It's hard to classify Josh Groban. Similar to James Franco, he wears many different hats: singer, songwriter, actor, and record producer---the list goes on. "I think when I first started out, a lot of people were wondering, 'What is this guy doing in my pop culture world? I'm not comfortable with this!'" he tells InStyle. "It wasn't a radio thing, it wasn't an MTV thing, and it wasn't a media darling thing. When you're not the norm, you have a fan base that's super passionate about you, and they become even more passionate because they see other people not getting it. They feel like your cheerleaders." With over 813,000 Twitter followers and 103,000 Instagram follows, it would seem Groban's fan club is almost unparalleled---they even have a special name for themselves: Grobanites (but more on that later).
So what's a jack-of-all-trades to do when he needs a new challenge? In his case, create a new throwback album that features the self-proclaimed Broadway nerd's favorite musical theater songs of all time (with guest vocals the likes of Kelly Clarkson and Audra McDonald). Stages (out today via Reprise Records) is an intricate compilation of 13 of Groban's all-time favorite ditties, including "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz and "Bring Him Home" from Les Misérables, expertly arranged with infectious melodies. "The arrangers are truly the unsung heroes of this album," he adds. We caught up with Groban at our N.Y.C. offices before the album's release. Here's an excerpt from our conversation:
Have you always been a big theater buff?
Pretty much. I was a musical theater major at Carnegie Mellon, and then I got signed when I was 17, so I took a leave of absence from school. My parents got a very angry letter. To revisit all those songs seven albums later is truly a full-circle experience. A lot of them came from the first shows that I saw.
How did the selection process work?
Any theater nerd will know that we always have the favorites. There are certain shows we saw when we were kids that we just love. For me, there were probably 30 or 40 favorites.
That's a lot of favorites.
Yeah, they can't really be considered favorites anymore when there are 40 of them! I have no filter, which is what it comes down to. No, it whittled down for a couple of reasons: 1. If it was right vocally or emotionally---I can't sing "Send in the Clowns" until I'm 80, and 2. Sometimes the arrangements would just be so special that it became undeniable. They're always able to find that extra string part or that horn part that makes it a definitive version of the song.
What was it like working with Kelly Clarkson?
I've known Kelly for a little bit, and I've always been a fan of her voice---I've always thought that she had an artistic sensibility that ran really deep. Even though she came from American Idol, she's very at ease with so many different styles. Plus, she's a Broadway fan, so I thought my best chance would be to send her something unexpected for her and her fans. So I sent her an e-mail to do "All I Ask of You"---it was the first song I ever sang to get a record deal when I was 17, so it needed to be special. She sent me an iPhone demo, and she nailed it right away.
Your music is known for putting women in the mood. What does that feel like?
I had no idea! I've always been really shy about my music with romance and things like that---I've always found it the cheesiest thing in the world to be like, "Babe, let me sing you a song." I won't be blasting show tunes into my lover's face. Whenever the boyfriend or the husband is dragged to the concert, I always say, "I'm doing this for you." There are two people that go to my shows: the die-hards, and the people who came with the die-hards who are on the fence. My goal is to have those people leave tweeting that they had an awesome time.
Speaking of die-hards, I recently came across the term "Grobanites".
It's cute. It may sound like something that needs a lotion, but that's their name and that's their journey and that's fine with me. It's great to have a fan base that's there for you no matter what. And sometimes that results in seeing a tattoo or two.
What's the craziest fan encounter you've ever had?
Some of my fans are crafty, like I'll get a pillow with my face embroidered on it---that kind of thing. Best sleep I've had in years! But generally, fans always have fun ways of showing their fandom, and I think that if I can focus their energy into something that's more philanthropy-based, like arts education, other than making me something, then that's great. I don't need any more pillows. Together we've developed my arts education foundation, Find Your Light, and they've helped raised millions. They're great that way.
The Grobanites are chattering about your eventual Broadway debut. What would be your ideal situation?
In many ways, making this album and the idea of going to Broadway one day are two separate mindsets. I didn't view the recording of it as a stepping stone to Broadway. When you study theater when you're young, you love it because you like the community and the work ethic and the discipline. I'm fortunate now that I have a position where, because of my name, offers come in, and that's very humbling, but I also want to make sure that if I do a role someday, I want to do it like the 17-year-old kid and not the guy who gets calls because of x, y, and z. I want to start from scratch. I want to be part of a cast that's tremendous, and I want to do a show that would allow me to do it for a whole year. So if and when that were to happen, I want it to happen the right way.
What shows have you seen lately that you've enjoyed?
I saw Hedwig, which I loved. I'm going to see Hamilton tomorrow night, which I'm really excited about. My voice coach is also the conductor on The Phantom of the Opera, so last night she invited me to go see it, and I got to sit in the orchestra pit. I sat between the cellist and the oboe player.
What were you doing there?
Just sitting. People were taking pictures of me in the front row. There are all these pictures of me on Twitter just enjoying being a dork. It's crazy down there, because you can't hear what's on stage---you can only follow the conductor. It's super isolated and super loud. It's a totally different animal.
Watch the trailer for Stages below, and buy the album for $11 on the iTunes Store.