Michael Bublé faced every parent’s worst nightmare when his son was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. The Canadian singer put his career on hold as he and his wife Luisana Lopilato cared for their sick boy, who was suffering from a rare form of liver cancer called hepatoblastoma. Two traumatic years later and five-year-old Noah is said to be responding well to treatment and Michael feels able to face the world again with his music.
His new album is quite aptly called Love and features a brand-new version of ‘When I Fall in Love’, made famous by Nat King Cole. Other tracks include new versions of standards ‘My Funny Valentine’, ‘When You’re Smiling’, ‘Unforgettable’, ‘La Vie en Rose’ and ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’. It also includes the self-penned original song ‘Forever Now’, plus a collaboration with Charlie Puth on ‘Love You Anymore’.
Michael and his wife recently welcomed their third child, daughter Vida. Alongside Noah, the couple have another boy, two-year-old Elias.
So how are you doing, Michael?
Good, thank you. Better every day. Just trying to live the new normal, whatever that is. It depends on the day and today is a good day.
You’ve called your new album Love – that’s as good a name as you can get?
Love. You know what? I really struggled with the name. Because obviously I’ve been through a lot … listen, this album like every album represents the snapshot of my life and where I’ve been and who I am. And so I [was] so focused on the theme of this record, on the seriousness of my interpretations of these songs. And the first name I had was actually My Romance and the reason I had called it that [was] because I felt like it was my romance rekindled with the music, my romance with the songs, my romance with the public, my romance with my persona, my work, my romance with my family, my romance with all of it. And someone was kind enough to say to me, “Listen, that’s a lovely sentiment but unless you can tell every single journalist in the world this and they can spread the word for you then people might misunderstand.” Because the truth is I didn’t think the word ‘romance’ adequately described what this record is. And what this record is, is a group of short stories that are my theory of love and the complicated varied, layered emotion.
This word, it is so many things. Love isn’t romantic always, you know, love carries many connotations. It carries sometimes violence and jealously and hatred and, you know, I can say that to you and sell it to you [as] “love means all these different things” but if I go through track by track, I can tell you that each one of them is a different kind of study of this emotion. I can start with ‘When I Fall in Love’, people say to me, “What a romantic song.” I see it, yes, as a romantic song, but a very sad song. It’s a very lonely song. … When I became the character of the song, I found myself bitterly sitting in a bar after six drinks wishing that I had what that man had with this woman, wishing that I could find someone who loved me too. And knowing that one day if I’m ever lucky enough to find that, OK I’m going to hold on to it, but for now, it’s only a dream, it’s only an apparition. And so, I find it almost depressing but beautiful in that way.
The next song, ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ has a sense of focus on that, almost the physical, at the beginning of romance, when the physical matters so much more than the mental. As in this person is everything to you and you could have a million things happening around you, but you see nothing else. And that is romantic love.
If I go down to the next ‘Love You Anymore’ the [Charlie] Puth song to me is a really complicated song because you’d assume when you hear it, it’s about a couple but it’s not, their romance is over. And it’s, I think, the lover looking at his significant other and … trying to say all the right things: “Well, just because I have your picture on my phone, just because when I hear our song my heart breaks, just because I would change everything if you would just take me back – well, that doesn’t mean I love you any more.” Well, I think he’s lying, he’s a liar, he can’t be honest with himself because he’s so in love with her that he might die of a broken heart if he admits to himself that he has lost the greatest thing.
Love is the most beautiful feeling, but it can also devastate?
Completely. But every song, every arrangement, I had a clear cinematic concept. ‘Love You Anymore’ was my [An] American in Paris. It’s me having two cultures, very much like my wife and I. Two cultures coming together and me walking as the ugly American down the street in Paris with this young, beautiful woman and speaking English to her. And I’ve written a counter melody so that she could reply to me in French and then we turn and now she starts to sing to me in French and I start to reply to her in English. And then within the solo we have this wonderful dance and we make love and we come out and all of a sudden, I’ve assimilated, I’ve completely taken her culture on and now we sing together in French.
And then we get to something like ‘Such a Night’ where I feel that that relationship has ended, and she has gone but I have great reverie because it was the hottest, sexiest, most wonderful night of my life and I’ll never forget the electricity. You know? It continues to go on.
And then I think the best for me personally, the one that has the greatest sense of what I’m talking about is ‘My Funny Valentine’ because this song in one song counterbalances this beautiful dark, romantic melody, where you’re telling this person that you absolutely love them, their imperfections are what make them so perfect to you and please don’t go, never leave me. And then on the other hand you’re saying to her, “Is your figure less than Greek, are you ugly? Is your mouth a little weak, when you open it to speak are you smart?” You’re questioning her intelligence here. It’s just mean, it’s downright cruel. Who would say that to someone? And in the relationship that is love. This song comes with all of this love and then almost hatred. What’s the word I’m looking for? Almost aggressive, not even passive-aggressive. But [an] aggressive kind of resentment towards this person.
