Tue 19 Mar 2019

Interview with… Il Divo


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How is the new tour going so far?

Urs Bühler: “We have started the first leg in Canada. It’s a really beautiful show. I think it comes over great. We played castles and stately homes in the UK last July with our Timeless tour, which was based on the new album. We played the whole repertoire, which was actually quite risky, but the album is very beautiful so it went down really well. This is more back-to-basics – the four of us singing. We still do a few songs from the Timeless album but we do all our greatest hits as well. It’s about 100 minute show, without an interval. The audience seem to like it so I’m very excited to bring it to the UK and play the arenas again.”
David Miller: “We started in Winnipeg where it was 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. We were bundled up that day for sure.”
Sebastien Izambard: “We decided to tweak the gig because it’s our 15 year anniversary. What we realised was people really want to see just the four of us. We had dancers but now we’re listening to what our audience wants with some of our best songs ever, and our latest album Timeless. Songs like Hello from Adele to John Legend All Of Me. In my opinion it’s a really good show. We’re having a really good time.”

Did you ever expect to be together for 15 years when you started out?

Seb: “Never. It’s hard enough to keep up a marriage, so imagine how it feels keeping a whole band together – especially when it was an arranged marriage. I still think sometimes: ‘It’s not real’. It’s striking the amount of counties and cities we’ve been to. I find it amazing. I know more where a lounge is than where the forks and the cutlery are at home. I lived in England for almost 10 years and it’s always like coming back home.”

Why did you decide to strip is back this time?

Urs: “When you go to concerts, I like to see shows with something happening on stage. We get excited and have lots of ideas – we could do this, we could do that. Then you play your show like this for a whole year all around the world. You ask people: ‘What did you think about the video and the stage set?’. And they go: ‘We just came to see you guys sing’. That’s a comment we’ve always gotten. So you know what, let’s strip all the fuss away and just make a beautiful concert. We enjoy that the most, and the audience enjoys that.”

It can sometimes be a distraction having lots of other things going on stage…

Urs: “It’s not necessary so why bother. The Il Divo music is very beautiful. We have a few things up our sleeves which I’m not going to give away but it’s a fun show.”

Narrowing down the Greatest Hits set list must have been a challenge.

Urs: “It is, definitely. There are certain songs, which have to be in there. Obviously Unbreak My Heart and My Way. We’ve done Greatest Hits shows before but the repertoire was different. We do have a lot of songs and have done a lot of specials with other artists, like the football World Cup. It’s all Greatest Hits. It is difficult. We get help from outside – we talk to management – and always size it down to a show length. I’ve been listening back to the first albums and we’ve got such beautiful, original songs like I Believe In You, Isabel – which we’re doing again – and other songs we do in the show. I’d be very excited to do a show with only original Il Divo songs. We’ve done a lot of covers and people know these songs but I think we have a stunning original repertoire that would totally be worth doing a show around. Maybe something for the future – the original Greatest Hits.”

What is it like on your tour bus?

Urs: “We’re not travelling on a tour bus. I’ve done two north American tours on a tour bus but not with the other boys. They don’t like that. Sebastian and Carlos get quite easily carsick. David would be OK. It becomes a financial thing. If you rent a whole tour bus it’s very expensive unless you fill it up – they normally have 10 or 12 bunks or up to 18. If you don’t fill it up it’s going to be cheaper to fly the whole party around.”

What are your favourite memories of performing in the UK?

Urs: “Last year the tour was absolutely spectacular. You might remember the weather we had in the UK in July. I’m big into medieval times and ancient properties. Playing in front of Edinburgh Castle and these beautiful properties – house keeping would give us a private tour – that was wonderful. I enjoyed last year’s tour so much. It was almost like I was going sightseeing in the UK and we only had to perform a show in the evening on the side. The UK is where our career started – where we did the first record and had the first record company. It’s where the audience embraced us from the beginning. It’s like coming home when we come to the UK. We play the Royal Albert Hall in London again, which I’m very much looking forward to. It’s a beautiful venue. It’s a very comfortable, homely, family feeling coming to the UK to play these shows.”
David: “I love the UK. It’s one of my favourite places to spend time in. It’s a compact area – we can drive from city to city or take the train. So much of what is challenging about our touring schedule is we spend almost every day on a plane as we’re in a different city every day, sometimes a different country every day. There’s no time to experience boots-on-the-ground of a country. To be able to drive across the countryside and see and take it all in, even if we don’t get to spend so much time in any of these cities, it feels like we’re taking more of it in. 15 years ago we started in the UK and we have such a great fan base. People show up to our concerts and they have a great time. They let their hair down, they let the music in and there’s no greater compliment to an artist than to feel received. That’s what we really get from the UK.”

You must get to recognise a lot of faces in the crowds after 15 years.

David: “Not only do we see a lot of the same UK fans, who have followed us around, the UK is a great hub for our international fans as well. There’s a large Japan contingency, a large San Francisco contingency. If we ever miss areas around Europe they’ll come over to the UK. There is such a sense of familiarity and people showing up that we’ve known for years.”
Seb: “I love when we come to the UK. We are spoiled. We have so many fans who actually somehow are always showing up for us. It feels like an extended family to me. I was always told when I moved to the UK that UK audiences were not very faithful to their band. I don’t know why people used to say to me that they are fickle and go from one band to another. I saw with Take That and so many other bands to the contrary. I think that they are really faithful to their band. We are incredibly lucky our fans are very loyal to us. We probably could name most of our fans. They’ve been there 15 years.”

