AU ABROAD

the AU Interview: Josh Groban (USA) talks Australia, musical theatre, rap albums, video games and more!

AU Arts editor Kat Czornij spoke with US multi-platinum recording artist Josh Groban in Sydney. In this two part interview, Josh talks about his fondness for Australia and the Sydney Opera House, his favourite musical theatre productions, his latest album ‘Stages’ and potential for future Frank Wildhorn recordings (or so Kat rather desperately hopes).

In the second part of the interview Josh talks about the future- with his upcoming US and world tour (including its stop in Australia!), potential rap album and dream collaborations. Josh also creates the beginnings of a new piece of musical theatre entitled “Drought”, featuring his own track “Remember When It Rained”. We finished with Josh talking about his favourite video games and his plans to embark on an in-game train journey adventure!

Kat: Let’s start with a bit of a fun game! I’ll say a word, Australian-related, and you’re going to say whatever comes to your mind first!

Josh: Does it have to be one word or can I wax poetic about my love for this country? I tend to ramble.

Kat: Australia?

Josh: Land of Dreams!

Kat: Vegemite?

Josh: Acquired taste! As one of the gifts from my record label I got a little gift package with a bottle of wine and some candy and there was a chocolate bar with milk chocolate and vegemite. I think I might give it to the birds.

Kat: Sydney Opera House?

Josh: A good luck venue for me. One of my favorite places to visit and favourite places to perform. And somewhere I will be back in April.

Kat: Groban?

Josh: Who am I anyway? Am I my resume? (sings). Groban… You’re going to send me into an existential crisis with that question. Confused? Jet lagged.

Kat: Australian ladies?

Josh: Australian ladies are fabulous. Hilarious, beautiful and hospitable.

Kat: You’ve been to Australia to perform three times before, in 2007 and 2013 for concerts and for the Carols in the Domain), what’s it like to be back?

Josh: It’s one of those countries that you try and take as much time off from the work as possible just to visit. When I’ve done full tours here, and have been able to visit the Penfold Winery in Adelaide or getting some good seafood in Perth, I’ve loved exploring the whole country. I’ve enjoyed experiencing the art and culture and I try to see shows while I’m here. It’s one of those places that I’ve been visiting since my first album, so to feel that connection and to see how we’ve seen a fan base grow exponentially throughout the past 14 years. I’m always excited to take the very, very, long journey.

Kat: Let’s get right into talking about Stages- you have of course said that musical theatre has been a big part of your life. Do you have a particular musical performance that you remember prompting your love?

Josh: Any of us who have been touched be the theatre and had that experience seeing a show and being so immersed in the show and feeling that you get the bug. And for me it wasn’t just being a fan and leaving singing the songs, I wanted to be up there! I walked out of there when I was nine or ten years old saying I really want to tell these stories one day. And it was serendipitous that I opened my mouth one day to sing at a school choir and realizing that I could sing.

It was a VHS copy of Sunday in the Park with George that did it for me, a screen theatre performance, that really sparked my interest in the music of musical theatre. And then I started diving into Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gershwin and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Schwartz. So this album reflects most of the influences from my growing up from the 80s until now.

Kat: With an album like Stages, and even with Noel, I’d imagine there is quite a bit of pressure on creating these “cover albums”. How do you make sure to stay true to these great pieces of music whilst still making them feel like your own?

Josh: Those are the only two albums that I’ve done that are exclusively cover music and you kind of plan it thinking “oh this will be easier, I’ll just find great songs and sing the crap out of them”. But its actually way more difficult because you immediately recognize the reverence you have to have for the material, for the interpretive taste you have to have and the decisions you have to make about what’s right for your voice and age… The unsung heroes are the arrangers. Getting arrangements that are special enough to pay tribute to the original singers and composers but also have enough twist in them to make them your own. It’s a very fine line that you don’t have to think about when you’re writing your own material. You don’t want to over-Groban them.

Kat: I’d imagine there were many pieces that got cut from the final album listing, were there any in particular that you were close to?

Josh: We were this close to finishing Being Alive from Company, which I love that song and role. We could have rush jobed it and finished it but the arrangement wasn’t done and wasn’t special enough, and especially when you’re doing Sondheim it just has to have that extra special dedication to the arrangement. So Being Alive is now shelved for a future Stages 2.