I can continue, I can go down every song, but I had like a small movie in my head and I do that when I arrange, but I don’t think I’d ever had it come together as completely and as emotional[ly] as I did for this.
You’re talking big arrangements, big emotions – would you say this is your most grown-up album?
Well, after what I’ve gone through – yeah. I don’t think I knew how else to do it. You know? I think I took all of my fear and my gratitude and my pain and I just wrote and arranged, and I don’t know. I’m better now at this, like I feel like I’m complete as an artist, that I have come to a point where … my voice is the best that it’s ever been, I’m able to walk into the song and now become the characters because I understand the emotion involved, and … I don’t know if I was ever able to do that as well because I don’t think I … ever understood the level of pain or how to access that. But I wish that this was a ****** record and I wish that I didn’t have any of that. … I would never have traded this for that. It’s hard. I don’t explain it very well. … I know we have to acknowledge it because it’s impossible not to have context because how could it not … But I wish that I was light-hearted again because I will never be in my life. And that’s OK because that’s just what it is to be human and that’s part of life.
Have you changed a lot over these past few years in the way that you look at your career?
Yeah, you know, it’s funny. I think I didn’t want to let people know, but I wasn’t good. … I think I lost my love of all of it. I’m just talking about a sense of the profession. I had lost my perspective … I don’t know how to say it, I was having no fun. None. Zero. … My decisions artistically whether they worked or not has nothing to do with it, but were based on fear, the fear of losing it, the fear that it was going to go away, that it wasn’t going to be as big … I cared about what people thought, what they were saying, what the internet was saying, what the critic was saying and I just kind of lost my way a bit. … I think I was headed for a great downfall.
You were having your own career crisis and then your shock family news came along?
Yeah, and can I tell you what happened? As I was having this crisis, the diagnosis came and all of a sudden … I was sitting in like another dimension and this crisis I was feeling all of a sudden, this film that I had over me just popped. And this clarity, I was like, “What are you worried about …? You’re worried about this? What the internet said? … Or how many tickets or if the song is number two or number four on the chart?” And it embarrassed me. Sitting on my own in a hospital I was embarrassed and in that moment, I said, I knew, I didn’t say it, I’ll never go on social media again, I will never look at a critic, I will never read my name. I know it sounds strange. But from that day, which was Halloween day, I never again read my name in print. I never will. I never ever post. I mean they asked me to do something, holding the camera, “Hey the record is coming out”, never, no more, none of it. That day I understood, I thought, “Wow, I thought this mattered to me.”
It’s funny, the Christmas record, I had stopped doing my Christmas special and, you know, I stopped doing it because I was worried that people were saying I was a Christmas guy. And in that moment too I thought, “What’s wrong with you, Mike? This worried you that people were bringing you in to this beautiful, personal vacation time of family and love and faith and what? You were worried because there was a … meme of you on the internet.”
You’ve always come across so cool and relaxed about things.
No. I was a liar. … I was cool and relaxed and then I wasn’t. And people around me were worried about me. At the end they could see me starting to … there was no more joy. None of this. None of the light feeling … because the things that should be important, you know, it’s the journey, to share, to love and it just became all about, “What do you mean, the cover of Time magazine? What about People? I’m not on that.” This crazy … thing. I don’t know.
In “Forever Now” you sing “I’m always going to lift you up” – who lifted you up during this period?
You [the people]. You did. My faith, honestly, I’ve said this, so it feels like it’s weird when I repeat it, the love that we got from the people all over the world. The way that we were treated by the media gave us faith in humanity. It’s very easy to look at everything cynically and, my wife and I, there were days when there were people, we just knew they were praying for us and we knew that they were showing us this kindness and compassion, honestly. Because I never looked any more, I refused to ever look at myself in the paper, but I would have to go to a grocery store and buy stuff and I would see the way that it was covered with such class and dignity. People got us through more than they’ll ever know. And part of my reason for even having this record was that I wanted to be able to say thank you in a small … way and I wanted to be able to put together something beautiful and loving and peaceful and put it out to a world going through difficult times.
There is so much hate in the world these days…
Yeah, and for me it was my way of saying thank you. I kept saying it over and over again. My mantra was … I kept even to my co-producers David [Foster] and Jochen [Van der Saag], when they asked me what my idea was, I said that the concept was love, the concept was for this music to help people, I hope, the way that they helped me. And even though it’s anonymous and I’ll never know how it changes someone’s life, they’ll never know how they changed mine. So there was that and I kept saying, “And I want it to be bliss. I don’t want to work hard. I want us to have integrity and care, but every day should be just joy.! I don’t have room for anything else.
Did you keep your optimism throughout the tragic times?
