SOUND OFF Special Interview: Josh Young Talks Solo Album, AMAZING GRACE Workshop & More
Today we are talking to one of Broadway's biggest recent rising stars all about his sensational sophomore solo album, STILL DREAMING OF PARADISE, as well as his role in this weekend's invitation-only reading of the new musical AMAZING GRACE - 2011-2012 season standout and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR Tony Award nominee Josh Young. Espousing on the many elements that converged to make his solo album a reality, Young outlines his process with his close collaborators by discussing the imperative inspirations behind it, subsequent arrangement experimentation, actual studio recording process, scientific song selection, major project goals and a lot more, as well as shares memories of what many of the album's tracks mean to him on a personal level and what we can expect from albums from him in the future, near and far. Plus, Young reveals his affection for his first major New York post-SUPERSTAR production, AMAZING GRACE, as he shares his enthusiasm for the daring subject, rich source material - no less than the life of controversial historical figure John Newton - and the purportedly thrilling new score composed for it - as well as the unique and compelling tale behind its conception and creation - while the new musical takes this next step in its developmental process in the Lincoln Center-set industry presentation. Additionally, Young touches upon his favorite memories from the Tony Awards and participating in the Transport Group's recent concert production of BABY - and much, much more!
More information on Josh Young's STILL DREAMING OF PARADISE is available at his official site here.
Paradise On His Mind
PC: There are quite a few unexpected song selections on your new album - CATS to SOUTH PACIFIC to MULAN to the Muppets to the Beatles and beyond. Have you ever encountered a song you wanted to cover but couldn't make it work for your voice?
JY: [Laughs.] Well, you know… it depends. Sometimes it seems like it just won't work, but I always somehow seem to figure out a way in the end. I think that basically treating every song in its own way is the best way to make it work out for you. Of course, some stuff goes a little too low for me, but usually not too high for me to handle it, so I never really had a problem fitting in everything I wanted to.
PC: How did you come to include John Bucchino's "It Feels Like Home" on the album? It's superlative.
JY: Oh, I loved that song from the very first time I heard it. I actually heard it before I even knew Daisy [Prince] or anything and since then I've gotten to know her and she's so great. But, yeah - I love her original recording of that one.
PC: What can you tell me about the Lucy Simon material on STILL DREAMING OF PARADISE?
JY: That song was actually written for a project callEd HeathCLIFF that Christopher Jackson and I did a workshop of - it was basically WUTHERING HEIGHTS: THE MUSICAL. I think it was the last show that Lucy and Marsha Norman wrote together - but, I guess nothing came of it. There is some really great music in it in addition to that one, though - it's really a great score. The song on my album isn't a song my character sang in it, actually. I played the role of Heathcliff's brother and Chris Jackson played Heathcliff - in the first workshop, my role was workshopped by Brian D'Arcy James and Adam Pascal playe Heathcliff, I think, and then a couple workshops down the line it was me and Chris Jackson. It's an interesting relationship between the two characters - there's this flashback to them as children and that's where the song takes place in the show.
PC: What a shame the show has yet to find a life - it seems to have a lot of promise.
JY: I know! It is a really interesting project, I think, but it's only been workshopped as far as I know. Other people have recorded songs from it, though - I know Brian and Adam recorded some stuff live, but we didn't get to do anything in the studio or live. I don't know why it fell apart and never happened - I did the workshop like six years ago now. Hopefully I'll be working with Lucy again sometime soon, though, because I really enjoy working with her.
PC: What was it like performing on the Tony Awards last year?
JY: Well, I was really trying to just enjoy being there - it was such a gift. Performing was awesome, but, man, was there a lot of pressure!
PC: I bet! All eyes on you.
JY: And, at the beginning of the song - for, like, the first ten or fifteen seconds - I thought that my mic had gone out! I was losing my mind!
PC: Was it just a technical gaffe?
JY: Yeah - I thought my mic had gone out, but it hadn't; no one could tell from the audience or at home, but my mic popped and I thought it had gone out. I could hear nothing - I was like, "Is this really happening?!" So, then, I just decided to sing my loudest and hope for the best! [Laughs.]
PC: And it worked! It was a tremendous performance.
JY: Thank you. But, yeah, it all worked out OK, thankfully. You know, just being there and having a front row seat for all of those amazing performances was my favorite part - seeing Neil [Patrick Harris] and Patti LuPone and all those casts. Getting to meet Mandy Patinkin there was such a thrilling moment for me, too - I have just been such a huge fan of his for so long.
PC: Was the final performance of SUPERSTAR bittersweet? What was it like for you on a personal level?
JY: It was a very emotional performance for everyone in the cast and it was very sad that we had to close like we did because we had such high hopes for the run of the show. Looking at the positive side of it, on a personal note, I was happy to have a life again, though - you know, when you play that role, you can't really have your own life; you have to commit yourself to the role all of the time. So, you can't go out and have drinks after the show or anything - you have to go home. As an artist, I think you always have to take care of yourself as a person probably even more than the average person because your body is so important to your art.
PC: There's some irony in living like a monk to play Judas…
JY: [Laughs.] That's definitely true.
