Music interview '“ Il Divo: '˜I think what's really the driving force of the band is wanting to do better each time'

Il DivoIl Divo
Il Divo
As classical crossover group Il Divo head to Yorkshire, Duncan Seaman speaks to tenors Sebastien Izambard and David Miller.

Befitting a group with an enduringly sophisticated public image, the itinerary for Il Divo’s summer tour takes in some of the UK’s most spectacular venues, from Alnwick Castle to Ragley Hall in Warwickshire.

In Yorkshire, the multinational quartet of Carlos Marin, Uhrs Buhler, David Miller and Sebastien Izambard are due to perform at Scarborough Open Air Theatre.

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Frenchman Izambard is particularly looking forward to coming to Britain, where the classical crossover group’s success began a decade and a half ago. It led on to 30 million album sales worldwide.

“For me it’s always very special to come back here,” the 45-year-old tenor explains. “I lived in England for 10 years so every time I come it feels like going home and I feel very nostalgic.

“This is going to give us a chance to see the beautiful UK countryside and the castles. Now I live in America there’s not many castles – not from that era, for sure – so I think the background is going to be spectacular and it’s definitely going to work with what we’re doing.

“This tour, the concept of it is songs from the 30s ’til now and I find that having castles makes things even more timeless. With the theme of our album it works well together and it’s going to be very classy.”

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In the course of promoting a dozen albums in 15 years the group have toured all over the world. For American tenor Miller, also 45, the subtle differences in audiences is “what makes the touring life really interesting”.

“As a group we were born in the UK, so that’s where our longest standing fan base is. From there with the first album we started doing promotion, being on TV shows and going to different countries but we didn’t really have a gauge of the difference in audiences. Obviously our album sales are a good indicator that people like what we do but the real indicator is getting into the country, getting into a venue and in front of an audience and seeing how they respond.

“In the UK they’re very enthusiastic, we get a great response, people love it like it’s this hybrid between going to see the opera and a rock concert, and the ladies who enjoy our music get to feel like they’re kids again – like when they saw The Beatles for the first time or whatever, and then you go to a place like Japan where it’s just a completely different sociological ethic of how one responds to music. It’s a different vibe; you can see the expression on their faces but maybe they’re not quite so vocal. Then you go to a place like Spain where you can’t get them to shut up even during songs – they’re screaming out your name during songs, they miss the whole opera part, they just treat it like it’s a rock concert. It’s more like a party than a concert.”

At several of the dates on the Castles and Country tour the group will be joined by the singer, West End star and broadcaster Michael Ball. They are old friends, explains Izambard. “We had the chance years ago to record Love Changes Everything with him. It was definitely a wonderful memory. We went in the studio and I personally didn’t know much of Michael Ball; David knew him and Carlos is a big fan of musicals. We had such a blast, he’s a really nice guy and an incredible singer. We had the chance to meet him later on when we did a special TV show for Andrew Lloyd-Webber.”

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“He’s a fun guy,” says Miller. “He just loves music, loves singing, loves people. You get him in a room and the whole room lights up, it’s really cool.”

Il Divo are due to release their new album, Timeless, in August. The first single, Hola, is a Spanish translation of the Adele ballad Hello. “That was Sebastien’s idea,” says Miller. “The concept for the album kind of evolved over time as we were looking at all of the songs that were on our previous albums and trying to find a common theme.

“People keep asking us all the time, ‘what’s the secret to Il Divo?’ and we have no clue. There’s no one thing that we can pin down. We looked across all our previous albums and said ‘what are the common themes? OK, romance – that makes sense; big drama in the arrangement or in the song or in the melody – OK, that makes sense’. What we found was there were so many different types of songs that we’ve covered – stuff that’s music theatre, standards, Frank Sinatra, 80s pop ballads, Latin music; there’s so much variety across all of our albums. What we do is we will take a song and it kind of doesn’t matter what genre it’s from, we will take that song and bring it into our universe and really make it our own and put our stamp on it, and there’s something really exciting about that.

“So that was the general concept with what we wanted to achieve with Timeless. We went through and created a list of I don’t even remember how many songs, it was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 80 or 90, as we distilled it down to what is the most iconic song of each decade, and for our opinion these 10 tracks were the most iconic songs. Obviously for the most recent period Adele’s Hello was the most iconic song in recent memory so we approached her about it and she gave us permission then we went and put it into a Spanish translation. She said ‘That’s an interesting idea’ and gave us permission for that as well and then we went through our usual process of let’s take this and make it our own, put it in our voices and see what happens. What came out then became the lead track of the album because the nature of the song and what she wrote is already so dramatic and that’s one of the big pillars of Il Divo so it was a perfect fit.”

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This year marks the group’s 15th anniversary. Looking back to the audition process launched by X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent mogul Simon Cowell that brought the four of them together in 2003, Izambard chuckles in slight disbelief that things have gone as well as they have. “It’s incredible that we are able to do what we love, that we’ve taken this empowerment with a lot of risks to put this album together as producers with no one else, no label, nothing and put it out there in distribution now with Universal.

“I think what’s really the driving force of the band is wanting to do better each time and being so passionate about music. We are very loyal to our fans and our fans are very loyal to us and in this day and age that’s incredible, we are so lucky.”

Miller believes the glamour and romance at the heart of the group are what speaks to such a broad audience. “Who doesn’t want romance and who doesn’t enjoy glamour?” he says. “It’s part of the image that we convey and what people clue into. It’s not what we per se think about when we’re in the studio. Doing a good job is our first priority and that translates into the music and then how people receive that music through the lenses they have – they perceive that as romantic and glamorous.”

Il Divo play at Alnwick Castle on July 15 and Scarborough Open Air Theatre on Saturday July 21.