Michael Bublé: “i’m Easy, I’m Canadian!”
Wrapping up a world tour for his most recent album, 2022’s Higher, the Canadian icon reflects on his roots, his enduring success and what lies ahead.
With his velvety voice and down-to-earth charm, Michael Bublé is the epitome of the modern crooner. He’s as Canadian as it gets — don’t get him started on the Vancouver Canucks. But he’s also one of the reasons there is a renewed interest in the Great American Songbook, that collection of classic songs made famous by Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, among others. Bublé still lives near Vancouver, where he grew up, but his wife, Luisana, is from Argentina. In other words, he’s a proud Canadian while at the same time he’s a citizen of the world. Maybe this goes back to his Italian roots and the one man who played a key role in his life: his grandpa Demetrio Santagà. It was because of him that in 1995, Bublé became a naturalized Italian citizen. “My grandpa and I were always close,” Bublé explains during our cover shoot in Vancouver. “We had a lot of things in common. We loved music, we loved hockey. That relationship was something that would change my life and impact me forever. He was such a gentleman and as much as he would tell you that he was flawed, in my eyes he was pretty perfect, and he was always humble, always gracious. He never took dignity away from other people.” Demetrio played a huge role in exposing Bublé to a whole world of music that seemed to have been passed over by his generation. Michael’s first singing engagements, at age 16, were in nightclubs and were facilitated by Demetrio, who offered his plumbing services in exchange for stage time for his grandson. Bublé’s grandfather also paid for his singing lessons and encouraged him to enter a local singing competition. But it’s on the human level that his influence was strongest. “I think as much, naturally, as the love of music and that connection we had in a lot of these songs was huge for me, it wasn’t as big as teaching me how to be a man,” says Bublé. “Being a real man, it doesn’t mean that you have to hurt guys, you have to be physically imposing. My grandfather was a very gentle guy. And at the same time, through his actions, he demanded a ton of respect and he was a great leader. Words are cheap, but actions are everything, so getting to spend as much time as I did with my grandfather led me into being the man I am today. It’s interesting, because there’s not one day that goes by where I don’t think about him as I try to show my kids, with my actions, how they can be. I realize the words just fly over their heads, but when they get to see you and how you treat people, it changes them. And even more interesting, sometimes my kids say things or they laugh and they have this twinkle in their eyes and I see him, and it reminds me of how much I miss him, how much I love him, and how powerful genetics are.”
Bublé’s success as an entertainer has been nothing short of astounding. He has sold over 75 million records worldwide, and won numerous awards, including fifteen Juno Awards and five Grammys. In 2003 Bublé’s first album reached the top ten in Canada and the United Kingdom. He found a worldwide audience with his 2005 album, It’s Time, and his 2007 album, Call Me Irresponsible, which reached number one on the Canadian Albums Chart, the U.K. Albums Chart, and the U.S. Billboard 200. This universal acclaim and the glitzy production of Bublé’s studio albums might obscure the fact that he comes from a fairly humble background and had to work hard to succeed. “There were so many first jobs,” he remembers. “I worked in restaurants, I was a waiter, I worked at liquor stores … but one of the most important jobs was as a commercial fisherman — it was a blessing. I learned the value of camaraderie, I learned how to be respectful in a group of adults. I was just a kid. It was a dangerous and physical job. More than anything, it gave me a foundation for what I do now — because it was hard but it was really rewarding. Everything else that I would ever do in my life would feel easy compared to that. I feel very blessed I had the ability to interact with adults, but I learned the value of hard work. The crew consisted of about six crewmen, a captain and five other individuals. I was young. I was 13 or 14, and they were in their 20s, going to different universities or coming in and out of the army. And it was difficult for me because I was always just a kid — you know, immature. And the greatest lesson I learned: if you treat people with common respect, if you treat people with dignity, they’ll usually treat you with dignity back. I wasn’t a leader but I learned what leadership qualities were. I learned that you could catch more flies with honey. I learned that when you work in a small vessel for months at a time that mutual respect is really, really important. And when you want to get a job done, there’s a way that you can incentivize people and it’s not through fear or demanding respect. It’s by giving respect and making an environment where people feel that they can succeed.”
