Singer-songwriter and actor Josh Groban released his latest album, Harmony, back in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. As a result, his ability to tour in support of the album was curtailed. This summer, however, Groban has hit the road to showcase songs from the release, a collection of original tunes and “timeless” covers that allows Groban to flex his muscular voice.
You’re coming here to play Blossom. Have you played the venue in the past?
I have. It’s a beautiful amphitheater. We love playing there and love going back to Cleveland. Lots of good memories.
This tour supports your 2020 album Harmony. Talk about what you wanted to do differently this time around with the album.
Well, I made the album after doing Bridges, which was a mostly original music album. It was more of a pop and eclectic album for me. It was so much fun. It wound up being really successful. Sometimes, I shift back and forth. After I do something a little left-of-center, the singer guy in me will say, “Let’s find some great songs you’ve wanted to sing for a while and find beautiful arrangements and do that kind of an album.” I wanted this to be a covers album. I wanted this to be songs that have been on my bucket list for a while. With COVID, which songs you choose changes and all of a sudden, songs that you weren’t expecting to sing rise to the top and become really relevant — not to mention the fact that you’re singing them in your bedroom. It was beautiful to find those musicians coming together from all around the world. I’m old school, and I like to sing in the same room with everybody. For this, we obviously couldn’t. I was looking at an orchestra that was spread ten feet apart on Zoom. We also had musicians all over the country in their private studios and I was singing in Los Angeles while somebody else was in Nashville and somebody else was in New York. It’s why we called it ‘harmony.” Everyone is so grateful to make music. It’s interesting timestamp for me in terms of what we had to go through to survive and thrive.
I know the backing band is not the album’s centerpiece, but I think the orchestra playing behind you really rocks.
I’ve recorded orchestras in New York and Los Angeles and London. Lately, I’ve been enjoying working with musicians in London. Many of them are London Symphony members. There’s a pop sensibility. Many of the musicians play on pop albums and do cinema soundtracks. There’s a sensibility that understands that mix of pop and classical. They can lean into the music orchestrally, but they can really swing and find a pocket. It winds up with a sound I really like. I also really like the studios over there. It’s not just the players but the walls. You have Abbey Road, which is one of the most incredible orchestra rooms in the world and AIR Studios, where we recorded this album, which is just an incredible space. I’ve recorded tons of songs in that studio.
There’s a wide range of covers on the album. How’d you develop an appreciation for so many different styles of music?
I kind of owe it to both my parents and my teachers. I grew up in a family that was really eclectic. The kind of shows we’d be taken to as kids were all over the map. Growing up in Los Angeles, everything comes through. We could experience large and small, all kinds of different music from around the world. Having that exposure early on sparked a desire to explore and experiment. When I woke up in the morning and had a hybrid voice, I had two choices. I could choice one of the two sides of the hybrid and focus on that. Or I could say, “Screw it. Let’s not think of any rules and just do stuff that feels natural.” Sometimes, it is that middle ground that feels the most natural to me. The stars were aligned in terms of what my influences were.
That opening tune, “The World We Knew (Over and Over)” really soars. What made you want to take on the Frank Sinatra tune?
I love the challenge of how range-y it is. I know how much he loved opera. He loved singers like Robert Merrill, the great baritone. Sometimes, those songs are more like deep cuts but you can hear the reverence and respect he has for the voice. When I listened to that song, it made me want to try to tackle it. From a lyric standpoint, it had meaning that maybe was intended and maybe wasn’t. You start to listen to the message, and that means something today. It means something deeply today — just like “Impossible Dream.” That’s the incredible thing about songs that are universally classic. Does anyone need the five hundredth version of this song? The reason can sometimes be "yes" if it takes on fresh meaning and putting a fresh light on it continues to give it light and relevance. It’s really fun to open the show with it.
CODA reintroduced me to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” I love your version with Sara Bareilles. Talk about recording it.
My friend Marius de Vries did a lot of the music to CODA, and I love that movie. I love that song and I was terrified to do it. It’s a song about perspective. You can’t sing it without having some perspective. I love hear Joni re-sing it on the album she put out almost ten years ago with the beautiful Vince Mendoza orchestra. She re-sings the song and does it with this knowledge and wisdom and understanding. I called up Sara Bareilles, and we both share the same respect and fear of doing those Joni songs. I want to do them right and give them justice. We said if there was ever a time when we feel what this song means, it would be right now. It was extremely meaningful.
Your version of Elvis Presley’s “Now or Never” is lots of fun. Talk about it.
Sometimes, you get thrown into songs you would never tackle, especially if it’s by such an iconic artist like Elvis. I got asked to sing for an NBC special where they recreating his big comeback special. They did it song by song. They had a ton of different artists doing it. They asked me to sing it. I had such a blast singing it on NBC. I had always kept it in the back of my head. I was working with the wonderful Steve Jordan, an incredible producer and drummer whose out drumming with the Rolling Stones right now. We’ve recorded three or four songs together in the past. He’s always loved that song. He said, “Josh, please do that song.” He plays drums on it and got his musician friends whom he thought would be good for it. That was just pure fun. It was a splash of cold water. We needed something with a little rhythm and we had a fun time.
That gospel choir on “The Fullest” really nails it. Talk about working with it.
I wasn’t expecting to write anything on the Harmony album. Sometimes, songs just come out when you don’t expect them to. I had this song, and it had this message to it. Kirk Franklin is someone who’s just absolutely positive and infectious spirit has been really powerful. It doesn’t matter what you believe in. His music always put a smile on your face. His choirs are second-to-none. I reached out to him. We had worked together a little on my Christmas album. Everything had to be separate. I haven’t seen him in person. He sent me back a light demo. I was like, “Are you kidding me? It was outrageous.” It was everything I needed to refill my tank. We had an absolute blast with it. I hope we can do it live sometime.
What has it been like to finally reconnect fans after two years?
For me, I have gone two or three years between tours. On the other hand, it’s two or three years that feel like 20. We didn’t go away because it was time to make a new album. We went away because the world stopped for everybody. It has felt like way longer than three years. We have collectively been through hell. I’m stepping on stage feeling very fortunate that I still have my health. A lot of people can’t say that. We come out with an enormous sense of gratitude and just escapism. We want people to come out and heal through music as only music can do. It helps us get back in touch with ourselves. Being able to listen to music and make music was extraordinarily helpful and therapeutic for me. For everyone out in the seats, we share that in common. To receive that together in the same space again for the first time in three years is different. We’re in need of healing. It’s a tour about getting out and healing together. That makes it exponentially more powerful for all of us.
Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].