No, I did not. No. I think that life changes for all of us when we face our own mortality, or when we face the mortality of someone that we love so much. … That’s just me, I can’t speak for other people. But, for me, I ask myself so many times and still, “What’s it all about?” Because you lose the importance, the things that you used to list as things that were so important to you. All of a sudden…
Family has always been important to you, though?
Oh, of course. Always. Absolutely. I always had that. I think what I meant was that I think you just get to this point where you … I think more philosophically; I don’t mean, “What’s it all about and what’s important? Family or this?” But, “Is it just pain?” It made my faith stronger. I thought, “How can we suffer so much? There must be something more than this, this cannot just be suffering and ashes to ashes, dust to dust. There must be a greater reason, what is the reason?” I still, I mean, we all ask this question, don’t we? This is the question. Where are we from? Where do we go? What is this? And I think that’s more what I meant. But the positivity I have is knowing how important it is to be grateful, and that gratitude in the moment, and to really remember that when something doesn’t go your way or you have a disappointment in your plan or your business, that you can hit yourself and say, “Hey, remember when it was really bad? Well, this isn’t so bad.” And I think that’s been a positive.
Is “Forever Now” a song you wrote about your wife?
Yeah. No, you know, of course I couldn’t help but write it about the experience … that I was going through but, you know, every song I’ve ever written, I have deeply wanted to leave something open-ended enough where your interpretation [is] it’s your song. It’s for you. And this song I thought, “Man, I would love for people to relate to this on the level of parenthood, of loving and taking care and being responsible” and not just for a child but for an animal, for a pet. Some people don’t have children and their dog and their cat or their lizard is … they feel as much love and as much pain and loss and all of that. And for me, I loved writing a song and it’s funny. Every time … I [got] stuck lyrically, [my co-writer Tom Jackson would] say to me, “But what are we looking for?” Over and over I kept explaining that this song was about time, I kept saying, “No it’s about time, Tom. It’s about time. It’s about how quickly time comes. It’s about this cycle of this life we live where we all suffer the loss and the fear, but we also celebrate this love that we have but we all have our time. Time runs out for all of us.” And it was funny, the hardest part of the song that I had was the lyric, “It wasn’t so long ago, we walked together, and you held my hand but now you’re getting too big to want to and I hope you’ll always understand.” But the original words were, “Remember when you were little…” and I hated it. They were these words that I’d sung quickly. Tom is such a wonderful lyricist that he helped me to sort of tell the story. I remember just over and over I kept saying, “This is about time. In this song I must have a way to express the journey that we’re going through and how quickly it all goes.”
Talking of time, it was Noah’s fifth birthday recently?
I know, it’s crazy.
What did you do?
Oh well, we had two birthday parties. He had one two weeks earlier because all of our relatives from Argentina were in Vancouver. So, we went to an indoor trampoline place. And on his birthday, we went and rented a pirate ship and we all became pirates and we sang, “Yo ho ho a pirate’s life for me” about 87 times.
You’ve also had a daughter recently. How is she doing?
She’s beautiful. My wife is so happy. My wife is in love. It’s really nice and really beautiful. Her name [Vida] obviously was purposeful because we felt like it was kind of a miracle for us. Out of something so hard, something so beautiful. And we were well aware because we had enough people tell us, I can’t remember, someone told me that 92 per cent of couples divorce and I understand why, because it’s too much. So we’re happy that we didn’t get divorced. [laughs]
Not only that you had another baby?
It’s funny. One of the oncologists said it to us, talking about that. He had said, “Listen, most … sadly it ends and then for some reason those few others have babies.” I remember at the beginning we looked at him and said, “Oh … sure.”
Did it all bring you closer together?
Closer yes, but, you know, I think you find out who people are when the **** hits the fan and you find out a lot about yourself and the other person, and I fell very deeply in love with my wife as a human being, as a mother. …
And if you can get through that, you can get through anything?
Listen, I don’t have another plan. I don’t ever want to have to … go on a date with another person in my life. Ever. She’s my best friend. I’m very lucky. I got very lucky. I married a great woman.
Are you going back on tour? Are you itching to get back out on stage?
Yeah. I’m not itching. I mean, I love it. I’m doing it, but I’ve already created a calendar that allows me to do what I have to do … but not to be away. The longest time away in the next two years is three weeks and that’s long. Nothing else ever passes that.
You moved to a new house as well?
Yeah, we just moved in. It’s nice.
And you have an ice hockey rink in the basement?
I’m the MC Hammer of jazz music. [laughs]
Was that like a dream come true, you were almost pro, right?
Totally. I love it. I hate going to the gym but when you skate, it’s exercise, it’s just a lot more fun.
Are your kids following in your musical footsteps?
The other day he got in the truck … and he started to sing, and out of the blue he wrote a song.
Noah. He said [singing], “Pappy, pappy sings but he can’t touch the piano like Alan” – that’s my co-writer. [Singing] “Uncle Alan plays a better piano, Daddy stinks.” He knows my limitations. [laughs]