Michael Bublé’s breakthrough happened with his self-titled record, released in 2003 to worldwide commercial success with more than three million records sold. About that release he’s “appreciative of the past but not reverential,” as one New York Times review noted. It happened at the right time, according to the Canadian icon. “When I said that I was glad that I didn’t find fame until I was in my late 20s, it is because I think I had become the man that I would become by 27,” he explains. “I think fame is very similar to being out in the sun. We all love going out in the sun — it feels really good, it’s warm and it’s inviting. But just like the sun, as great as it is and as wonderful as it can feel, if it’s too hot and you’re out for too long, it can kill you. It takes a lot out of you. It burns you. It cripples you. It ends up just stopping you and I think that when we’re prepared — I’m trying to come up with this analogy — and we have “lotion” in our life that is our character, our patience, our sense of security and unique self and we go out and we get those tools to face the “sun,” the fame, of course you’re much better suited to it. When you’re 21 or 22 years old you’re naked. You’re emotionally immature, you just haven’t had that sort of time or ability to have those emotions or the experiences. When you go out and you’re unprotected against that “sun,” unless you have a beautiful group of people around you that can help protect you … and even if that, it’s tough. I look at something like what happened to Justin Bieber, and I think he’s an amazing guy, because that’s a lot of heat, a lot of fame for a kid. There’s just no way to be ready for it and I think he handled it as best he could.”
When asked about his favourite album of his already long career (11 studio records to date), Bublé’s answer won’t surprise you: 2022’s Higher gets the nod.
“It’s always the last one because the experience is fresh, and you just work so hard with all these beautiful people that you love and care about,” explains the singer. “And there are very few things that are as rewarding as building something from nothing. In science, the greatest scientists in the world will tell you the same thing. Something cannot come from nothing. It’s impossible scientifically. It’s why we have such a difficult time explaining or being able to grasp our universe, because at some point before the Big Bang, something came from nothing. Now, this is a scientific problem that can’t be answered and that every great scientist from Einstein on struggled with. Yet every day, as a musician, I walk into rooms with other artists and co-writers with nothing, with zero. And somehow, from nothing we create something, and I have always found this fascinating, rewarding, fulfilling — to walk into a room and walk out and go, “Oh, my God, what have we done!” This last record was an absolute blast because there were friendships that I’d formed over the last 25 years, that I got to connect with these people and create with them and then there were new friendships that I got to build all this wonderful trust. And this is a humblebrag — but it’s a brag — being recognized by winning Grammys and Junos … I don’t really care about the recognition for something I’ve done in the past, because the past has happened already. What I find wonderful is to be able to share the recognition with all these people who have worked so hard and tirelessly and just put in so much of their love and their time. To be recognized for that and to get to share that is the coolest feeling in the whole world. It was a thrill making this last record.”
“I think if I’m asked to use a few adjectives to describe who I am, ‘Canadian’ would be one of them. I love my country. I love my culture. I’m deeply proud of who we are as people”
When Higher was released last year, critics were unanimous in saying there were two highlights on the record: Bublé’s duet with Willie Nelson on his classic hit Crazy, and his cover of Paul McCartney’s My Valentine, produced by the British legend himself. “The experience of this record, Higher, was mind-blowing moment after mind-blowing moment,” marvels Bublé. “It’s funny, because I still feel like I’m 16 years old, but I know I’m not, and I know it’s been a lot of years in the business. But I still think of myself as the young kid who’s trying to prove himself and can’t believe that he’s getting to do this. The best analogy I can make is I’m like a chef who loves to cook, but more than I love to cook I love who I’m cooking for. I love the people — I love my fellow musicians and my co-writers. It just happened on this last record that my fellow musicians and co- writers were heroes of mine, producers like Bob Rock, Greg Wells, Nicholas Jacobson-Larson, David Larsson, Alan Chang and Jason Goldman, guys that I’m crazy about and admire so much and have friendships with. I worked with Paul McCartney and Willie Nelson. These are two men that I hold in my top 10 of greatest all-time singers, writers and entertainers. There’s never a moment that goes by that I don’t shake my head and think, ‘How lucky am I?’ But my manager said it best. He said, ‘You know, Michael, I love you working with these guys,’ and I said, ‘Me too.’ He said, ‘Well, kid, you walk like a duck, talk like a duck, and you swim like the ducks — one day, it’ll be reasonable for people to assume that you’re one of the ducks.’ Can you imagine how that feels for me, to have people like that take me under their wings? I’m not even mentioning my co-writers or the arrangers. There are just so many incredible musicians and there was so much time and energy and love put into every single one of the notes you hear. Not a note put on paper, not a note that left my head wasn’t ached over or passionately thought about or executed. I have a great deal to be grateful for, and the people that worked with me on this record are an incredible team.”
