Broadway Composer Jason Robert Brown Talks New Album, Working With Ariana Grande: Listen

Matthew Murphy
Jason Robert Brown

Few modern Broadway composers have had as diverse, or as successful, a career as Jason Robert Brown: he’s made engaging, affecting musical theater out of both Honeymoon in Vegas and The Bridges of Madison County, created a two-person show about a broken relationship that’s become one of the most beloved modern musicals and was turned into a movie with Anna Kendrick (The Last Five Years), and developed a strong creative relationship with one of today's biggest pop stars (more on that later) -- all while maintaining an active life as a performer in his own right. With his third solo album, How We React and How We Recover recently out (on Ghostlight Records), Brown sat down for the Billboard on Broadway podcast to discuss his creative process and collaborations.

Growing up, Brown reflects, listening to pop artists like Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Carole King and the Beatles alongside Gershwin and Bernstein helped develop his unique sound. ”I would never be who I am if I didn't have the eclecticism of all that music floating around," he says. He didn't see a purely behind-the-scenes future for himself. "I was equally open to being a piano man as I was to being a B-way composer,” he recalls. “I didn't know they were mutually exclusive, so I always hoped I'd get to a point like the one I'm at now, where I can do both.

Discussing the multi-year process of putting together How We React and How We Recover, Brown explains how writing individual songs for the project was analogous to writing a musical. "Writing songs for this album wasn't that much different in the sense that I'm still writing for a project, the project just happens to be me,” he says with a laugh. “I know what the musical vocabulary of me is, I know what my character's vocal is bc I'm living in a very specific place as a performer." (On Nov. 28, Brown will perform and discuss songs from the album at New York’s Upper East Side Barnes & Noble at 7:00 p.m..

In his chat with host Rebecca Milzoff, Brown also opens up about his longstanding partnership with Ariana Grande, who made her Broadway debut in 2008 in his musical Thirteen. "It didn't take me to discover Ariana. She was always that talented and always that driven,” he says. “She had a vision for who she wanted to be in the world." In the years since Thirteen, the two have kept in touch, with Grande asking Brown to write a song for her Dangerous Woman album, "Jason's Song (Gave It Away)," and calling on him on occasion to perform with her. "She is someone who wants very much to feel grounded,” Brown says. “When she brings me along, I think she does it to ground itself. And I clearly enjoy getting to make music with her. There are few voices in the world that are that versatile."

Hear more about Grande, Brown’s upcoming projects, and his new music on this week’s episode.

#BillboardonBroadway is a weekly podcast devoted to all things musical theater and their overlap with pop music. Click here to subscribe to the #BillboardonBroadway podcast on iTunes, and let us know what you think on Twitter (@rebeccamilzoff) or by rating the podcast on iTunes.