so it's music for me. She's a really good meter for me. She's a brilliant person and a real music lover, so she's a wonderful sounding board for me.
ml: Have you ever written a song about her?
JG: I think that any song about inspiration -- "You Raise Me Up," for instance -- I think there's a whole group of situations and people that flood my brain when I sing a song like that, and she's definitely one of them.
JG: I had written the melody and spoke to Rufus about collaborating. He said, "Would you mind if I wrote this with my mom?" And I was like, "Oh my God! I'd be honored!" I was a huge Kate McGarrigle fan -- the whole family is so talented. They wrote this very interesting, poetic, gorgeous lyric and I didn't realize until shortly after they wrote it that she was really not well. It wasn't far after they sent me the lyrics that she passed away. Having the song on the record is a great tribute. It's the only song that Rufus and his mom had ever written together, so it's unbelievably humbling and I'm very, very proud to have it on the CD as a tribute to her.
ml: You've sung in French, Italian and even Portuguese. Other than English, what's your favorite language to sing in, and why?
JG: Each kind of provides its own mystery and intrigue as far as just how it affects a song and how a song affects it. I think Italian is always a language that is vowel-oriented and everything is so open; it's a great language for a classical voice because the vowels don't change much. In French, there are a lot of ways to sing each vowel, so it's a little bit more complicated. My new favorite to sing is Portuguese -- I had such a wonderful time singing in that language. It's so musical and such a gorgeous language that I'd love to do a Brazilian record one day.
ml: Sounds like an excuse to spend some time in Brazil, at any rate!
JG: That wouldn't be bad at all!
ml: You're doing more and more acting -- you rocked the Emmys and "Glee"! And you're doing a movie next year?
JG: I did a Steve Carrell movie coming out next year that I had so much fun being a part of. It's something that I'm falling back into. I did a lot of acting when I was younger -- I did musical theater and was in an improv troupe. I really thought acting was going to be my main thing and singing was going to be the tool to use with the acting. Life is funny. The fact that it's a muscle that's being flexed again is not bad news. I'm really excited about doing more.
ml: Having sold as many records as you have, what's the next challenge you're looking forward to?
JG: Success is wonderful, but it can also be an amazing reason for a pigeonhole. I think for me, just wanting to keep the fire burning, keep myself scared and keep myself wanting to do other things, it makes it that much more nerve-wracking, but I think in the end, it gives you more of a nuanced career. I'd also like to do theater one day and do more acting, maybe become a professional tennis player .... But we'll see!
Want to hear some of "Illuminations?" Check it out!