Kat: Well if there’s Stages 2 may I put in a request? Anything Frank Wildhorn. Dracula…

Josh: And maybe some Jekyll & Hyde?

Kat: YES! (Kat’s editor note: YES, SERIOUSLY PLEASE)

Kat: You are of course a composer and lyricist yourself as well. Would you ever consider being a musical writer?

Josh: I’ve thought about it. I think that my writing style is very ADD. I like to take little bursts of creative thought and put them down on paper immediately. I like to think in 3 or 4 minute musical bursts, and I think the idea of creating a two hour arc for the themes and the melodies and the storylines and connecting all the tissue between all the characters is such a monumental organization task for a creative composer. Honestly I like being the vessel to express that to the audience. But never say never, I think it would be a huge challenge.

Kat: What’s up next for you? US tour, rap album…?

Josh: Both, yes. You can’t do a US tour without a rap album. We are really into rap in my country and you cant really mount a tour anymore without at least one or two rap songs, so working on my fresh flowitry. Beyond that, excited to take this album out on the road! We’re going to have great local orchestras and choirs in every city we go to, its going to be a theatrical tour. The venues are really right for these songs, intimate and acoustically great. We’re going to take it to Europe as well, and then we’re going to take it here to Aus!

Kat: Excited about being back?

Josh: I am so excited! Being back on the Sydney Opera House stage is going to be amazing. Being at the Palais Theatre in Melbourne is going to be fantastic. The audiences here love theatre. Sometimes you visit countries where they’re aware of musical theatre, but it’s not really in their cultural DNA so much. Australia has always been musical theatre centric, there have been great original casts that have started here and there’s been incredible touring companies of Broadway shows that have come here. And so to visit a country that there is already that huge appreciation with these songs makes it that much more fun.

Kat: The beauty of musicals is of course in being able to bring together both characters and song. Can you pick any of your songs from any of your previous items and quickly describe the musical it would be from and the character who would sing it?

Josh: We are now having a major drought in Los Angeles so I would write “Drought: The Musical” and I would put my song “Remember When It Rained” in it and I would have it sung by Sam Smith, who would make his Broadway debut with that first act closer! It’ll be a tear-jerker.

Kat: Is there someone yet that you haven’t had the opportunity to work with that you would love to?

Josh: I would love to collaborate with Bjork. Talk about great interesting musicals! I would like to make Selma songs and do a musical, her Dancer in the Dark movie that she did is one of the great musical compositions that I’ve ever heard. She’s someone who’s so wild and eclectic and does great work with orchestras.

Or Ben Folds! We did a joke song… We did a song called ‘Life is a Masquerade” where we worked with Tim Heidecker and we decided one drunken night to rent some studio space and write the worst song ever written. Somehow it leaked onto YouTube. The lesson is, because it’s not actually a bad melody, is sometimes when you turn off the “has to be great” switch you actually sometimes write really great stuff. Like when I did the Kayne tweets for instance, I gave up some of my best melodies! Sometimes the muse is louder when you take off the pressure.

Kat: Favourite video game?

Josh: I’m really into Batman Arkham Knight because it’s amazing and I’m also a big batman fan. There was also a game that came out called Last Of Us and any of us who are zombie fans just love that game it’s fantastic. And Far Cry? I love that game too. I love any free world games where I can just spend hours picking fruit. The games now are just so open world that I never follow the main story line. I’m always like oh! I can go on a fruit picking adventure for the next 5 hours. There is a game apparently that’s coming out that is a train conductor simulator, where you can literally just sit in front of your computer and go on a train trek across America. I would imagine myself putting on noise cancelling headphones and getting my train whistle out, and just “going on a train journey guys, I’m not going to be available for about 15-23hrs from now. I’m going to be on a train ride” and just doing that. This is my trip into Howard Hughes land, I’m going to have Kleenex boxes on my feet.

---

Josh Groban was in Australia on a promo tour and will be returning to bring his Stages tour next April! Details below:

SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
TUESDAY APRIL 19 & WEDNESDAY APRIL 20, 2016
Accompanied and co-presented by Sydney Symphony Orchestra

PALAIS THEATRE, MELBOURNE
MONDAY APRIL 25, 2016
with orchestral and choral accompaniment

BRISBANE CONVENTION CENTRE
THURSDAY APRIL 28, 2016
with orchestral and choral accompaniment

For more information visit www.livenation.com.au