Michael Buble Q&A: 'A Lot of Stuff I Did, I Was Just Trying to Do an Impersonation'
Crooner finds his own voice on eighth album "To Be Loved," talks about collaborating with Bryan Adams, his upcoming tour and his next big role: fatherhood
Michael Buble got his start in his 20s paying homage to great crooners like Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Bobby Darin and Dean Martin, and making a pretty decent living at it – he sold 20 million albums worldwide before releasing 2009's "Crazy Love," which established him as a crossover star at Hot AC and Top 40 with hits like "Haven't Met You Yet" and "Hollywood." It was the latter project that the singer credits with helping him find out "what Michael Buble's distinct voice was," he says, and for paving the way for the new set "To Be Loved" (April 23), executive produced by rock producer Bob Rock (Metallica, Bon Jovi) and his first project for Warner Bros. without longtime partner David Foster.
"A lot of stuff I did before Crazy Love, I was honestly just trying to do an impersonation," Buble says from Paris, where he's in the middle of a major European promo tour. "It was that point in my career where I had done so many live shows and had finally put together who I am and also felt like I had enough power to say, 'This is how I'm gonna do it.'"
The album features four original tracks, the most new material for any Buble project to date, and is led by bouncy breakup single "It's A Beautiful Day." The song spent a week on the Hot 100 last month at No. 94 and became Buble's fastest growing video on YouTube with over 1.3 million views in its first week alone. Other cuts include standout power ballad "I Got It Easy," love song "Close Your Eyes" and the rocking "After All," a duet with fellow Vancouver native Bryan Adams. Among the diverse set of covers this time around, Buble teams up with The Dap Kings for fresh takes on The Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody" and The Jackson 5's "Who's Lovin You" as well as a pair of songs associated with Frank Sinatra - "Come Dance With Me" and his 60s duet "Somethin' Stupid" with Reese Witherspoon filling in for Nancy.
A fall tour of North America is expected to be announced in the coming weeks, following a 10-day stint at London's O2 Arena (and an additional 5 nights at Dublin's O2.) But, as Buble says in an exclusive Q&A for Billboard.com, don't expect him to maintain his same breakneck schedule after the birth of his first child (a son) this coming August. "I'd love [this album] to sell 1 million copies, but if it doesn't I got bigger fish to fry. I got a kid coming, so that's my biggest concern."
This is your first full album with Bob Rock following a longtime collaboration with David Foster. What made you want to switch things up?
I wanted to make a great record and write great songs and try to reinterpret some of the greatest songs ever written and do it an authentic and organic way. And I felt like my best chance to do that would be a record with Bob Rock. He's a guy I have a lot of love and a great deal of respect for, and I love the fact that we did stuff that people didn't expect. You have a guy who people know from Metallica and "Slippery When Wet" with Bon Jovi, and yet for my money tackles a standard better than anyone I've ever heard. He was so cool with just vibeing out. Everything was about a vibe, going to tape and having guys sit in the room like at [the studio] East West and take what comes.
You're expecting your first child later this year with your wife Luisana Lopilato. How will that affect your touring plans later this year?
I've changed my whole tour schedule. No more going on the road for a month and taking a week off. It'll be more like three weeks on, two weeks off. I really appreciate, honestly man, the support of my manager and my agents because I know that's probably not what they had in mind. I know it's very important for me to go out there and show my appreciation for the people. I want to go to everybody's backyard, it just may take me a little longer. I'm not gonna do it at the expense of being a dad.
On "To Be Loved," you duet with fellow Vancouver native Bryan Adams on a new song called "After All." How did that come about?
Aside from being the first record I bought when I was 8 or 9 years old, he's been signed with my manager [Bruce Allen] who's been managing him since he was 17 years old. So it just made a lot of common sense. But it was a big deal for me, knowing this Vancouver guy, this guy from my town who had made it. I'm a huge fan of his songwriting, huge fan of his voice and I've gotten to be friend with him so I've always been looking for an excuse to work with him. I loved working with him, same with Reese Witherspoon. Just like with previous records where I worked with people like Ron Sexsmith, or Nelly Furtado or Sharon Jones, it's not always about what's expected but what musically I felt would be awesome.
This album also finds you referencing the lesser-known arrangements of popular songs, like Peggy Lee's salsa cover of "Come Dance With Me" rather than Frank Sinatra's.
With that one, I went to the arranger and said, "I love that arrangement but give me balls." If I steal as much as I possibly can and can still learn as much, I can call it research.
You've been increasing the number of original songs you've included on your albums in recent years. Are you becoming more confident as a songwriter?
What's funny is it took me up to "Crazy Love" to figure out who I was. I was trying to pull from so many places it took me that long to find out what Michael Buble's distinct voice was. A lot of stuff I did, I was honestly just trying to do an impersonation. Listen, I started when I was 26, so by the time I was in my 30s I started to feel like I had finally put together who I am. I also felt like I had the power for the first time to say, "This is how I'm gonna do it."
Is that true for your covers, too?
Absolutely. Listen man, I can tell you the way Dean Martin drops his epiglottis, the way Bing could sing on his deep notes, the way Ella would play with the melody, and I could come up with all these things of the characteristics that I studied and loved. It was just a matter of spending the time to try and incorporate them into my own thing.
There was a point I realized too that you can sing the shit out of something, but if you don't mean it, it doesn't work. Instead of wondering how it sounded, I tried to really believe in what I was singing and concentrate on that. It was the weirdest thing, I was watching Liza Minnelli and I watched her talk to James Lipton about this and I really got it. I get what she's saying — it's really important for her that she's honest.