Josh Groban is one of the most dynamic live vocalists on the planet — and although the coronavirus pandemic has upended the touring industry, Groban will find a way to show off his repertoire in concert before the end of 2020.
On Monday (Aug. 17), the veteran singer-songwriter announced a three-part virtual concert series surrounding the November release of his new album, Harmony. On Oct. 3, Groban will perform a show full of Broadway favorites; on Nov. 26, he will play a concert focused on Harmony; and Dec. 19 will see Groban delivering his first-ever holiday concert. For Groban, a Tony-nominated star who has sold millions of albums full of pop standards and holiday classics alike, the concert series is designed to show off his range — although anyone who has been following his two-decade career understands his multi-faceted talent.
Below, Groban discusses Harmony and the upcoming concert series (tickets go on sale on Aug. 20, more info here), his earliest musical experiences, his Broadway bucket-list song and the recent pop album that’s made him cry.
1. What was your dream job when you were a kid?
When I was a kid my dream job was to be a magician. I grew up in the golden age of those magic TV shows, David Copperfield walking through the Great Wall of China… so I was obsessed, in awe of that. I really wanted to get that reaction from people so I started buying little magic tricks and books on coin tricks. Let’s just say my natural talent was music. I auditioned for the Magic Castle as a junior member when I was about 12 and my disappearing coin fell on the floor. It became an unintentional comedy act.
2. What’s the first piece of music that you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?
The first music I actually bought for myself with my own allowance was the debut CD of Digable Planets called Reachin’ (A New Refutation Of Time And Space). The song “Rebirth Of Slick” was on the radio and I was obsessed with the way they rhymed and the jazz instrumentation. It just made me feel good. I still love that album.
3. What was the first concert you saw?
Okay, guilty pleasure time. It was third grade. My dad surprised me with tickets that made my entire school jealous of me. New Kids On The Block were doing a holiday-themed show at The Forum. We sat way up in the bleachers and I couldn’t see anything but I vaguely remember Donnie doing a breakdance in a Santa costume. I still have the oversized merch button. Best night ever.
4. What made you realize you could be an artist full-time?
The first time I knew I had a real shot at having a job in music was when David Foster discovered me and put me on that big stage. But the first time I realized I COULD be a full-time artist was when I had my theater classes in school. I give full credit to my teachers who gave me confidence when I had very little in other areas of my school and personal life. I felt good at something, I made friends, I expressed myself. I never wanted those classes to end. Now with my foundation Find Your Light, it’s my greatest joy to keep those classes in other young student’s lives.
5. How did your hometown/city shape who you are?
I grew up right in the middle of Los Angeles. I know it seems stereotypical that I would wind up in the entertainment business, but I didn’t come from a show biz family at all. My mom was an art teacher and decided to be a full-time mom after that, and my dad is a brilliant jazz trumpet player but went into business for himself. So it was the diversity of Los Angeles… the theater, the many melding cultures, the concerts… I discovered the beauty of that blend from Los Angeles. It inspired my many musical influences, my love of different foods, of nature.
It’s also a city that showed me some things I didn’t want. There’s a scene to parts of L.A. that can sometimes feel superficial and isolating especially once you find yourself in the music business. It reminded me of the isolation I felt in school feeling like an outsider. I moved to NYC half time and immediately felt a connection to NYC, a togetherness, that I was craving. I love both cities equally for different reasons and I’m so lucky to share them.
6. If you could see any artist in concert, dead or alive, who would it be?
Bob Marley and the Wailers. I love reggae and have always loved Bob Marley’s voice, his message, and his truly crossover beautiful songs. Under the stars, maybe a stop at a little dispensary… can’t imagine a better night.
7. What’s the last song you listened to?
I’ve been listening to a lot of my own mixes for the next album. Away from work I’ve been listening to a band called Jungle. My personal trainer had it going during a workout and I’m hooked. The last song I listened to was called “Heavy, California.”
8. Which young artist impresses you most consistently?
I mentioned my arts education foundation Find Your Light. The best part is that I get to see first hand how the spark develops in a young artist’s mind. I could list a number of up-and-coming artists who I think are great… Anna Sofia, Ben Khan, Keedron Bryant, to name very, very few. But for me, the excitement is in seeing the potential in a kid that is holding a paintbrush, or reciting Shakespeare, or singing a song they wrote, for the very first time. It takes bravery to do that. Especially when so many of these kids are coming from neighborhoods and family life that has made that dream seem like an impossibility. To take the step to say, my past has been rough, but my future is bright because I have something to say… that’s the gold ring for me, and why I’m so proud of the work FYL is doing.
9. What’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen in the crowd of one of your sets?
I’ve had to stop the show a couple times for a guy getting down on one knee to propose… that’s always fun. My shows are always so feel-good and I hope an escape for people, it was really odd one show to see two people actively arguing to each other at the top of their lungs between songs. I think one of them wanted to sit and the other one wanted to stand. THE DRAMA. For the record: enjoy the show any way you damn please and be respectful.
