Josh Groban drops pop for classical

Pop collaborations don't get much stranger than big-voice crooner Josh Groban hooking up with megaproducer Rick Rubin for Groban's latest album, "Illuminations."

Rubin is known for producing the Black Crowes, Run-D.M.C., LL Cool J, Metallica, Linkin Park and any number of other artists who wouldn't seem to naturally mesh with Groban's musical style.

No one was more surprised at the idea than Groban, who brings his tour to Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte on June 10. He first met Rubin through a mutual friend in the industry.

"He looked kind of mean," Groban remembers. "He's not the guy you see at record-industry parties, and he's not the guy to show up at the Grammys to collect his awards. I didn't even expect to be on his radar."

Groban was well aware of Rubin's legendary status, but didn't know how the two could work together.

"What were we going to do? I was a fan of his hip-hop and country and rock records, but he hadn't done anything like I do," Groban says. "I'd just finished this massively successful Christmas album, and he had a massively successful Metallica album, and we were in a place where we said, 'Let's learn from each other.'

"He wanted me to make a personal, beautiful-sounding record, and bring the element of live recording into it."

Working with Rubin was a long, difficult process, because Rubin insisted they make a classical-sounding record with no pop influences. Rubin wanted no drums or Western guitars, and favored instruments such as the cello, Hammond organ, accordion, ukulele, violin, clarinet and piano.

"That took a lot of tools out of my shed, because I love pop music," Groban says. "So I knew (that by) making this record, some fans would be irked because some of those instruments are not there."

"Illuminations" debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200. Groban says he looks forward to bringing his new songs, as well as his classic material, to fans in an arena-size show.

"With an arena show, it's a challenge when you still want to keep it intimate," Groban says. "I'm trying to have the same interaction with fans I had on the smaller shows. We've done our homework more than ever before. I'm very excited to bring to life visually what I think the fans expect of these songs."