Michael Bublé remembers being young. At five years old, he went into his bedroom and put an album on his Fisher Price record player and felt a strong sense of independence. Even before then, he says, he felt a “unique relationship” with music. He felt that it “spoke” to him. As a young person, it seemed to offer a singular guiding tone. It felt emotional and sentimental. Integral to every part of his body and being. He knew it would be part of his future. So, when his parents started to send away for little records in the mail and a young Bublé began to listen to them on his own, a sense of self began to form. He was listening to music that he chose, music that moved him. It was very empowering, even to the boy he was at the time. Now, Bublé is a well-known artist, one who releases acclaimed records, both seasonal and solo. His most recent achievement is a Grammy nomination for his 2022 LP, Higher.
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“I just loved to create,” Bublé tells American Songwriter. “I was happiest in my world when I was building.”
From the songs he listened to, Bublé began making his own. He liked the craft of songwriting as much as the joy he received from listening to music. Expression was key. The energy that bubbled up in him while experiencing songs had to somehow be released out of him in his own artful ways. That was his path to personal fulfillment. And his family helped. His grandfather, especially. He would introduce him to the classics like Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. Bublé came from a “proud Canadian-Italian” household. One that was constantly filled with songs his grandfather loved. When they had their choice of the radio dial, Bublé’s parents would put on Bryan Adams and Bruce Springsteen. Bublé’s dad loved Motown, too. As the art form swirled around him, Bublé found himself honing in.
“I had such a deep passion for music,” he says. “I think I had some form of ADHD, which for me wasn’t a bad thing.”
Self-diagnosing himself, Bublé says he had trouble concentrating on most things. But when it came to something he loved, he had impeccable focus. It was “ultra-focus.” He dove into Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, and more. He says he felt the music was “speaking” to him. As he got older, he began to take little things he loved from each artist. Later in life, he was able to meet Bennett, who told him stealing from one person was theft, but stealing from everyone was “research.” But as Bublé refined his musicianship, he maintained a rough and rugged side to his personality. He is the son of a fisherman and he’d live out on the ocean for long stretches of time. Doing so, he’d have older men ask if he’d heard of artists like David Bowie, and Van Morrison. He became a sponge.
“All of a sudden,” he says, “I was able to download and process all this music and all these different styles. And it made me weird. And it made me unique.”
Bublé recalls a recent conversation with a friend, who said, “Mike, man, what are you?” And Bublé says he replied that on some level he didn’t totally know—there is always room to grow. On another level, though, he considers himself a “soul singer.” One who loves jazz and pop and rock and R&B. As a successful artist today, he’s able to connect and work with many other talented, accomplished artists. From them, he takes a little bit of this or that (just as they likely take from him in their own way). As such, he’s something of a chameleon, one as capable of singing a Bob Dylan cover and a holiday song as he is his own composition and one arranged for him by the likes of Paul McCartney (like on the song “My Valentine” on Higher). But when you’re as smooth a character as Bublé is, sometimes it can be forgotten that he’s a person behind that flowing voice. Bublé recalls an interview he came across recently in which Martin Short is talking about Robin Williams.
“[Martin] said that as much as Robin was entertaining,” Bublé says, “the audience wasn’t just falling in love with a caricature, as talented as Robin was. But part of what the audience was seeing was who Robin really is. That somehow came through.”
Bublé knows that, on some level, he’s seen as the “Teflon” character, cool as a cucumber with a tuxedo and cufflinks, an Old Fashioned in one hand, microphone loose in the other. But he’s more than that, too. Underneath that veneer, he is a “blue-collar, hockey-playing” regular guy from Burnaby, British Columbia. The 47-year-old says that just as people saw Sinatra and Bennett as smooth, capable performers, they were also guys from Jersey and Queens. In other words, Bublé is not soft. This is the real him that one gets in concert, he notes. It’s not the side many see in the well-crafted specials. But nevertheless, more than who he is, Bublé is more associated with what he does and how he sounds. His voice sounds like what a peach tastes like. And he can fill giant arenas from city to city showcasing his talents singing, dancing, and hosting each night. Don’t mess with that.
“I’m an athlete,” he says.
Indeed, Bublé shows bring a big demand, physically especially. Tours can also be lonesome, at times, he says. At least in the hours not spent on stage. As a young man, Bublé would enjoy whiskey and smokes after a show. He could stay up until five in the morning afterward, playing Nintendo Wii baseball, and wake up the next morning just fine. But more recently, the road can take a harder toll. He would notice himself taking certain songs out of the setlist, his voice wasn’t up to the challenge after long nights out in his late 30s. Now, he knows to take care of himself and his voice. It’s one more step on the path to personal and creative refinement.
“I found myself,” Bublé says. “I’ll say this, I feel so lucky to be born when I was because I had the ability to have the historical records, the documentation of music from the greatest artists in the world.”
Bublé was 26 years old when he signed his first record deal. He began earning fame at 27 or 28 years old. He released his debut LP, BaBalu, in 2001. He followed that up with Dream in 2002 and his self-titled album in 2003. He’s released nine more, including Higher in 2022. Because he was signed, as he says, “late” for the business, Bublé had already developed as a human being. He wasn’t a wide-eyed teenager. But he received resistance to his style early on. Some thought he was just trying to be like Sinatra, others suggested he make albums with “karaoke” backgrounds or even name an album, “Frankly Speaking.” People, Bublé says, wanted to put him in a box. But he wanted to be himself, first and foremost. Even if no one else would, he kept the faith. He told his team, if they continued to believe in him, they wouldn’t be let down. Now, with 12 Grammy nominations to his credit, including three wins, it looks like he’s proven himself correct. And with a great sense of self comes the opportunity to open up. As he did with his latest album.
“What was so amazing about this record for me,” Bublé says, “was I felt I had the confidence to let go. I know who I am and I know what I want and I know how to articulate that as an artist and as a producer.”
Part of that “letting go” was letting others take control—not too hard when those you’re giving the reigns to are named McCartney and Willie Nelson, two people who played big roles on Higher. Prior to giving over control, Bublé says, every record he made, “every note you ever heard is me micro-managing.” But with great achievement, with a strong sense of self, one can give power to another and not feel threatened. It’s a lesson Bublé has learned in his two-plus-decade career as a singer. The road here may not have been easy, it may have taken some convincing, scraping, and clawing, but he no longer needs any map to find where he is. Higher has re-energized him, he says. The album includes offerings he “never would have done, never would have thought of.” It’s a collaborative work that brings him great pride today for all that went into its production.
“I’m emotional about it,” Bublé says. “I really put myself out there. These people loved me and trusted me, and I trusted them. It’s a very beautiful relationship.”
Photo by Norman Jean Roy / Full Coverage Communications