Il Divo Abu Dhabi interview

We talk to Il Divo’s Sebastien Izambard in London before the band hit Abu Dhabi… Discuss this article

© ITP Images

French singer Sebastien Izambard is one quarter of Il Divo, the acclaimed, multinational and globe-trotting opera-pop combo created by impresario Simon Cowell in 2004.

With more than 150 gold and platinum discs in 33 countries, the group have conquered hearts and charts around the world.

Now, this April, they’re coming to Abu Dhabi as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival.

We caught up with Sebastien to find out about his music, melodies, pre-performance massages - and why Il Divo isn’t a boy band.

You’re famously connected with Simon Cowell. Is this a good or bad thing?
It’s a great thing: Simon has opened doors for us in a fantastic way, very much quicker than we could have opened them for ourselves. At the same time, Il Divo wouldn’t have lasted if we didn’t work really hard ourselves as artists. Sometimes, the connection can take away credibility about what kind of artist you are, because of reality shows and things that are made quickly and then disappear. But we’ve been together for six years now and we’ve been successful. We’ve always wanted to go beyond the chance that he gave us, and we’ve managed to show everyone that it’s not just the ‘Simon factor’ that’s allowed us to make it through.

Simon ordered an extensive search to find each member of Il Divo. What do you think he saw in each of you?
That would be a question for him, I guess! All I can tell you is that I think he was looking for people he could trust with his vision for the group – people who could make the picture he had in his mind exist. We had all been involved in music for years, so we could recreate his vision on a sound level – but also, because we were so different on an individual level, our voices are completely different. It’s the richness of the combination and the skills we each have – I think that’s what Simon wanted.

What do you believe each member brings to the group?
Our different personalities – that’s for sure. David (Miller) – being American – he’s very representative of his country in what he thinks. The same goes for me, being French – although I’m not too arrogant! Urs (Bühler) has a very Swiss way of thinking – everything has to be very tight and organised. And Carlos (Marin) is like the fire of the group, the fuego as they say in Spanish. When he sings, it has to be loud, sometimes very emotional – and his personality shows really well on the records. We bring who we are to the group, and that’s a complex thing with our different backgrounds and countries.

Do you think the kind of boy band image you’ve been given detracts from your talent in any way?
Erm… we’re not really a boy band: we’re all in our thirties. We’re definitely a band, though. Really, I don’t really have a problem with what people want to call us. We’re trying to achieve good music – music that’s accessible to all kinds of people who don’t necessarily know much about opera but enjoy voices, you know? People often think we sing opera but we don’t – we sing pop songs in an operatic way. We’re a band who show a different way of singing pop songs for people who want to hear different, strong voices.

There’s a sense that you’re a younger version of the Three Tenors. Which one of you is Pavarotti, which is Placido Domingo, which is Jose Carreras, and which one is the odd one out?
Ha! I have no idea… I don’t think any of us pretend to be any of those singers and I don’t think we could compare ourselves to those amazing voices. They’re untouchable, unreachable talents – leave them to be who they are. We’re Sebastian, Urs, David and Carlos.

Your singles seem to have been a mixture of soundtrack numbers and Abba songs. Who chooses them for you?
We sit down with our record company and Simon and a list of songs, and we brainstorm through a list of songs. Then, we try the list we’ve chosen in the studio, and decide what works best. We’re not told: ‘this is what you’re going to sing; now shut up and do it’ – it’s teamwork. After all, it’s the four of us who are going to take it on stage. I think Abba was Simon’s suggestion, while Hallelujah is a song that I’ve suggested for years because it has such a subtle, beautiful melody.

We do have a tendency to add songs to our performances that aren’t the records – that’s something you’re going to find in the Abu Dhabi show. We’re going to present some stuff like Bridge Over Troubled Waters and some other surprises.

Do any of you write your own music, and if so, have you ever presented it to your manager?
It’s one of my passions. I love writing and I love collaborating with different people when I’ve got free time from Il Divo. It’s a very important thing to me; it’s part of the creativity of being an artist. But to write for Il Divo is tricky and difficult on so many levels because I’m so involved in it. I’ve tried, but haven’t really achieved what I’ve wanted to do - not yet.

If you could only listen to one album for the rest of your life, what would it be?
It would have to be David Bowie, probably Ziggy.

What was the first live concert you ever attended?
David Bowie, when I was five. My mum took me. I can’t remember it, but my first concert could have been worse, eh? I think my first concert of choice was Depeche Mode…

Do you have any last minute rituals you go through before hitting the stage?
I like to have a massage. I always try to have one; it gives you some time to step back a little bit and relax. Very often we shake hands and wish each other luck – but there’s nothing crazy.

Grab your tickets to see Il Divo in Abu Dhabi here

By Chris Pilbeam
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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