On Sunday, Josh Groban will perform at Sleep Train Arena, site of an early career milestone.
In 1999, a teenage Groban lent his extraordinary baritone to the “Phantom of the Opera” song “All I Ask of You” at Gov. Gray Davis’ inaugural gala. Groban landed the gig through David Foster, the golden-touch record producer to whom the youngster recently had been introduced by his vocal coach. Foster would help shape Groban’s career for several years.
Groban, 32, since has sold 25 millions records and DVDs worldwide and recently added more oomph to his operatic pop with the 2013 album “All That Echoes.” The album was produced by Rob Cavallo, Warner Bros. Records chairman and one-time Green Day and Kid Rock producer. (Foster now works exclusively for Universal).
Groban also shows ample personality away from music, acting on NBC’s “The Office” and hosting “Live” with Kelly Ripa when she was between permanent co-hosts.
Already well-rounded, Groban will be “in the round” Sunday. Groban, 20-plus musicians and a choir will perform on a centralized stage, the audience surrounding them.
Reached recently by phone at his home in his native Los Angeles, a lively and good-humored Groban discussed his tour, “Echoes” and his longtime dream of a Broadway role.
Why an ‘in-the-round’ format?
I have always been intrigued by the different ways that artists have pulled it off. There’s obviously the people who do it in the football stadium, like U2. I have been kind of more interested in the vibe Sinatra had at (Madison Square Garden). You know, where you basically make it about the music. There’s nowhere to hide, and you feed off a one-of-a-kind energy that you get every night. So that you’re not just standing in front of a backdrop doing your same old show. You’re in the middle of it.
You have some very enthusiastic fans. Will this format allow them to reach out and touch you?
(Laughs). Well, I mean, they’re not supposed to. I suppose they could if they wanted to – they are going to be awfully close to the stage.
I like running through the crowd sometimes. ... Every now and then, they get a good grab. Which is probably part of the game. Security would not agree with me, but I’m cool with it. A little groping never hurt anybody.
Your album “All That Echoes” has a slightly more rocking feel to it than previous albums. Was that from working with Rob Cavallo?
I think Rob Cavallo has a natural rock energy. ... My live shows have a lot of energy to them. So we thought to ourselves, “OK, well rather than make an album that’s super intimate, and super sleepy and have an amazingly energetic time (live) that everybody’s loving, why don’t we try to bring that live energy to the album?”
We recorded things live (with all the musicians) in the room, and in a way where you say, “How do we get people to clap when this is over?” ... So I think because of that, there was an intensity and an energy to the music. But I would never pretend that what I am doing is rock music — in the same way that singing in a foreign language doesn’t make it opera.
You have expressed interest in doing a Broadway role. Will that happen any time soon?
I think next year I will at least start putting the ducks in a row to start planning a Broadway run of something. ... The Broadway community has been so nice to me and so open-armed when I have dipped my toe into those waters – doing (a sing-through of) “Chess” at Royal Albert Hall, doing various Broadway events for Barbara Cook, or Stephen Sondheim’s birthday concert, or whatever else. ... I think the only thing missing for me now is to take on a part, and dive into it eight shows a week.
Do you have a dream Broadway role?
I grew up with Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber. I grew up dreaming of playing the Phantom one day. I grew up dreaming of playing Sweeney Todd. I think for me, any of the great baritone roles that don’t require you to dance are right up my alley. I like the meatier stuff. I like watching all sorts of musicals, but as a performer, I’ve never been a jazz-hands kind of guy.
You’ve had several roles on television and in movies. What does acting fulfill for you, as an artistic pursuit, that singing on stage does not?
When you’re as yourself, and it’s your microphone and your spotlight and your name and your face, there’s a certain responsibility. Sometimes really focusing on “Am I being my truest self?” all the time can be exhausting. So to be able to dive into a story and a character and to take away the pressure of “this is who people see me as, and this is me being myself,” is an amazing escape.
It seems like you have been around a long time, yet you’re only 32. The pressure you talk about — was it enormous when you were 20 years old and becoming famous?
Oh yeah. You can’t prepare yourself. You’re in a very cushioned world of living at home and high school ... and suddenly you are thrown into this pressure-cooker environment, trial by fire all the way. ... You are a kid in your bedroom suddenly having to be a “brand,” and suddenly having to kind of watch your own story play out in front of people. And sometimes you’re able to reel it in and control it, and sometimes it just kind of takes on a life of its own.
You know, as you get a little more experience — because I have been doing this for more than 12 years — you start to become at ease with who you are out there. ... So every bit of what I do (now), musically or acting-wise or hosting or whatever, really at this point is just what I love and who I am. It is a really fun and comfortable place to be.
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB