Josh Groban talks about some of his musical influences
His first concert in the third grade was a New Kids on the Block Christmas show
Groban is slated to appear in an upcoming comedy, "Coffee Town"
It may seem like a stretch to use sensitive crooner Josh Groban and “rock” in the same sentence, but with his new album “All That Echoes” (out this week), there might be more of a connection than one would think.
In an interview last month with Billboard, Groban revealed his influences this time around included Fleetwood Mac, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin. And indeed, he does seem to be slanting that way, at least in terms of producers. On 2010’s “Illuminations,” he worked with the rap/hard rock producer Rick Rubin and on “All That Echoes,” he teamed up with veteran rock producer Rob Cavallo, whose credits include Green Day and Kid Rock.
CNN recently spoke with Groban from his home in Los Angeles about his rock ’n’ roll habits past and present, why he sneaks into the crowd before he performs and his upcoming role on “CSI: NY.”
CNN: Growing up, who were some of the rock bands that you loved?
Josh Groban: Growing up in a city like L.A., you have everything from the Roxy to the Hollywood Bowl to see music, so I was really lucky that my parents were open-minded at a young age. They took me to see everything from Elton John to the Blue Man Group. I was lucky to be in middle-school during the grunge-rock era, which is one of the best decades for rock music.
So I grew up listening to Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, that kind of thing. There was some epicness to that music. I also loved classic rock. I loved Queen. I loved listening to groups like Blood, Sweat & Tears. I don’t know if it’s considered “rock,” but one of the albums that changed my life was Paul Simon’s “Graceland.” It blew my mind. I think that was the record that really showed me that that kind of experimentation and cross-pollination of sounds can be a brilliant thing.
CNN: Looking back, did you go through any embarrassing music phases?
Groban: I think we all go through questionable moments. But you know, they’re back on tour, so I can actually say it: My very first concert, in the third grade, was New Kids on the Block Christmas Concert at the Great Western Forum. If you were a third-grader at that time, there was nothing bigger than New Kids on the Block. It was huge.
CNN: On your last record, you worked with Rick Rubin, and this record you worked with Rob Cavallo, who worked with artists like Green Day, Kid Rock and the Goo Goo Dolls. Do they bring an edge to your recordings?
Groban: I think they do. Any time you work with a producer, there’s a sonic marriage that happens, where you’re going to provide everything from your world and they’re going to provide a real stamp of a sound that they tap into instinctively. Whenever I said to him, “I’m not sure I can get away with that,” he was the one to say to me, “no, this is naturally in you. We’ll know when we go too far.”
CNN: Is it crazy to think that knowing your way around a loud guitar could mimic what you do with your vocals?
Groban: Not crazy at all. I make comparisons between rock singers and classical singers. … I don’t think there’s any different intent when Freddie Mercury sings “We are the Champions” and Pavarotti sings in “Nessun Dorma.” Emotionally and cerebrally, you can be in the exact same headspace. That’s what’s interesting to me about quote-unquote crossover music.
CNN: For the long-term Groban fan, what are they going to notice about this album?
Groban: This album, in my own humble opinion, is in equal parts a return to a certain style of form that I felt was a real sweet spot for me four or five years ago, but at the same time, there’s more of a willingness to explore new avenues than I ever have before. Easier said than done. As I sit back and listen to the album again, I say to myself, “I think we really captured what we wanted to do: To not dumb down or compromise what I do vocally, but at the same time, I really pushed a lot of my boundaries.”
CNN: On tour these days, do you have any rock star indulgences?
Groban: (Laughs) I will tell you, many of the real rockers I know on tour, have the most zen, meditative, dare I say boring existence back stage. Nowadays, I think the rock and roll thing is to not lose your voice on stage and to make sure your fans are happy. But my rock and roll indulgences are basically apple juice, lots of Fiji water and sometimes I’ll put on a hat, hoodie and sunglasses and I’ll go out and feel what they crowd feels like.
Groban: Just during the opening act. My thing is, I like to feel the energy of the room before I go out there. Kind of plan my attack. For me, it’s not just about when the lights go down, it’s about the whole process. What does the room feel like? What does the stage look like? What was the ticket price? You want everything to be an experience that makes them happy. If can feel whether there’s a buzz or a slight agitation.
CNN: What’s interesting is that as record sales of rock music have declined, yours have been massive. Is operatic pop the last frontier for successful musicians?
Groban: (Laughs) It’s something I’ve been scratching my head over. It’s sad for me to see so many record stores going under. I don’t think things are entirely digital. There’s a huge gap in how people buy their music.
Digital is certainly the most convenient. Part of it has to do whether or not you draw a line in the sand on whether you’re going to be a “single” artist or an “album” artist. I can’t get away with releasing an album unless it’s the kind of album my fans want to listen to from beginning to end. I think the digital world has gotten people used to picking and choosing what they deem to be the hit and disposing of the rest. And I think that can be really dangerous.
CNN: Last year, we saw you cast on “The Office” as Andy Bernard’s brother. Will you reprise that role as the series winding down?
Groban: I haven’t been on set. I haven’t been asked. I think it may have run its course. That happened so on a whim. I got a Twitter message from Mindy Kaling and she said “Hey, I got a crazy idea, it would be really funny if you could stop by.” I just happened to be playing Staples Center the night before, so I went off stage, went home, got as much sleep as I could and showed up set the next morning at 5 a.m. I think it turned into something more than I expected it to.
CNN: You’re also slated to appear in an upcoming comedy called “Coffee Town,” alongside “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s” Glenn Howerton. What’s your character like?
Groban: Kind of a slacker, a failed rock band guy who’s a barista at a coffee shop who has an ongoing feud with Glenn, Ben Schwartz (“House of Lies”) and Steve Little (“Eastbound & Down”). They basically come in there every day as their “Clerks” style, hang and steal my free Wi-Fi by taking one sip every 20 minutes. It was fun to play that tattooed, d—-e-baggy type.
CNN: Do you have any other acting gigs lined up?
Groban: There’s a really fun cameo I’m about to make in a film that I wish I could tell you about, but they’ve sworn me to secrecy. I’m doing a cameo in “CSI: NY,” as myself. I’m just going to play “Happy in My Heartache” from the new album in their Valentine’s episode. Not going to be a corpse, thankfully.