Michael Bublé turned up to a recent interview at the Sunset Marquis wearing crisp dark trousers, a freshly pressed dress shirt — and garish blue socks emblazoned with the smiling face of his 8-year-old son Noah.
“Look at how cute that dude is,” said the never-less-than-natty Canadian singer, who explained that he’d received the pair from his wife as a Christmas gift. “The only thing I asked for was socks with my family’s pictures on them.”
It was a fitting (if unexpected) wardrobe choice for Bublé, 46, as he discussed his new album, “Higher,” whose title track is based on a catchy vocal melody Noah came up with one night as the singer was overseeing bath time. “I’m putting shampoo in his hair and he busts out this thing,” Bublé recalled. “I was like, ‘Dude, bro — that’s a good little hook!’”
For Bublé, the collaboration with his son — one of several originals on “Higher” to accompany his renditions of classics like “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” and Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” — represents something of a personal triumph after Noah’s agonizing experience a few years ago with a rare form of liver cancer. (Noah is now in remission; Bublé and his wife, the Argentine actor Luisana Lopilato, recently announced they’re expecting their fourth child.)
But the feel-good song was also part of Bublé’s larger mission to create a kind of post-pandemic pick-me-up with “Higher,” his ninth major-label studio album — including 2011’s six-times-platinum “Christmas” — since he broke out in the early 2000s with a self-titled set that presented him as an heir to the ring-a-ding tradition once defined by Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.
“It’s my love letter to a world that was suffering and needed to heal,” he said of the new LP.
Because of COVID, Bublé — who splits his time between Vancouver, Buenos Aires and Los Angeles — made “Higher” differently than he did his previous records; he hammered out ideas for arrangements remotely and willed himself to be less of a “micromanager,” as he put it, to his various creative partners. (Greg Wells executive produced the album, which also features input from Ryan Tedder, Bob Rock and one Sir Paul McCartney.)
Yet Bublé’s richly expressive singing holds the music together as it has for two decades. “This is weird for me to say — I’d much rather someone else say it about me — but my voice is probably the best it’s ever been,” he says.
Do you take special care of that instrument?
Yeah. Well, no — I just lied.
What’s a terrible thing you do to your voice?
You know all the things.
Drinking? Smoking? Staying up late?
I’m really good at all those. On the road, though, I’m so disciplined. It’s horrible. My favorite thing in the world used to be finishing the show, having a whiskey on the rocks — several whiskey on the rocks — then playing Wii baseball on the bus with the guys till 5 in the morning. Now I’m like an athlete up there.
You miss the old days?
Would I like to be able to go on tour and have the resilience of a 29-year-old Michael Bublé? S— yes! But it’s different now. A lot of the time I’ve got my kids out with me. Most of the last tour I went on, it was coming offstage and onto the bus to watch a Disney movie. It was awesome. Being alone sucks.
Traveling with four under 10 should be exciting.
Already, getting onto Air Canada, you just see the terror in people’s faces. I’m so Canadian that I’m very worried about making sure everyone else on the plane is OK. My wife’s Argentinian — not to say she’s not courteous — but she’s like, “What, Mike? It’s kids, let them jump.”
How much time do you spend in L.A.?
Couple months a year. I make my records here, do my TV shows, do press. My wife works here too. But sometimes she’ll shoot a movie somewhere else; we’ll be in Rome for two months. That’s where we made two out of the four kids so far. Dangerous place for us.
You ever live here when you were starting out?
I moved to Toronto — that was my big-city move — when I was 24. I signed to Warner when I was 26. Kind of late. And I broke first in the Philippines and South Africa. My manager said, “Listen, kid, you’re an American-signed act, and I know you wanna make it here, but they don’t want you here.” So I went and worked where they did want me. Every year I’d go to 45 countries and play for five people in a hotel lobby. America was one of the last places I had success.
What made you keep at it?
Because I was so excited that someone had finally given me a chance. I worked so hard for years and everybody kept saying the same thing: “You’re a nice kid — we just don’t see any future in this.”
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When did you start to believe you were a star?
I don’t think I ever have.
OK, but when could you start to tell people were turning their heads when you walked into a place?
