Josh Groban has been a household name in music for 15 years. Ever since his 2003 album "Closer" was released and the smash hit "You Raise Me Up" entered the pop-culture consciousness, his polished, charismatic vocals and charming adult contemporary sound have been all but unavoidable. You may not know much about his music, but you've definitely heard that voice.
Over the years, however, Groban has proven himself to be about more than just pop-classical balladry, with a discography that skillfully blends covers, original songs, and foreign language tracks - as well as an entertainment career that has expanded to include theater, TV sitcom appearances, and now, a starring role as the detective Tony "TJ" Caruso Jr. on the Netflix series "The Good Cop."
On Tuesday, November 13, Groban will visit Rochester as part his current arena tour, supporting his latest album, "Bridges." In a recent phone interview, Groban talked about his vocal sound and delivery, the new album, and how he broke free from a constricting public image. Here's an edited version of that discussion.
CITY: Have there been notable changes in your vocal sound or your approach to vocal production over the years?
Josh Groban: What's changed I think, mostly for the better, is just the life experience and the interpretation of it, how you use your instrument. When I was younger, I had this voice, but I had no experience behind it. I was singing these very kind of heady, very emotional songs about breakups and love and loss, and all these things, and I was just kind of a kid. I was just plucked out of high school and freshman year of college, and was kind of approximating what those things might have been like, and was reaching a lot of people very emotionally, but in my own life had not really gone through those things yet.
So I think the benefit to getting a little older and having that experience is that you interpret it, you put color on your voice more mentally and emotionally as you spend more time singing. So it's good. I think at 37, I've got the right combination of life experience and vocal experience to do a show like the one I'm about to do, which is very, very challenging.
Well, the songs on "Bridges" were very, very challenging vocally, to sing. They really, I think, pushed every limit of my range. When I write, for whatever reason I tend to write really challenging stuff for myself.
It's my first arena show in five and a half years. So the energy of being back in a place that large is something that the fans and I haven't experienced in quite a few years now. That's given us kind of a really wonderful and revitalized performance energy out there. It's probably the most high-energy show I've ever done.
The classical crossover feel is something that, at this point, feels fairly inextricable in your performance. But "Bridges" does seem like more of a concerted effort toward pop music. Do you feel that, or is that inaccurate?
I have never classified myself as a classical crossover artist, for a couple of reasons. One, because I did not start in classical music. I'm not crossing over from opera. My voice and my music have always been very naturally, for better or for worse, kind of in the middle. I've always felt like my voice has always been its own thing - a weird lane that, whether I've wanted to change it or not, has been too pop for opera, and has always been too traditional sounding for Top 40. So from moment one, my albums and my music and my singing have been met with a little bit of skepticism and confusion from music journalists because it hasn't really fit in something.
Do you ever feel constricted by the public image, or the accompanying aesthetics of that image?
I feel like when I first started, I definitely did, because, you know, all people got to see of you was... if you sing a song that was sad, for instance, and that song became very famous, people just think of you as sad. Or if you sing a song that's inspirational, people just think of you as the guy who sings that. When I first started out, there wasn't social media. I wasn't acting at all. I wasn't doing comedy.
So I would say, yes, for the first five years or so of my career, I felt very constricted. Since then, I've gotten so many opportunities to do so many different kinds of things, from TV to comedy to hosting to all different kinds of duets.
Are there certain things you feel you have yet to accomplish musically?
I'd love to do some film score writing. I'd love to write some music that doesn't have all singing. You know, just think about kind of long-form arcs. That would be a great challenge. There's always duet partners. You think to yourself, "Oh wow, this would be really fun to blend with that person."
Are there any artist collaborations you'd love to do that might surprise people?
My answer to this has been the same for almost 20 years: I'd love to work with Björk. I've always loved Björk. I think she's amazing, and I love her arrangements. I would love to work with contemporary classical composers, people like Max Richter and Philip Glass. I would love to work with other instrumentalists. You know; someone like Yo-Yo Ma would be just amazing for baritone and cello. It'd be beautiful.