Interview by Sarah Rix
May 18 marks the return of poperatic music stars Il Divo to our shores. Touring their new album, Wicked Game, and with 12 dates scheduled in Canada, plus more across the world, the vocal powerhouses have been keeping a busy schedule. Simon Cowell, a name often associated with reality television, formed the four-piece in 2004 after a global search for talented male vocalists. Consisting of French pop singer Sébastien Izambard, Spanish baritone Carlos Marín, Swiss tenor Urs Bühler and American tenor David Miller, Il Divo has released seven albums, selling over 25 million.
Live in Limbo reached Bühler by phone. He and the group had just met with the Queen for tea (literally). While not their first time meeting the English monarch, the opportunity was undoubtedly a big moment for the band. Il Divo is also set to perform at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert this weekend. After a stop in Windsor, ON, they play Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on May 19.
Sarah Rix (SR): Hi Urs, how are you?
Urs Bühler (UB): I’m good, thank you. How are you?
SR: Good! I understand you just met the Queen.
UB: Yeah! I’ve just come back from that, actually.
SR: How was that?
UB: It’s unbelievable. First of all, I’ve never been in Windsor Castle. You just come in through the courtyard and it is so immense and so beautiful. I love that type of old building anyway. What I saw was an entrance staircase and then a big, big, big banquet room and then another private room. The opulence of it, it’s just unbelievable! Then you stand there. There were quite a lot of people actually. There’s a big television special being filmed of the celebrations on Sunday night, where we are one of the few musical performing acts. A lot of the other cast of that evening and the organization team was invited as well.
We all get to meet the Queen, say a few words and have a cup of tea and a scone. It was lovely, it was beautiful. It’s a very, very rare experience, something like that. We’ve met her before on the Royal Variety Show, but it’s just royalty. Gosh. You don’t meet royalty every day.
SR: No, I guess not! And you’re coming over from Windsor Castle to Windsor, ON, which is kind of funny.
UB: Exactly. Brilliant. That’s the opening show for us too.
SR: It’s a 12-stop tour in Canada. What do you like about the Canadian audiences?
UB: First of all, there’s a lot of beautiful woman in Canada. I’m not allowed to say that normally – normally it’s Carlos who says that. Love that (laughs). Second, it’s just great. Canadian audiences have always been one of the most appreciative territories for us, since we started, since the very beginning. They really embrace our music and have made it possible for us to get where we are today. We are very much looking forward to it. And we’re very excited this time that we’re playing cities like Windsor, Moncton and Saint John, which we have never played before in Canada. It’s a very, very exciting thing for us.
SR: And I’m sure audiences are excited as well. Are you bringing over the full orchestra?
UB: Yes. For the first time we have a 35-piece orchestra with us on stage. Especially for the three classical singers – so David, Carlos and me – it’s wonderful. In the classical world we are used to having that full orchestra sound right behind us, carrying us through the song. Now we’ve got that on stage, so it’s wonderful. I love it. I love making music; I love making music with other musicians. The more the better.
SR: Sure, and I found it interesting reading your back history. You used to play in a heavy metal band. Do you miss that at all?
UB: You know, it wasn’t really heavy metal, what we did. It was kind of like melodic rock. But I do love heavy metal. I mostly love electric guitar, but I do love heavy metal drums as well. It’s very complex, very complicated. There’s an incredibly high standard. I do listen to all kinds of music. A lot of opera, obviously, but then my next genre – probably my preferred genre overall – is heavy metal.
SR: That’s strange to hear.
UB: To me, especially if you listen to heavy metal, not like screeching in death metal, but people who actually still sing, it somehow comes really close to an operatic tenor who just gives it all when they hit those high notes. That’s why I somehow find it’s not that far from each other as you might think it is.
SR: I guess so! Now in Canada, you also have Nikki Yanofsky opening for some of the shows.
UB: I think all of them actually.
SR: Are you a fan?
