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Singing a mix of operatic tunes and sweeping ballads has been a successful formula for Josh Groban. Since the 25-year-old made his debut six years ago he has sold millions of albums with his soaring voice and classical-crossover sound.
But Groban decided to tinker with the formula on his latest album, Awake. He collaborated with the likes of Dave Matthews and Herbie Hancock, and used African rhythms on some songs, even adding the harmonies of South African acts like Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
He also put more of himself into the record by using his own pen, helping write some of the album’s songs. It was a bit of an artistic risk, but one Groban felt he needed to make after a life-changing trip to South Africa.
Q: Your trip to South Africa really influenced the record. Were you searching for a different artistic view before you got there?
A: When I went to South Africa, the only thing that I knew was just how much that I wanted to be there, and how much I’ve always ended up loving the music from South Africa. The trip for me, it could have been any number of things for me. It could have just been a fun experience ... and it could have been just one of those inspirational times in my life, and it just happened to be, not just for my music. Meeting Nelson Mandela, and being able to be the ambassador to his foundation (to help the impoverished and those with AIDS and HIV) ... that just left me with a feeling of wanting to come back and wanting to dedicate part of my life to helping that cause. Musically, it just kind of re-stirred something that was already there.
Q: This album definitely has more of a world view.
A: I think more and more I like to find songs that talk about and encourage the most universal truths. I think a song like Weeping ... reminds us all not to forget our common humanity in times of political struggle ... all sorts of differences. So, it’s very gratifying to be able to find music that has a message sometimes.
Q: You wrote a song on the album with Dave Matthews — most people wouldn’t picture you two together.
A: Dave and I hooked up because I basically just asked him. I was such a fan of the music for so long, and when I wrote the melody to Lullaby, I knew that Dave would be this incredible lyricist for this song, him being South African and just having a great poetic way of writing lyrics. I thought he would really understand the heart of the song.