Higher also marks an evolution in Bublé’s career on another level: songwriting. Whereas previous Bublé records contained only one or two songs co-written by him, Higher has four tracks where he is credited as a writer. According to the singer, this reflects who he is now.
“I consider myself a storyteller in everything I do,” he explains. “And there are two or three very different aspects or personalities that I have. It’s almost like a split. There’s Michael Bublé the father and husband and son and brother. And I love sharing and telling and hearing jokes and I love to converse. I love having that social connection, not only at home or with the people I love, but at the grocery store or at the pharmacy. Fame was good for me! I love people and I have never walked into a place or a mall and gone, ‘Oh, God, they’re asking for an autograph ….’ I love it! I’m fascinated by people. I don’t love doing the pictures as much and the only reason I say that is because it takes me out of the moment of the real conversation, of getting to know that guy who was like my grandpa, who was a plumber. I’m a storyteller on stage because in front of tens or sometimes many thousands of people my job is to take people on a cinematic journey that has a start, a middle and an end. And there’s a real arc and a wonderful talent that makes you a great storyteller. It gives you the ability to take 80,000 people on a trip with you. For you to be able to hold their attention is not about you just talking at them, it’s about you listening, too, and there’s a real sense of communication and connection there. I don’t think that would be possible if I didn’t genuinely enjoy it. And then there’s the storytelling from the aspect of me being a songwriter and creating these stories. I think my favourite thing about that kind of storytelling is allowing the main character — you, the listener — to have your own interpretation of that moment. Many times, in interviews, they’ll say to me, ‘So, in “Home,” who were you singing about?’ And I can try to be cute and say, ‘Well, it was a girlfriend,’ but the truth is that character was never meant to be a personal character. It came from a very personal place, but that character was allowing you to be that third player, and to make it about you. So, if I sing a song that I wrote called “Mother,” of course I thought about my mom when I wrote that song, but the truth is, I want you to think about your mom or you as a mother. All these songs are wonderful chances for me to make you the main character and it’s a real joy to be able to share those stories with people and share your feelings like that.”
“To be rich is not just to have things or money, you’re rich in your faith, you’re rich in your friendships and your family.”
In recent years, Michael Bublé has expanded what he does beyond music. In 2016, he launched Michael Bublé Fragrances, an eau de parfum for both men and women. And in 2019, he partnered with sparkling water brand, Bubly, even launching his own flavour called “Merry Berry Bublé” in December 2021. But music is still his main focus. This year, he’s touring in Ireland, Australia and Mexico. When it comes to plans beyond this year, he wants to keep exploring new ventures and grow both personally and professionally. “As an artist, I think what’s next is always growing,” he says. “Hopefully, growing without alienating the millions of beautiful people that put me in this position. I love challenging myself. I love reimagining what I do and how I do it. I’m not going to tell you everything because there’s certain things I like to keep close to my chest, but the truth is, I feel like for 20 years I have made records and promoted the records and toured the records, and after this tour is over, I’d like to shift a little bit and try some things I’ve never tried before. Hopefully, I’ve earned the right to do that. And I’m really looking forward to facing those new challenges and hopefully rising to the occasion. And what are those? I’m not telling you!”
