Josh Groban, of the dramatic yet friendly voice and presence, is a fact of cultural life by now. His work as a proudly mainstream pop singer, actor of stage — musical theater division — and small screen has garnered nominations from the Emmy, Grammy and Tony camps. His singing partnerships include Celine Dion and Sarah McLachlan, and his philanthropic impulses led him to create the Find Your Light Foundation, supporting arts education for youths.
In a strong mid-career stride at age 41, he performs at the Santa Barbara Bowl on July 30, on tour to present music from his pandemic era-spawned album Harmony. With him on stage (and on the album), are esteemed Preservation Hall Jazz Band, violinist/singer Lucia Micarelli and singer-songwriter Eleri Ward, along with his longtime guitarist/music director, Santa Barbara-born and semi-based Tariqh Akoni.
Can you tell me about your overall concept for the Harmony Tour? This album had so many hurdles we needed to get around to make beautiful noise together. People were recording all over the world, and in their living rooms, always isolated, with nobody in the same space. And with the technology afforded to us now, we were able to make this album sound so great.
But I always knew if I had the opportunity to tour with songs from the Harmony album, it would be a cathartic, eclectic celebration of the togetherness we missed during the album making process. This show is pure love and gratitude for making music for fans and friends we’ve missed. I wanted the show to have that reunion feeling.
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You have really established your own sound and stylistic identity now. Who were your major influences in your formative days? It’s interesting now to look back at the process of making those first albums. It was a really surreal time because, on the one hand, I was selling super well, but on the other hand, I wasn’t really considered “in” with the music business. I was an enigma certainly to most music writers and things like the Grammys. It felt really isolating to not be part of the club, but I realize now that I was actually given a better opportunity to pave my own path and write my own playbook. It also kept me from the trappings of hype. Not being invited to the party means you don’t ever get distracted by it.
I grew up listening to singers with unique voices. Pavarotti, Bjork, Annie Lennox, Bill Withers … anyone who had a distinct sound. I also loved artists like Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel who introduced me to music from countries I’d never otherwise have heard. All that helped shape my influences, for sure.
You have ventured into acting and other modes of artistic expression. Do you see these as separate aspects of what you do as an artist, or are they connected? Sometimes I’ll take on a non-musical project and view it as separate or a “side project,” but in the overriding arc of my career I’ll realize in hindsight that it was very connected. Doing a musical theater album, for instance, led to my Broadway debut. One didn’t cause the other, but the universe decided that it was time, and I rode the wave.
So much of creativity is chasing waves of energy and saying yes to them. It’s always important to stay a student of those experiences and I always want to choose an endeavor that I can give all of myself to, but I can also take great lessons from.
At the end of the day, whatever the endeavor, it’s about telling stories and reaching people.