The last few years have been big ones for Josh Groban, Musical Theatre Nut.
In 2015, the pop-classical singer famous for his big voice (and his boyish looks) earned a Grammy nomination for his album Stages, which featured renditions of classic Broadway tunes from the likes of Carousel and Les Miserables.
The next year, he made his debut on the Great White Way with a starring role in Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet Of 1812, an experimental adaptation of Tolstoy’s War And Peace. Then, in June, he co-hosted the Tony Awards with Sara Bareilles.
“What can I say?” Groban, 37, asked over coffee on a recent morning in Burbank, California. “I like diving into things.”
Now the Los Angeles native, who dropped out of Carnegie Mellon University when he signed a record deal at 18, is showcasing two of his other guises.
On Sept 21, he released Bridges, a new album that revisits the sweeping style of his early work (but in songs he co-wrote).
That same day, Netflix premiered The Good Cop, a quirky comedy series from Monk creator Andy Breckman, in which Groban portrays the squeaky-clean son of a disgraced police officer played by Tony Danza.
What did you learn from doing Broadway?
It toughened me up. This business is hard anyway, but eight shows a week was unlike anything I’ve experienced before.
Broadway also teaches you the power of collaboration. You’re a cog in a wheel. This was an ensemble cast, and most of the actors came from way off-Broadway; they were musicians with their own bands or orchestras, which I’d go see every time I had a day off. My album would not have happened if it wasn’t for the inspiration I got from the cast.
Were you thinking about the album as you did the show?
You spend a lot of hours in your dressing room, so I had a little keyboard set up and was constantly throwing ideas down on my iPhone. After having done a musical theatre album that then led into a Broadway run, I was just feeling that itchiness to write songs again.
Before Stages, you made two albums of your own tunes, including a relatively stripped-down record produced by Rick Rubin. That one kind of reframed you as a sensitive folkie – not the kid blasting away like a mini Andrea Bocelli.
If there was one thing I felt I could’ve handled differently with the Rick process, it was that I was so focused on the songwriting that I kind of stopped focusing on my voice for a minute. I said, “I’m a little burnt out having to be the hit-the-money-note guy.”
You sound apologetic about it.
Not apologetic – just aware. I was wound pretty tight when I first went to Rick. There was a certain producing style that I was used to, which was very performance-driven. Each day you had to leave a pint of blood.
Do you think you succeeded in establishing a more realistic picture of Josh Groban?
I think I did all right. My fanbase was split down the middle. But it certainly opened a confidence zone in me to feel like I could approach these albums from a more personal space, whatever the style of production. I realised I don’t need the magic feather – it’s something I have in me, and I can continue to do it.
Bridges finds a middle ground between the two approaches. It uses powerful vocals to tell intimate stories.
I agree. It’s got what I wanted to say about my own life experiences. But I wasn’t afraid to reestablish a certain sound to my singing.
So you’ve done all this work to dismantle the widely held image of you as an angelic boy wonder. But on TV, you’re basically back to that in The Good Cop.
The other characters (on the show) call me the choirboy.
Exactly! What a perverse choice.
My character is tone-deaf, though, so there’s no angelic singing, at least.
Look, there were many years where I might not have been comfortable being that earnest because I felt at the time that the whole picture of me wasn’t entirely accurate. Now that I’ve been able to do some weird stuff, I feel lucky to have an opportunity to do something like this. And the difference is that I’m taking ownership of that perception – I’m doing it in a tongue-in-cheek way.
Your portrayal is funnier because of what we know of your history.
Totally. Knowing that Andy Breckman was always going to do things with a wink and a nudge – that did not go unnoticed by me when I read the pilot. Also, anytime you’re playing somebody with “good” in the title, there’s all kinds of room to break bad.
How long did you spend making The Good Cop?
We shot for almost five months.
That’s a chunk of time. And you’re touring this fall. Do you think differently now than you did in your 20s about how to balance your professional and personal lives?
Definitely. There was a point in my mid- to late-20s when I felt like a heart surgeon with a pager.
I was thrown into a professional master class at a young age, but I was such a late bloomer in terms of prioritising my personal life. You have to communicate with the people close to you, and that was something I learned the hard way a couple of times.
That said, I still love to work; it’s something that comes up a lot in the relationship I’m in currently (with actress and writer Schuyler Helford).
I’d love to have a family one day. But I want to be the father that my dad has been to me. My dad would go to work in the morning, come home and have a scotch and help me with my homework. I want desperately to be that. Anything less really scares me. – Los Angeles Times/Tribune News Service