UB: You know what, I don’t know too much about her actually. I’m very much looking forward to meeting her. We’ve kind of been so busy with all the other territories. I’ve just been home for two days, actually, and we’re just carrying on for another three months. I’m looking forward to meeting her and I will certainly listen to her sets the first few times she’s performing.
It’s always great to get to know new people and new artists. Today as well, at the tea with the Queen, we met a few people. Probably people we knew from five, six, seven years ago who we haven’t seen in the meantime. It’s always great to see what they’re doing. It’s lovely to build up friends like that around the world. It’s very exciting.
SR: I have to ask you about Il Divo’s style, because it’s another really important part of the band. So here’s my hard-hitting question: You cut your hair! What made you decide to do that?
UB: I like having long hair. It’s a lot of hassle (laughs). Not for me at home, but it has to look good on stage. I have curly hair. What we’ve done in the past is straightened it. It takes a lot of time. I kind of got a bit bored with that. I just wanted a hairdo that is more true to the natural texture of hair that is actually grown out of my scalp. It makes the work much easier.
We’re doing it ourselves these days, when we go out on tour. We’re not having a hair or makeup artist with us anymore. That saves us so much time and hassle at the venue. Otherwise you have to be at the gig like four hours prior to get everybody’s hair and makeup done. Everything is much calmer this way. This is a hairdo I think I can master and get away with. What I had before, I could hardly have done that myself. I just feel like I want to change it up every now and again.
SR: And have fans seemed to like it?
UB: It’s really funny. Just recently we had a woman come wailing into a meet and greet before the show. She said nothing else but: “Hello Urs, I don’t like your hair!” (laughs) That just makes me laugh! I mean people obviously have opinions about it. “Oh, great I love your hair,” or “I prefer the old hair.” Everybody’s entitled to that. We’ll do this tour like that and next tour it’s probably going to be long again. Maybe long and curly, I don’t know! I just like doing what I feel like.
I think we’re at a stage, with the band and with the way we’re known and everything, where we can allow ourselves a bit more freedom than when you have to make one album cover shot and then need to look exactly like that every time you appear in public. That makes it a bit easier to breathe for us as well.
SR: You must do so many interviews. I’m wondering if there’s one question you’re surprised you’ve never been asked.
UB: That I’ve never been asked? Oh my god (pause). Oh! (laughs) That question. That’s a question I’ve never been asked for example. Gosh, I’m sorry. There are hundreds of things I’ve never been asked! I can’t really think of them.
SR: I can only imagine how many interviews you guys must do.
UB: We do get asked a lot of the same questions, obviously. We are bored of certain questions, as you can imagine. Mind you, when the moment comes that people don’t ask us any questions any more, then we’re gone, then we’re dead, then we failed. So any questions, I’m still happy to answer.
It’s very sweet as well when we meet people in airports. They always ask questions. They often ask the same questions as the journalists! But every time you just give the answers. You can’t be snobbish about that. That’s really what we do. We put ourselves in the public eye. You have to embrace that to the full.
SR: Okay, but is there one question that you wish you were never asked again?
UB: Uh, just in general I do not like to get asked questions about my private life, about relationships and that kind of stuff. If you start exposing that to the general public, it can very quickly get messy. We have experienced that in the band. That’s why I keep completely out of the social networks. I don’t tweet, I don’t do Facebook and that kind of stuff. I’m happy to talk to anyone I meet somewhere on the street, but there’s just a certain privacy I want to keep for myself and for my family and for my loved ones. It does not need to be on everybody’s radar. I think that’s healthy. I think you need that side of your life.
SR: Definitely. Is there anything else you might want to say? Other than that, congratulations on everything.
UB: Thank you very much. As I said earlier, we very much look forward to coming to Canada. It’s always been a great, very supportive audience for us. We especially look forward to coming to these new cities that we have never visited before. Hopefully we’ll have time to see something of these cities. We hope a lot of you will come to our concerts and enjoy a great evening of beautiful music with us.
SR: Great! Thank you so much.
UB: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.
For more on Il Divo and information on their tour dates, visit http://www.ildivo.com/ca/home