BWW Interview: Ramin Karimloo on RAMIN AT THE PALLADIUM
Ramin Karimloo is a leading man at the forefront of the musical theatre industry worldwide. He is most fondly known for playing the Phantom in The Phantom of the Opera and Jean Valjean in Les Miserables. He appeared in the 25th Anniversary celebrations for both productions and has won a multitude of awards, as well as being nominated for an Olivier award in 2011 and a Tony Award in 2014. Ramin is going to be performing in a one-off solo concert with his band at the London Palladium in July. BWW:UK chats to Ramin about the concert and his future ambitions.
Earlier this year, you played sold out shows at the Union Chapel and Assembly Hall in London, which admittedly are half the size of the Palladium capacity wise! How does it feel to be showcasing your personal work on such a large platform?
I still can't quite get my head around it - it's pretty awesome! What a cool story to tell to my kids in years to come. I recently watched Tonight At The Palladium on TV and couldn't believe that was going to be our stage soon. I was originally seduced by thinking we should put on a full production but then I decided that as a band, we just need to keep doing what we know because that's what got us here. So we are not going to change anything, just keep growing. I want to make sure we don't alienate those who have grown with us. We just want to keep putting on the best shows possible.
We did have a conversation about expanding the group but I feel like adding more people now wouldn't be the right thing to do. We are solid together and I have so much trust in Sergio (guitarist), Alan (pianist) and now Jessie - our new drummer - who's unbelievable. I would be happy if it remained us four but then hopefully we will also have Hadley (Fraser) joining us.
Broadgrass is a musical genre that you created with Hadley Fraser. Can you explain a little more about this style of music.
It all happened organically. I was signed to Sony and recorded a pop album. Looking back, there's a lot I would do differently but at the same time, without it, I wouldn't know what I know now. When we started touring and as the orchestrations got bigger, I wanted to revert back to doing something acoustically. So we tried adding a song occasionally where it was just guitar and voice. That then became a highlight based on the feedback we received and it also really resonated with us. When we were in America, I was really pushing the Bluegrass vibe and left the theatre side. Looking back now, that was a slight mistake but I was influenced by it as much as Broadway. The term 'broadgrass' happened in Texas. A country producer said the songs are bonafide because it's you and you have the country sound and heart for it - it all works but what genre is it?! We didn't know! There's rapidgrass, there's bluegrass, there's newgrass... I said we are a broad spectrum of things so let's call it broadgrass as a joke - and it stuck! Nine months later, I'm doing an interview in Japan for the 4 Stars musical concert we did out there and in the translation I hear the word 'broadgrass'. She wanted to know when we were bringing broadgrass to Japan which was amazing!
Your last EP (The Road To Find Out: East) was released in 2014 and the next one The Road To Find Out: South is currently in progress. Can you tell us what to expect with the new EP?
The whole Road To Find Out EP should consist of four to give you the whole story but I don't want it to be just a continuation; I want there to be a growth. When I thought about doing these four EPs, I had all the songs in my head that I wanted to feature but obviously it's been two years since the last one - I was hoping I'd have them all done by now! I didn't want to commit to one full album right away. Also I wanted to drip feed it because broadgrass was new and I didn't want to jump the gun. I want to keep learning as a musician/singer and tour the songs. So this album is different in the sense that it has more of our souls in it. The first EP I love but it was remotely recorded. I was in London and Sergio would send his stuff over from New York and others sent their contributions from other parts of the world. For this one, I said I wanted us all in one room. So we had a two day opportunity to get five songs done. I wanted to turn on the mics and just see what happened. It didn't have to be perfect, I wanted it to be real. Obviously we have the ability to drop in some sounds and textures but I want to do it like a performance. I don't care if there's a slight bum note here or there.
What's amazing is that I played guitar on all of the tracks. I remember when I was leaving for the airport and I asked Sergio if he had done all of his guitar bits. He said he wasn't on the guitar for this album. I couldn't believe it because he's one of the best guitar players in New York! However, the charm of it is looking at how much we have changed already. I'm not saying I'm great on the guitar but somehow it worked because my imperfections on it are part of the song. It isn't a full studio album with a label behind us; the whole point is that it's a passion project. We have no one to answer to, only ourselves and that's how I want to keep it going. Who knows if it will take off; the point is, great supporters who are buying tickets to see the show do so based on what they know so why mess with it? I take on board the fan opinion because they are the ones who keep coming back.
Do you have a release date for your next EP?
No date at the moment but I'm planning to have it out before the Palladium gig. It's all been mixed and recorded now. My piano player Alan is producing it so it's all done within our band. I'm interested to see what he does but what I've heard so far, I'm really proud of.
As well as performing songs from your EP at the concert, will you also be performing a selection of musical theatre numbers?
Of course. A lot of my ideas are theatre based. I've looked for songs that I've always wanted to sing like 'Ol' Man River' - that happened by accident as I got inspired by Colm (Wilkinson) and his version. I wondered how it would sound with just a guitar and fortunately I knew the chords so I gave it a go. Now it's on the album and it was done in one take; just me and the guitar.
Do you have a preference between large theatres/arenas or intimate venues?
I always like the intimate gigs but even at the Palladium, I want the audience to feel like they are up close - that's the challenge. When I saw Mumford and Sons at the O2, it still had an intimate feel. It was a big production and the screens always help with that but I still felt that the way they performed drew us in - because they are good songs. At the Palladium, sometimes even in a space like that, one mic and an unplugged guitar will still land with the person at the back. That's the plan at least!
You recently performed as Che in Evita for Vancouver Opera. How was that experience?
It was amazing. Great people and a great Director. It was run really well and was extremely successful. After I finished Les Miserables last September, I asked the universe for time and diversity. I've had so much diversity since then and now I have the time. For the first time in my life, I'm not itching to work again right now and I'm happy to sit back; be a dad, check my wife still loves me! I've been away a long time so I hope she remembers what I look like! I wasn't in this shape when I left so hopefully that's a bonus!
You have played some of the biggest male roles in musical theatre. Are there any roles left on your bucket list?
Absolutely. Sweeney Todd - I'd love to give that a go. Definitely Bobby in Company - I feel now is the time for a role like that. Also Guido in Nine. What's great is that the contracts I've been doing recently have been short so I can do more in a smaller space of time and work with different directors. That diversity will help me grow as an actor and I already feel like I'm singing better. I'm very lucky that where I am right now is exactly what I asked for. I'm happy to be mowing my lawn and telling my kids off!
Do you have any future projects in the mix that you are able to speak about yet?
Not yet but there is something I'm hoping will happen. The good news is that it would keep me in London and I'm definitely behind it 100% so we will have to wait and see. It would be working with a phenomenal director who I would learn so much from so that really excites me.
How would you sell your concert to anyone who has not yet got a ticket for Ramin at the Palladium?
Tickets are going fast so don't miss out on something you've never seen before.
Ramin Karimloo will be playing at the London Palladium on Saturday 16 July 2016 for one night only.