But what about his life outside of work? Bublé’s hobbies are defined by where he’s from and his family heritage. “You know, I come from a very proud Italian-Canadian family,” he reveals. “So much of my life was watching my nonna in the kitchen and watching my own mom, and I liked it. I thought it was very cool, very macho. I was very proud of being able to learn about different dishes and how to follow the recipes and improvise on my own. I am not a fabulous cook, but I learned well enough how to feed a crew of five guys, just learning how to make a great roasted chicken with potatoes or nice, simple pasta. There was a lot of fresh fish, so learning how to prepare and make really simple fish dishes that were clean but yummy.”
Bublé’s passion for hockey is well-known. He once declaring that “if I was any good at hockey, I probably wouldn’t be singing right now.” He went to every single home game of the Vancouver Canucks as a kid. His passion for the game goes deep. “I think if I was asked to use a few adjectives to describe who I am, ‘Canadian’ would be one of them,” he states enthusiastically. “I love my country. I love my culture. I’m deeply proud of who we are as people. And you know, I think, more than that. I’ve had the ability to travel all over the world. Every single tour, every couple of years, I’m gone to over 50 countries and I’m doing promo and I’m doing shows and everywhere I go, they always say the same thing about Canadians. I love keeping that going. I think hockey embodies a lot of what I love about being Canadian! It’s still a sport with a wonderful code, with a great sense of humility. In all the other sports, you win, you throw your fist up in the air and you do these overdrawn celebrations. In hockey, what I find amazing is the biggest stars in the world take so much pride in humility. They score a goal and the great ones, the arm might go up, but it’s in celebration of your teammates. It’s in celebration of the assist, of the pass, of the teamwork aspect of the game. Even when they fight, there’s a code — you know what I’m talking about. And I feel like in society and other sports, we have lost that gentlemanly side of the game. And on both sides, on the women’s side of the sport and the men’s, it’s become about trash-talking and celebration and talking about that you’re the greatest and I’m the greatest. Hockey still has that wonderful class that other sports have lost. Listen, I know people think it’s a game of fighting — it isn’t a game of fight, it’s a game of finesse and codes in beauty. But I’m having a hard time with my kids because they’re huge soccer fans. It’s their number one sport. But the problem is they also play hockey and so now they get hit, you know, in a corner and they go down and they’re dead! And I go, ‘Dude, this isn’t soccer, you don’t fall down and yell and cry and roll around! This is a different thing.’ I love football, I love soccer — love it. But that part of it I do not love. We don’t need the drama and the acting. ‘Get up off your ass, dude. If you’re hurt, you’re hurt!’ My kids want to emulate their favourite players. And their first thought is, ‘Go down and lay there and roll around.’ It just goes against everything as a Canadian, as a hockey- loving guy! I see it and I go, ‘Oh, my god!’”
Michael Bublé’s definition of la dolce vita
“My definition of la dolce vita is every single moment I share with my kids and my wife. I don’t care where I am — it’s home. I don’t care what we’re doing — I’m satisfied. That is the greatest gift I’ve ever been given, and it’s allowed me to enjoy everything that happens in my life, good or bad, because it is the sweetest life. I’m a blessed man to have those four beautiful kids and such a great wife in my life. They are my rock. My son came home one day and he said, ‘Poppy, the kids at school are asking if I’m rich — what do I say?’ And I said, ‘Well, you tell them the truth, you tell them you’re rich.’ He said, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Yes, but Noah, rich doesn’t mean what they think it means. “Rich” is a word that you think goes along with things or money or possessions, but the richest people I know with money and things and possessions are the most miserable people I know. To be rich is not just to have things or money, you’re rich in your faith, you’re rich in your friendships and your family. Be proud to tell them that!’ There are a lot of rich miserable people out there.”
My favourite teams are the Vancouver Canucks, the Vancouver Giants and the River Plate soccer team in Argentina.
My favourite food is my grandma’s risotto. I love good “bad for you” foods: a good pizza, a burger.
My favourite colour is yellow — nice bright yellow, an old 1980s Vancouver Canucks yellow, the ugliest/most glorious sweaters ever!
My favourite movie is The Princess Bride. Beautiful!