Michael Bublé Reflects on Record Company Rejections, Owning His Sound and Making ‘Magic’ With Paul McCartney for ‘Higher’ Album
It’s 25 minutes before showtime at Krakow, Poland’s Tauron Arena, and Michael Bublé is cool as a cucumber. A February chill in Europe, where he is touring across more than a dozen countries including the U.K., Germany, France, Spain and Italy, is nothing new to the singer raised outside Vancouver. Likewise, the dressing room serves as a familiar home away from home for the five-time Grammy winner, who picked up his latest gramophone statuette for traditional pop vocal album in February.
A dual citizen of both Canada and Italy, from where his maternal side hails, Bublé never gets stage fright. And 11 albums in — “Higher” was released last March — with sales topping 75 million and his songs streaming over 14 billion, sold-out crowds have also become de rigueur, worthy of recognition with Variety’s Intl. Achievement in Music Award, which he is receiving March 26 in London.
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“I can’t wait to get out there,” says Bublé of his impending curtain call in front of a crowd of 12,000. “I’m gonna throw a party tonight. We’re going to celebrate life and laugh and love. Last night, there was a really beautiful girl in the audience who had a hideous tattoo with my face on it. But I loved it. Who knows what’s gonna happen tonight? I just put on the Batsuit and we’re good to go.”
What Bublé does know, and always has, is that he was destined for success. And that’s not meant in any hubristic sense, but rather that “completely unrealistic” way in which artists chase a dream.
“I had no idea how I was going to get there, but I don’t think there was ever any doubt,” says Bublé, whose 2003 eponymous breakthrough album spawned four hit singles — among them renditions of the Bee Gees’ “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” and George Michael’s “Kissing a Fool” — and kickstarted a two-decades-and-counting-long career that is credited with reinvigorating the genre of traditional pop standards from the great American songbook.
“As a matter of fact, if I go back, I realize how stupid and silly I was,” he continues. “I was so very sure. I felt like, if I just set a plan, and took it day by day and stayed true to myself, and hopefully built up a team around me that loved me and believed in me, that I would somehow get to this point. And in hindsight, I realize how unbelievably lucky I have been. I don’t care how much talent you have, there are so many dominoes that have to fall in a perfect way for you to have that sort of dream come true. But I definitely had complete and utter belief that this would be the story. Maybe it was because I could not accept it not happening.”
There were dispiriting periods during which Bublé was “constantly down,” years of performing at shopping malls and on cruise ships and at Canadian dive bars and nightclubs including Vancouver’s now-shuttered Purple Onion Cabaret and the Reservoir Lounge in Toronto. In Boston, Bublé played Scullers Jazz club, a spot committed to bolstering up and coming talent.
“The people who discovered me, whether it was the record producers, my record company, my manager — all of them, at many different points, each of them said the exact same thing to me: ‘You are a really great kid. You’re very talented. But I just wouldn’t know what to do with you. And the answer for us is no,’” Bublé recalls. “That record producer who they say discovered me — he literally kicked me out. He said, ‘Get out, don’t bother me anymore.’ [Bruce Allen], my manager — for 20 years he’s managed me — for five or six years he said, ‘I’ve got Bryan Adams; I’ve got Bachman–Turner Overdrive; I love you kid, you’re a nice kid, but nope.’ And the record companies — and I went through each and every one of them — if they were kind enough to even give me a meeting, which many of them weren’t, they were also kind enough to give me a swift boot out the door.”
But for Bublé, “no” was the starting point of a negotiation process. “I genuinely enjoyed each challenge,” he says. “And every step for me was another opportunity to change that person’s mind or to maybe make that person see what the other hadn’t. I figured, if I can just build and build and build, at some point, somebody will sit back and say: ‘We gotta get this kid because he’s the real deal.’”
To that end, “Higher,” if not the pinnacle of Bublé ’s unflagging career, is certainly one of its crowning achievements. Comprising cover tracks and three Bublé-penned originals, including the title track and single “I’ll Never Not Love You,” the album was produced by industry vets Greg Wells and Bob Rock — whose worked with bands ranging from Metallica to Bon Jovi — along with Alan Chang, Jason “Spicy G” Goldman and Paul McCartney.
“ I always look forward to working with Michael,” says Rock. “He’s a great singer who can deliver whatever the song needs. That is a sign of greatness.”
Bublé calls the album, “honest and daring and raw and beautiful,” adding, “making this record was my dream come true. I knew, before we ever finished, that it didn’t matter what Rolling Stone said. It didn’t matter how many copies or how many downloads we already knew we’d been successful. I wish I had a better way to articulate how I felt about it when I had started doing the interviews, because I just kept saying, ‘This is the best record I’ve ever made.’”
Standout tracks on “Higher” include a duet with Willie Nelson of his 1961 song “Crazy,” first made famous by Patsy Cline, and a bouncy, R&B iteration of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love.”
“I don’t know why, but I was sitting there singing it. And all of a sudden, I started to think about Lenny Kravitz,” says Bublé of his artistic process in reimagining the Bob Dylan classic. “I don’t think I’ve ever had an easier time interpreting a song.”
“Higher” also includes a reworking of the 2012 McCartney song “My Valentine,” which the former Beatle wrote and composed for his third wife, Nancy Shevell.
“I was really pleased and looked forward to seeing how it would sound,” says McCartney. “Michael invited me along to the session in New York suggesting I could help with producing it. So I went along and basically watched him work with a large orchestra and do the vocals. I was able to help him in small ways, suggesting that he sing certain phrases in certain ways, and to my surprise he didn’t boot me off the session!”
“It was magic,” adds Bublé of McCartney. “He is who you wish he would be. He saunters into the studio alone. No group. No security. And he looked like he came in on a skateboard because he kind of floats when he walks. He wanted to be just a humble servant to the music.”
For Bublé, music is the ultimate expression of what lies buried in one’s soul. “Higher,” as well as its attendant world tour, is yet another manifestation of that expression for him.
“I always say that when you hear music, it’s the voice of God,” says Bublé. “I love what I do. But I love more who I do it for. I love the fact that I get to be a small part of making us better and heal. Because it’s doing the same thing for me.”
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