PC: One unique aspect to the recent revival was your character's inclusion in "Could We Start Again Please?" How did that change come about?
JY: That was really all Des's idea. We just sort of did it and tried it out and when Andrew [Lloyd Webber] and Tim [Rice] came to see it I guess they loved it. I wonder if they are going to do it again in the future like that in any productions? I don't know, but it might be cool if they go that way with it.
PC: Why in particular do you think the SUPERSTAR revival closed so soon? Was it a bit ahead of the popular curve do you think?
JY: [Sighs.] I really don't know. Going into it, you know, I thought we would run for a very long time, just based on the audience that we had at Stratford and then out of town and then again at the beginning of the run in New York… so, I really don't know. [Pause.] Audiences loved it every single night, I can tell you that - they always went nuts for it. But, looking back on it now, you know, it was a totally life-changing experience for me and it also had the benefit of getting my voice into the best condition possible, so I am thankful for that aspect of it, too.
PC: So, how did this album project first come about?
JY: Basically, the people at the Stratford Festival said that they all wanted another album - they loved the first one and they really wanted a preservation of our EVITA in some way and since we didn't do a recording, I, essentially, did this follow-up album for the Stratford fans and also because of my desire to do another album. One of our producers who became a part of the JCS team in New York, Allan Detsky - he was one of the above-the-title producers on Broadway; and he is also doing Yoko Ono's new show YOSHIMI - he came to see me in EVITA and I guess he really liked my work and so he came to talk to me after the show and said, basically, "What can I do for your career?" He is a mentor to medical students, too - and even figure skaters and other artists; and, he is also a theatrical producer at the same time. So, yeah, I guess it's sort of a very strange story of how the album came to be produced. He was a doctor and now he's a record producer and a Broadway producer. He does it all.
PC: You recorded this right before you started with SUPERSTAR, yes? After EVITA.
JY: Yes, I did - right; before SUPERSTAR.
PC: How did you devise the final song list for the album?
JY: Well, my producer, Allan, said to me, "My favorite aspects of your voice are its beauty, its power and its masculinity, so that's what I want to explore on this album." That's what he wanted to show off with this album. So, I said, "OK!" And, so, we e-mailed for a few months and discussed all kinds of different songs - we threw out all these different song ideas and then we rated all of the top choices we all agreed upon with a 10-point scale based on those three things and how they applied with the songs. At the end, the ones that had the highest scores we chose for the album, and, so, for the most part, that's how we ended up picking the songs.
PC: What a scientific system!
JY: Yeah, yeah - but, then there are a few things that totally didn't pass that test that we included anyway; "Heaven Bound" is one.
PC: Right - you have two fantastic Brian Lowdermilk songs on there, actually.
JY: Yes - I love working with Brian and actually the first job I got in New York City after LES MIZ was a workshop of one of his shows; THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS, a show that he did with Kait Kerrigan. The music was just fantastic - gorgeous, gorgeous music. I don't think that that project ever went anywhere either, but I am not sure. We did a demo of it, but that was it. It was part of the second season at NYMF. Alison Fraser was in it, too, actually - and she is just awesome. She is the nicest woman in the world and she has been so, so supportive of my in my career. She is just such a great woman.
PC: Have you two discussed FALSETTOS? You'd be an amazing Marvin, I bet.
JY: We may have, actually! She may have said something to me once. I absolutely love William Finn - anything of his you can name, I probably know by heart. I love his stuff.
PC: What is your favorite of his?
JY: Oh, there are so many - I think right now my favorite to sing is that Homeless Lady's song from A NEW BRAIN, "Change"? The range in that song is just crazy - I love it.
PC: "Sailing" is another gem from that score. Are a big fan of the show?
JY: Oh, yeah. I love that score. You know, I did this community theater thing every Saturday and Sunday night growing up and when I was a teenager and the woman who ran the program knew like every show ever and one of the songs we did was "What Would I Do?" And, I sang that as a duet with a friend of mine who finally just made it to New York this year. He was, like, Stone to my Stine in CITY OF ANGELS when we were 15 and we did BLOOD BROTHERS together and all of that stuff. So, now, he has finally made it to New York - people are going to be looking out for him soon; he's so talented.
PC: What is the most special track on the album to you, if forced to choose just one?
JY: Well, you know, we really wanted it to make an album that would appeal to all ages - Rodgers & Hammerstein to contemporary rock. But, when I first met fiancée, we were working on this album and we all ordered in Chinese food and I was telling my producers about just meeting her for the first time and everything and I said, "I need you guys to write me one original song for this album." So, this song was exactly what I was talking about that day; "The Man That I Could Be". It's about the whole feeling of meeting her and all of that stuff - it's all about my fiancée, essentially.
PC: A definite standout. Also, how did this re-interpretation of "Heaven On Their Minds" arise? It's quite a radical reworking.