Will you put Simon Cowell on the guest list for the tour?

Urs: “If he’s interested in coming to see a show, he’s invited. He’s been to a few over the years, obviously. He’s a very busy man. Like us, he’s travelling a lot so you never know where to pin him down. It’s wonderful to see his face down in the audience. I love having people in the audience like I recognise and know. Simon is always a very welcome guest if he can make it to a show.”

Which home comforts do you travel with?

Urs: “Nothing really. I’m so used to travelling and spending nights in hotels I feel so comfortable in whatever bed I lay down, unless it’s really bad quality and the pillows are bad. That’s really annoying. I take clothes with me – two suitcases for two months and I wish I could take 10 because I like my wardrobe. I have got my wife with me if that counts for home comforts? She’s travelling with me all year. We got married two and a half years ago under the premise that we’re going to spend our life together and not that we’re going to be married and I’m going to be gone 10 months out of the year. She’s always with me and we go through all these adventures together. Home is where my heart is and that’s right next to me.”
Seb: “I always travel with my own pillow because I think with hotel pillows you never know what you’re going to get. I don’t like hard pillows. I have a soft pillow I like travelling with any my own pillowcases. It reminds me of being in my own bed and I like that a lot. I have photos of my kids I put beside my bedside table.”

What do you like to have on your rider?

Urs: “It’s getting down and down over the years. I don’t even go to catering these days or have dinner before a show. I have still and sparkling water in my dressing room, rolled oats, a couple of proteins bars, fruit or berries. That’s what I live on for the shows. I have a cup of oatmeal with berries or fruit an hour before the show and that gives me the energy I need to sing. If I’m hungry after, I have a protein bar. That’s it.”

Are you not hungry?

Urs: “Our life rhythm is a bit strange. If I don’t have to get up for travel or interviews I very often sleep until 11 or later if I can sleep in. Normally after the shows it takes quite a while for you to go to sleep – get the body and the mind to rest. Even without hanging out and partying, in your hotel room it can easily be 2-3am before you get to sleep. If you’re in a nice city you look for a place that does all-day breakfast and finish breakfast at 2pm. It’s a very different rhythm.”

Which British traditions do you love?

David: “Even though we can get it in other places there is no substitute for the British version of fish and chips and mushy peas – love it. Full English breakfast every morning. I gain a little bit of weight when I come to the UK. I really do relate somehow to the sensibility of how life is conducted. We lived there for two years at the beginning of Il Divo’s conception in a cluster of apartments in south west London. We really got to spend time and absorb the sensibility of the English nature – the reserved way that everyone speaks to each other, the politeness. Whether that politeness is actually heartfelt or undertone sarky it’s still there. There’s a being there able to deal with each other as human beings. I don’t think in the US we see that nearly as much. We still see a young development of the mind of the American people versus the English people who are clearly a fully formed adult society.
Seb: “I love the countryside in the UK a lot. I’ve been glamping, when my kids were younger, in Hereford etc. I really like Somerset. I think the UK has the best countryside. I love the people in general. I remember living in Notting Hill, going to the market and people going: ‘Hello love, how you are?’. So friendly and very positive. I love the tea and scones. I love your traditions. I think England has amazing traditions just as much as France does. It reminds me how important it is to keep as these things tend to disappear.”

Are there any British musicians you’re friends with?

Seb: “I’ve met quite a few. As friend’s friends, no, but I live not far from Chris Martin in Malibu. If I see him I say hello. I’m such a big fan of his. I love what he does and his music and what he stands for. I think he’s an incredible artist. I know the guy from Muse from being around too. I would have loved to have been friends with David Bowie but he never returned my calls. (Joking) I kept leaving messages. Alfie Boe, I’m friends with him. I grew up with The Beatles as a kid. That was my source of inspiration. I’ve always been a big fan of English music like The Verve. I think they’re the best songwriters in the world. That comes from the culture. I really believe that. I do a lot of song writing because that’s one of my passions.”

As a Beatles fan, Seb, you must get excited when you play shows in Liverpool.

Seb: “I love it. I do. I’m like a kid. What an amazing time. I would have loved to have been born around that time and have a band then. The music industry has changed dramatically. Even the video. Now it’s streaming. Not to sound old fashioned by I don’t think music is appreciated as much.”

What’s next for Il Divo after the tour?

Seb: “We are working on our next album, which is definitely a repertoire that I didn’t expect we were going to do. That was suggested by our management, Red Light. We are definitely going to work on something, which is what people wouldn’t expect us to do. That to me is really exciting because I don’t like to do the same thing. That’s why I did a solo record last year. I’m excited. I know it’s going to be challenging on our voices what we’re recording but I’m excited to bring it to our audience. I think that’s very important otherwise our fans get bored. We get bored.

Credit: Kim Carr