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Josh Groban: The Xmas Interview

2007-12-20 15:21
 
Who sold the most CDs in 2007? Nope. It wasn’t Amy, Britney or Kanye. It’s classical pop crooner Josh Groban. Yep, even more impressive is that his brand new CD, Noel has also broken none other than Elvis Presley’s record for most weeks at # 1 for a Christmas album in Billboard Magazine's chart history. We figured it’s a fine time to quiz the chart breaker about the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

Josh Groban
Congratulations on your Billboard # 1 success. You’ve sold over 17 million CDs sold and loads of DVDs, but still no Grammy yet. Is this what you want for Xmas?
Thank you very much. Um, if [the Grammy] comes I’ll be thrilled. But the thing that matters most to me is people walking into the store and picking up my music. When it comes to something like the Grammy’s I really don’t think that there's a category amongst the 120-some categories they have that defines what I do. So I think it’s hard for the awards to figure out where I fit. You know, ‘Pop’ is Justin Timberlake and that kind of thing (chuckles), classical crossover – to the Grammy’s anyway – is ‘The Kronos String Quartet plays Gershwin’ (chuckles). You know? I was really happy I got that Grammy nomination a few years back. Maybe it’ll happen again one day. It’d be nice, but it’s not something I really count on to make or break my career.

Indeed. Not pigeonholing your music does seem to confound some people. Does it bother you when a critic from Rolling Stone writes something outrageous like "you’re destined to sing over the credits of future Disney hits?"
Ha! Ha! I think when someone thinks they’re giving you an insult by telling you that you’re going to sing a hit song over a hit movie... then I don’t take that as an insult quite frankly. But, they’re just being snarky, you know? People need to write something and generally they get scared when they don’t understand [what you’re doing] right away. In the end, certainly when it comes to magazines, they’re in it to sell magazines, so they can write whatever they want.

But I’ve been very excited that for the most part, people who didn’t want to bother writing about [my music] at all...have come around and written amazing things – like the New York Times' review of my last concert. The one thing that has remained constant since the very beginning is that people listen to my music. Like you said, 17 million of my albums have sold. That is why I do it. I don’t do it for one minute for these cynical bastards in the press. I do it for my fans. I do it for me. And if the press start coming around – which for the most part they have – then I guess it’s like the Grammy, it’s a bonus. But it’s not at all in the Top 5, 10 or 15 or 20 reasons for why I’m making music.

As a self-confessed Radiohead fan have you ever thought about following their lead and selling your music independently online to reach a bigger audience?
They had the benefit of doing that without a record label. I’m not sure my label would let me do that. It’s potentially a really scary time for the industry, but also a really potentially revolutionary time for the artists. The kind of power that record labels are able to have now is diminishing. But I think that the potential power that the artist has to get their music out there in ways that they never before thought possible are always increasing.

The In Rainbows thing was an interesting experiment. You know a lot of people downloaded it off the internet but at the same time a lot of people didn’t…. It was appropriate they did it that way because they’ve always been very revolutionary and kind of forward thinking. And they did make a great profit on it. Because you’re not going to sell as many as you would through a major record label. But you’ve the potential to make even more money because you’re making all of it. So it’s going to be interesting to see where it goes….

How much did you pay for the download?
I paid my 20 bucks! It is money well, well spent.

$20? Wow, sounds like you’re a real fan. What’s currently playing on your iPod?
I have absolutely everything on my iPod... You know I grew up listening to music from around the world? Which is one of the great reasons why I’m always so excited about coming to SA is because as a kid I was always interested in South African music. So I’ve got a lot of South African artists on my iPod. I also love really interesting rock music. I love Muse, the new Radiohead album I can’t get enough of. The Thom Yorke album, The Eraser is fantastic. I love groups from the 60s and 70s where the musicianship was so great, like early Genesis, Peter Gabriel…and then everyone’s got Rihanna’s "Umbrella" on their playlists – it’s one of the best songs of the year, it really was. I’m most like a big listener to pop radio, but that song….
No Christmas carols? Come on, what’s your favourite Xmas song?
(chuckles) I like them all. When it's time for the holidays, I’ll pop on anything. Personally my favourite Christmas album is Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. When we were choosing the songs for my Christmas album it was interesting because I had to find the right music for my singing voice. At the same time find songs that I could keep classic but also make fresh. I actually took some convincing to do this project – only because I felt like, you know, some of these songs have been sung over 100 times. And it was deceptively difficult ‘cos you have to find different ways to sing them that people haven’t heard before. So yeah, I was inspired by songs I’d heard growing up as a kid, songs that were playing in our house at full blast. That played a big part. But I love "The Christmas Song". I just think it’s simple. I first heard Mel Torme sing it. It’s terrific melancholy, simple, just kind of beautiful.

While we’re on the subject, what’s the best Xmas present you’ve ever received?
Probably a drum set. I had wanted one for a really, really long time and of course, my parents said, "do you think we’re crazy enough to give you a drum set?" And they were. They finally said, "Okay. But you have to ask the neighbours when it’d be appropriate for you to play during the day and then you’ve got to go find a place to them." And I was like, "okay, fine, fine, fine!" Since then I’ve just loved the drums. I play them on my album. It’s just been a great passion of mine.

And the worst?
My least favourite present….well, I had seen this movie The Christmas Story and this kid in the movie wants a BB gun so, so badly. So of course I watched the movie and I wanted a BB gun. And my parents said the same thing to me as what they say to kid in the movie which is well, why don’t you try it out…so one Christmas I go down stairs and see this really, really long box. And I thought it was a BB gun. It wasn’t it was hockey stick. LA is not really a big hockey place. We have a good hockey team, but there’s no snow, no ice….So it was like: "Yay, my very own hockey stick!"

Fab, but enough of Christmas past. What’s next for Josh? More collaborations?
Well, there’s nothing like singing Christmas songs from June to December to make you want to do something new! No really, I’ve written a whole bunch of songs. I’m just writing like crazy. The last 10 months on the road touring Awake was great. But I try not to have a wish list of people because so often the most rewarding collaborations are the ones that are completely unexpected. The ones where you walk in and you’re scratching your head and going "how are we going to make this work?" and then they wind up being brilliant, you know? But yeah, you know obviously I’d love to work with someone like Sting. But what I can’t wait for is the next 'moment', like when I got to work with Ladysmith Black Mambazo unexpectedly. Those are the moments for me that go beyond my wish list and become moments to really remember.

- Miles Keylock

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