JY: I actually can't take any credit for "Heaven On Their Minds" - that's all my producer, Alan, who had this friend with this rockabilly sensibility and he had this band - and, so, he wanted to do something a little bit different with the piece. Now, this was actually recorded before we started rehearsals for JCS and I didn't even know how I would be singing the song in the show yet and I didn't know what our orchestrations would be like. So, I knew that Stratford audiences would want to hear me do the song on the CD if they were coming to see me in SUPERSTAR, so, Alan brought the band in and we did it reconceived without the guitar riff at first - which was cool, but it wasn't right; so, then, we added the guitar in to the track that we already had laid down, pretty much, later on. So, that was added after everything else - it's all still in the original key, but it's a little different, I think.
PC: What was the inspiration behind the Randy Newman song's inclusion, "When She Loved Me"?
JY: Well, come on - it's from TOY STORY 2! [Laughs.] No, but, seriously, I just love that song - and I love singing it live, especially. I don't remember when I first heard it, but I have always loved hearing it and I can't wait to sing it live in some shows if I get the opportunity.
PC: Covering the Beatles to Rodgers & Hammerstein, at what point in the process did you decide to include "This Nearly Was Mine" from SOUTH PACIFIC?
JY: Well, we recorded that while I was in rehearsals for JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR up at Stratford, which was the time in my life where I did the most work I did ever. What I was doing was that I was singing Judas all day long and then I would drive from Stratford to Toronto, at, say, around 7 - it would take me about two hours - and then I would record all night. I would never suggest that to anybody who is recording a CD to do - that is not the way to do it and I learned a lesson by doing it that way. I won't make that mistake again. [Laughs.] But, yeah - as I said, we wanted to cover as many age groups as possible with this one and I think we succeeded overall.
PC: Would you consider doing a completely contemporary album someday, perhaps?
JY: Oh, sure. I know that Brian and Kait wanted to put together a pop CD with some other composers and do an all-new-songs kind of thing in a Josh Groban sort of style; you know, you get all these amazing songs you've never heard before and then record them all. So, we had thousands of people submit to us after we put out a notice, but, after Stratford that kind of fell by the wayside, but, now, I think that that is the next thing I want to make happen. We'll see.
PC: I was curious: what were your own favorite albums growing up?
JY: My favorites growing up were always Billy Joel, Michael Jackson... and Placido Domingo. [Laughs.]
PC: You should do an all Billy Joel album - your voice is so perfect for his material.
JY: Yeah, I love RIVER OF DREAMS and STORM FRONT, especially. I would love to do a concert of all his songs. "Honesty", "She's Got A Way", "Piano Man" - he has so many great songs.
PC: Speaking of roles future and past: you recently participated in the Transport Group BABY concert. Was performing Maltby & Shire material fun for you to do?
JY: Oh, yeah - that was a lot of fun. That material, for example, fits my voice really well - a great part of my voice.
PC: Would you like to do that show again in the future?
JY: I'd love to - I loved that role, but he's a little young, though, isn't he? [Laughs.] Isn't he like 21? But, yeah - that was so much fun to do and I would do absolutely anything for the Transport Group. They are so good at what they do and I love working there. When they asked me to do the BABY concert, I just said "As long as I can sing 'I Chose Right'!" And that's what we did.
PC: What have you been up to since SUPERSTAR?
JY: Well, I did a big concert in Shanghai with some great UK people - Kerry Ellis and some other great people. And, also, I did a workshop of a show called ZULU, THE ACROBAT out in Seattle - it's a great project and I love doing new work like that. I really, really love new work and that's why, you know, I produced a concert series supporting new musicals and stuff like that. I hope to do more things like that. And, next, I will be workshopping AMAZING GRACE, another new musical.
PC: What can you tell me about AMAZING GRACE?
JY: AMAZING GRACE is about the man who wrote "Amazing Grace", John Newton. It's a really great show - I have been workshopping it for a while now, actually. It came up again when I was doing JCS and I couldn't do that production of it, but it is such an amazing show and I am so happy I get to do it again. If you go on AGmusical.com you can hear some of the demos from the show, too, so I recommend to people to do that if they want to check it out.
PC: It's quite a compelling real-life story.
JY: It is! I'm telling you, this story is just amazing. He was a terrible, terrible person who reformed himself completely - I mean, he was a slave trader who completely changed his life. This story just lends itself to being an epic, huge, LES MIZ-like thing - it takes place on the high seas and in Africa and all over. It's such an unbelievably exciting project for me to be a part of.
PC: Christopher Smith is the composer, correct? A newcomer as far as I know.
JY: Yes. You know, I don't think he has never written a musical before, but you would never know it from this! You really wouldn't. But, I guess the story is that he was like a police officer and he became inspired to write this - it's a whole crazy story. There's an article about it on the website.
PC: What has been your journey with the show up until this point?
JY: Well, I have done three or four workshops of it so far. Laura Michelle Kelly and Terry Mann did the last one with me; we've had these amazing casts for every single one we've done. [Pause.] It's just this big, amazing mega-musical - and I am so, so happy to be a part of it.
PC: Congratulations on all the new endeavors. We all can't wait for your next album and whatever you do next onstage, Josh!
JY: Thanks so much, Pat - I really appreciate this. Bye bye.
Photo Credit: Walter McBride, etc.