Being Michael Bublé
The Canadian crooner discusses Sinatra, Darin, performing, and misconceptions.
By Michael Fagien
Success in the music business often depends on a lucky break.
After years of laboring on a fishing boat and, later, playing club dates where he sang everything from jazz to Elvis covers, Michael Bublé’s break arrived soon after he gave one of his homemade CDs to Michael McSweeney, a friend of former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. McSweeney passed the disc to Mulroney and his wife, who then asked Bublé to sing at their daughter’s wedding (where Bublé delivered a version of Kurt Weill’s “Mack the Knife”). At the wedding, Mulroney introduced Bublé to producer and record executive David Foster. Shortly thereafter, in 2003, Foster signed Bublé to his 143 record label before producing the Canadian singer’s self-titled debut disc later that year.
On his fourth and latest album, Call Me Irresponsible (143/Reprise), Bublé continues to grow as a crooner. As on previous releases, he sings an array of standards, covers, and classics. And yet his own composition, “Everything,” has become the hit.
Since 2000, Bublé has appeared in a number of films, including Duets, Totally Blonde, and The Snow Walker. Though he’s not sure where he’s headed professionally, he maintains that singing remains his greatest passion.
Michael Fagien: Tell me about the misconception of your overnight success.
Michael Bublé: I don’t expect people to know my life story -
working on a fishing boat, playing the clubs, paying my dues. I saw Tony Bennett recently, and he was saying that he wished there were more clubs where eager singers could cut their teeth. For me, I worked small clubs, and sometimes I hardly worked. Then, once things took off, the real work began. I’ve since been around the world eight times, doing my best to make jazz and pop a hybrid so that people can hear and understand what that means.
Who keeps you rooted?
The upbringing I had is my root. On one hand, there are now things I’ve gotten very used to in my life and almost take for granted. … I don’t remember the last time I called for a cab. On the other hand, I’m proud of the way I treat my people – my crew, and people I work with.
What have you learned from other crooners?
I was listening to the greatest of all time, Frank Sinatra, singing Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.” And when I heard him sing “coo-coo-ca-choo,” I immediately thought about how you have to be sensitive of that line. I have an idea of what is crossing the line. But I’ve messed up, too – like when I recorded the Bee Gees’ “How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?” When I hear it now, that’s the line I crossed.
Who are some of your favorite crooners?
When I think of crooners, I don’t necessarily think of the traditional ones. Instead, I think of Chris Connor, Chris Isaak, Eddie Vedder – ones who have nice voices and dulcet tones. James Taylor is another one. Despite what people think, I don’t get nostalgic. I don’t have to sing a certain way or wear a velvet jacket, sipping a martini. But there’ll never be another Sinatra; God kissed those [vocal] cords. Just like Pavarotti, there’ll never be another. For them, it was all instinctual, not learned in school. They just got it.
Some critics have called you a “Sinatra wannabe.” Other people have called you “the next Sinatra.” How do you respond?
It happens all the time. Jamie Cullum has been called “Sinatra in sneakers.” Harry Connick Jr. is still compared to Sinatra today. I’ve heard the same about rockers – those who are compared to Dylan, to Lennon.
Your song “Everything” sounds different from most of the work you’ve done and has been well-received. Will there be a time in the near future when we say, “Remember when Michael Bublé used to sing the old classics?”
I don’t feel that there’s anything to sneeze about when it comes to interpreting other people’s songs. From Ella to Louis Prima, so many great singers have done it. I love that I get to be a small part of that. I can sing “Come Fly with Me,” and I fought to sing the songs I believe in. I’d be crazy to turn away from this passion. Those people who say I should can fuck off. I don’t think Sammy Cahn or Nelson Riddle would have said they don’t want to do those songs anymore.
I’ve heard that you’re most enamored with Bobby Darin.
One of my favorite tunes he did was “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which is a Dylan tune. If I feel a connection to Darin, it’s because I understand what it was like to be pushed one way and for him to really want to do it another way. Back then, it wasn’t easy for him. People didn’t want to accept that he could get much deeper than “Mack the Knife” or “Splish Splash.”
In a word or two, tell me what you think of when I mention the following: Harry Connick.
He’s my Sinatra. A huge idol who I studied and listened to. I don’t know if I hate him or love him. I guess I’m jealous.
One of my favorites. I remember when I didn’t have any money, I traded an Ella and Louis Armstrong album for the Best of Van Morrison cassette that I used to listen to on the fishing boat.
Fantastic … dig him, great writer. I think he’s writing a Christmas song for me.
Canadian godfather. He’s doing something that no one else is doing. To have success for this long. His records are better now; even his voice seems better now.
Love Queen. Big voice.
How did David Foster find you or pick you?
I drove him crazy. Not one person picked me. I forced myself upon everyone from management to record company to my agency, William Morris. It’s not that I proved them wrong, but I proved myself right. They look a chance on me. I’m surrounded by greatness. My father would tell me not to be afraid to have someone around you who’s better than you. David Foster is a better musician than I’ll ever be. But he’s better than 95 percent of the world. He takes good concepts and makes them great.
You’ve had a few small parts on the big screen and it seems that there’s a connection between the kind of singer who does what you do and acting. How do you fit in?
It’s an extension of who you are. There are great vocalists; then there are great interpreters and great actors. I’m neither. I’m too self-conscious as an actor. I’m just concentrating on what I do. It’s easy to spread yourself thin. But when you get the call, it’s important to show up. I have a girlfriend who’s an actor [Emily Blunt], who’s one of the best. Real talent, real chops – that I don’t have.
As the title of the new album suggests, are you irresponsible?
I’m a lad, a regular guy, and I do wonderful and stupid things. I will say what I have to say. I have no filter.
You once said, “The enemy of good is great.”
That’s from Foster. I think when I showed up with him … I never had anything to compare him to. Before David, I would hear something and say that sounds great because I didn’t know and really couldn’t afford to do what Foster does. He’ll sit a trio in a room until it’s just right. And after that kind of experience, you hold yourself to a higher standard. Whether it’s Foster, Tommy LiPuma, Phil Ramone – I learned a lot being surrounded by these people. Checking out artists like Harry Connick Jr. and Diana Krall, learning how to play … the more you play the better you get.