Why 15 minutes on the phone with Josh Groban was worth it

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I have seen Josh Groban in the flesh exactly once. The year was 2007 and I was a senior in high school, and watching him sing during his Awake Tour is still a contender for the title of Best Two Hours or So of My Life. If you sit and listen to “Awake” on your Walkman on repeat for at least three days, you will understand.

I found myself back in Groban-music-on-repeat-mode from 12:45-2 p.m. Wednesday before interviewing him for an article previewing his July 19 performance at Greensboro’s White Oak Amphitheatre (Grobanites, you can get tickets here).

The 15 minutes I held him captive on the phone weren’t enough to get through all of my questions, but those minutes did get me thinking about what I’ve learned from Groban over the years. It was worth it.

(1) Strive to be better in person than you are digitally.

Groban is one of those rare artists whose live performances are so shockingly better than anything of his on a CD (or iTunes, or the Internet). In the age of constant self-editing via social media, it’s a sweet reminder to be your best self in person and out loud and in this moment.

(2) Worrying about everything has no point.

“You can always be worried,” Groban, 35, told me when I asked if he worries about people his own age not being drawn to his style of music. “I’m an over-thinker. I worry about everything.”

But, he said, “I like to be pleasantly surprised when I look out each night (at a concert) and I see thousands of people of all ages having a great time.”

(3) “Don’t give up, because you are loved.”

Doesn’t everyone need to be told this sometimes?

(4) Be yourself. That will resonate with people.

“I’ve always felt like the weird guy. … I’ve always had an old soul when it comes to music,” said Groban, who grew up in what he called “the grunge period of the ’90s.” He went to concerts like Pearl Jam and Guns N’ Roses, but his own musical instincts were more traditional. He wondered if other “weirdos” were out there and whether his music would resonate.

It did, and it still does. Groban, lord of dramatic lyrics and operatic vibrato, has sold millions of albums and has just returned from an international tour.

(5) There’s never enough time to say everything you want to say.

I had quite the stream of questions lined up for Groban, but he had rehearsals scheduled for his On Stage summer tour featuring “Stages” and his greatest hits. So I crammed as many of my questions into the phone as I could. And I didn’t get to ask them all — not even close — but I got what I needed. Especially when he was describing his anticipation for his fall Broadway debut as the star of “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.”

He told me his master plan behind this experience: ”I’m also going to be a sponge. I’m going to soak up as much of it as I can.”

Aren’t we all meant to do that?

Photo: Brian Bowen Smith

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