That can’t be true.
I live a double life. I’m like Batman. Onstage you put on the Batsuit. But Michael Bublé is a schlubby dude in a ballcap; I go into the restaurant and no one notices. You don’t see me at many red-carpet events. I’m not hanging out with … I don’t even know who to say.
Never felt like I belonged in those spaces. Early on I would go to these parties and ceremonies, and I always felt like an outsider. Because I was.
This must be the Canadian in you.
I don’t think Drake would tell you the same thing. I’m sure Justin Bieber wouldn’t tell you the same thing. It has more to do with the fact that I was 27 or 28 when I first felt fame, and I was who I was already. I think fame can stunt your growth — people freeze in that moment.
Your performance style is very cool-guy, though.
I talk about it with my family. My kids instinctually know the difference between Poppy and Batman. But this gets more complicated, because when my boy was diagnosed, my whole world just shattered, and any of that ego or that persona that I had created, it became so much less important.
You think you’re lower-key onstage now than in the past?
Oh, absolutely. There’s no fear of being found out that I’m actually not Batman. And it’s more joyful.
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On “Higher” you do Paul McCartney’s “My Valentine,” a romantic original from his 2012 standards album. Why’d you want to sing it?
I didn’t. My manager said, “You have an email from Sir Paul’s people and it says, ‘We hear you’re making a record. This is a great song and Paul thinks you could kill it.’” I listened to the song and it was very pretty. My concept was to do it like “It Was a Very Good Year” — all the oboes and winds, really dark and rich. So we came up with a cool demo and sent it to Paul’s manager. I said, “Here’s my number. Would you ask Paul if he’d help me finish it?” Two days later, I’m driving on Sunset, the phone rings: “Hi, it’s Paul Mac.”
That’s what he said. I said, “Hey, it’s Mike Bubes.” That was the only thing I could think of to say. I told him, “Listen, man, I think this song is good, but I need it to be great. Would you come and produce it for me?” And we met in New York maybe three weeks later.
What did he bring to the song?
Oh, a ton of stuff. He tightened up the charts, had me change the melody in the very last verse. Little things like that. We did a bunch of takes and finished the session and I said, “Thank you so much,” and he was like, “What, are you kicking me out? Am I allowed to hang? Can I call my wife and she can come listen?”
Have you seen the Beatles’ “Get Back” doc?
Finally, like two weeks ago. Thank baby Jesus I didn’t watch it before. I would’ve died.
McCartney’s such a fox in that footage. Incredible sweaters.
I totally agree. Even his shoes were amazing. And his socks. He wouldn’t wear socks with his kids’ faces on them.
You sing with Willie Nelson on “Crazy,” which I assume was done remotely because of COVID.
Yeah, but I still felt very connected to him. I think that’s the best duet I’ve ever done. For me this was like working with Sinatra. He’s one of the greatest crooners of our time; there’s just no one like him. And I’ve sung with Tony Bennett. I mean, I like Tony Bennett a lot. But Willie is my guy.
You’ve got a song on the album called “Mother,” which you wrote about your mom.
That one barely made the record. I thought it might be cheesy. But I went to a party at my sister’s house and all her girlfriends were over. They asked me to play the record, and when “Mother” came on, a friend of my sister’s could tell I was kind of embarrassed. She was crying — couple of them were — and she said, “It’s a good thing you’re not your audience. We are, a—.”
Was your son mad that you ripped him off for the title track?
I didn’t rip him off! He’s credited. I called my wife — she was in the minivan on speaker — I go, “Babe, we did the song where Noah did the thing.” Then I hear him from the backseat: “How much do I get?”
What kind of music is too far outside your wheelhouse to sing?
I don’t know until I try it.
Obviously you couldn’t do a rap record.
That’s bull—. I’m not saying I’m gonna rap. But you’re telling me you couldn’t have a guy doing his flow over my arrangement of “Feeling Good”? Why I’m so sure about this isn’t because I think I belong everywhere. It’s because the jazz and soul music that I so passionately love is the root of the tree that grew R&B and grew rock ’n’ roll and grew hip-hop. Listen, it might not happen now. But it’s only a matter of time.
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