LOS ANGELES — Last month Josh Groban’s “All That Echoes” knocked Justin Bieber’s new album out of the top spot on the Billboard 200, and that’s not the crooner’s only incursion into territory normally reserved for pop stars.
The crossover artist’s latest release features material by Stevie Wonder and Jimmy Webb, while a deluxe edition available at Target adds Groban’s take on the Dave Matthews Band’s frat-house staple “Satellite.” The album’s producer? Rob Cavallo of Green Day and Adam Lambert fame.
“Rob told me, ‘Make your wheelhouse bigger. You have more in you than you think you do,’” Groban, 31, said recently over coffee in West Hollywood.
Bookishly stylish in a wool cardigan and slim-fit jeans, the singer — an L.A. native who ascended the music industry’s ranks in the early 2000s with a series of records long on sweeping semi-operatic fare — measured his thoughts as he spoke, though he also kept an eye on a big-screen television showing an NFL playoff game. “He really kind of mentally slapped me around and said, ‘Look, we’ll know when it’s too far.’”
Groban’s outreach to pop and rock reflects a larger trend in the classical-crossover scene that encompasses platinum-selling artists such as Andrea Bocelli, Sarah Brightman and Charlotte Church: Where these singers once strove to make classical repertoire safe for pop audiences, they now seem more interested in remaking pop as the stuff of everyday sophistication.
Three years after having the No.1-selling album of 2007, the holiday disc “Noel,” Groban initiated his move toward pop with “Illuminations.” Co-written under the supervision of rock/hip-hop producer Rick Rubin, the album was satisfying creatively, says Groban, but it didn’t sell nearly as well as its predecessors. It was an experience that left the singer feeling “a little gun-shy” about further experimentation. “The music-business side of me for a minute was like, I read the Amazon reviews of ‘Illuminations,’” Groban said. “What do the fans want to hear?”