10. How much has spending this year in relative isolation shaped the songwriting and focus of Harmony?
The making of Harmony, and the reason for the title, was so therapeutic for me. I wanted to go back to basics a bit, to interpret songs that made me feel good, were a blast to sing, and most importantly, that my fans have been asking for over the course of the last couple years of touring. The fork in the road, which I think is happening to most if not all creators, is that original ideas started to pop up in direct relationship to whats going on. Many of these songs will be for the album after this, but one or two seem very timely. So the idea of this being a “classics” record will be true for about 90%!
11.How different was the recording process of the new album due to the pandemic?
In some ways very challenging, which are the obvious ways. But the interesting thing has been just how much its forced me to be self-reliant in recording, writing, producing… if I want to hear what’s in my head I can’t drive over to a cowriter’s or producer’s house and say, “Here’s a thing I plunked out on my iPhone, can you help me make it come to life?” I’ve had to sit at my laptop and craft it. Which has been hugely rewarding. It’s opened up a floodgate of ideas and songs that I never knew were in me. One day they will be released, and maybe even will have been partially recorded in my bedroom. The fact that it’s even a possibility for me is showing me just how many tools I have at my disposal that I didn’t fully appreciate.
As far as recording, there is so much isolation. A sterilized vocal booth with the producer on Zoom. But recording is often isolated anyway. I’m always looking at people through a glass window anyway, so in some ways not much has changed.
12. What inspired the idea for the three-part livestream concert series later this year?
There was a long period during this pandemic where I wanted to just keep it simple. I was doing some livestream performances, very DIY from my bedroom, and even did songs in my shower. It was fun and put a smile on my face and people enjoyed it. Once we realized after many months that this was going to be a lot longer than anyone had hoped, I started to feel the urge to get creative about how best to do my job. And as much as I love singing in the shower, when I put on the hat of wanting the real quality my fans expect of me, I knew another option was necessary.
It was also a way to employ many musicians and crew again for the first time. So my manager Diarmuid [Quinn] pushed me into the direction of livestream. I was skeptical at first because of the lack of audience in person, but the responses I got from our trial run in June were so overwhelming and positive. It really meant as much to the thousands of people who tuned in to be part of it as it meant for me to be able to really sing again. And so we realized this was a super win-win. And we decided to plan more, but bigger and better and with so many songs, old and brand new. We just want to create a series of these that truly allows me and my fans who I miss so much to be a part of something we love together, even if it is virtual, it can still be hugely inspirational and fun.
13. One of the livestream concerts will include several Broadway favorites — are there Broadway touchstones you’ve always wanted to tackle that you’re considering for it?
I’ve always wanted to sing “Impossible Dream.” It’s been a bucket-list song. I think I’m gonna go for it.
14. What do you miss most about performing in front of a live audience?
I miss traveling city to city. Experiencing the world through meeting new audiences each night. The back and forth. The applause is always nice! I do feel that buzz when I do the livestreams. I know many people are watching and I get those butterflies. But for me, the thing I can’t wait for at the end of all this, is the lights going down, the roar of anticipation, and being there with everyone. We all miss it, and until then we do the best we can.
15. Which of your new habits developed during quarantine do you think will persist when it is over?
Definitely cooking! Trust me when I say I had little to no interest in it before all this. I was the take-out king. Fifteen years of touring makes you really used to bus food and room service, and at home was no different. But something clicked in me during all this, that I could express creativity in a food way. I became super interested in each ingredient and everything you can do with them. And as I got more and more knowledgeable about ingredients and techniques, I was able to improvise with them the same as with music. I connected the dots between what I love about making music and what I now love about making food. From the creating to the nurturing aspect of providing it out of love. It’s something that will be part of my life now forever, I’m sure of it.
16. What’s your karaoke go-to?
Anything that is at least four keys higher than I have any right singing. Usually Journey.
17. What movie, or song, always makes you cry?
Well, the entire new Taylor Swift album has been doing a pretty good job. “Winter” by Tori Amos will always do the trick. I also seem to get very emotional during space movies. I don’t know what it is. I bawled my eyes out for “Contact.” And don’t even start playing me the score from Interstellar. I’ll be a mess.
18. What’s one thing that even your most devoted fans don’t know about you?
I’ve tried to be more open in the past years about the private side. It’s always a balance because thats not what they sign up for. My job is to make music for them and take care of my own stuff. But I’ve been more open about my struggles, with the amazing discovery that the more I’ve opened up, the more times someone will say to me on the street or in a meet-and-greet, “I get it, and I’m so thankful you shared that”. Gotta save a couple things for the book, though.
19. What’s still on your professional bucket list?
I want to be a drummer in a band that already has a singer. I love drumming so much, and would love to let go of the vocal pressure for a couple hours. I’d also love to score a movie.
20. What’s one piece of advice you would give to your younger self?
“Be kinder to yourself.”