David Miller (seen here on the right), a member of Il Divo, chats with Kevin Cooper about spending time in the UK, how he coped during the Covid-19 pandemic, recording a Motown tribute album and their forthcoming A Christmas With…tour of the UK

David Miller is an American tenor and since 2004, he has been a member of the successful classical crossover group Il Divo.

Born in San Diego, California, but raised in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado he went to the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he graduated in 1995 with degrees in Vocal Performance and Opera Theatre.

In May 1998 he performed along with other opera singers, for President Bill Clinton in the White House. In 2000 he made his debut with Opera Australia and at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, in the role of Tony from West Side Story.

His best known solo work to date is considered to be his role as Rodolfo in Baz Luhrmann’s 2002 version of Puccini’s La Boheme.

In December 2003 he became a member of the international musical quartet Il Divo along with Swiss operatic tenor Urs Buhler, French pop singer Sebastien Izambard and Spanish baritone Carlos Marin.

Their eponymous first album became a worldwide multi-platinum selling record when released in November 2004, entering the Billboard chart at number four and selling five million copies worldwide in less than a year, knocking Robbie Williams from the number one spot in the charts. Since then they have released a further eight studio albums.

Whilst busy preparing for their Christmas tour of the UK, David Miller took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi David, how are you?

I’m fine thanks Kevin, in fact I’m doing alright. But more importantly, just how are you today?

All is good thank you, and before we move on let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

Not at all, in fact I’m absolutely happy to speak with you today.

I have to ask, just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I would have to say that at this moment in time I am relatively unscathed (laughter). A lot of people have had a hell of a lot more challenges to navigate these past couple of years. I have to be totally honest with you and tell you that, at times, it has been a challenge for me to keep myself sane. It has been a struggle at times trying to keep myself fit. It has been hard for me to keep myself creatively engaged, and that really has been the worst of it.

Just to give you a little background, I last photographed you on Friday 20th July 2018, when you were performing at Belvoir Castle in Grantham on your Timeless Castle’s and Country Tour.

Wow, just how long ago does that feel (laughter).

I have to be honest with you and say that it feels like light years ago now. You had a certain Michael Ball supporting you at the time.

That’s right, we did. Was Alfie Boe with Michael on that occasion?

No, he wasn’t, it was just Michael.

I remember at that time that Alfie and Michael were touring and then not touring. Alfie would show up on some of the dates then not turn up on others (laughter). I have to say that Michael is such a fun guy.

I have interviewed both of them many times now and they always come across like naughty school children (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) aren’t we all some days (laughter).

Now, being serious for a while, if we can. We really must talk about your forthcoming tour, hadn’t we?

Yes, we had, I suppose that you are right.

On Wednesday 1st December A Christmas With…kicks off in Southend. Are you looking forward to being back out on tour here in the UK?

I really can’t tell you just how much I am looking forward to this. Two years ago, we left off finishing our Christmas Tour around the USA. And so, it actually fells like we are picking up where we left off, albeit some two years later. Having said that, so much has happened in those two years; so much isolation, so many challenges, so much heartbreak for so many people, and I think this concert tour of ours is necessary and needed so desperately by all of us, in order that we can all come together once again; in order to once again give us a sense of community, and a sense of connection once again with the things that we love. We really do need to break this isolation mode.

I also have to say that I am so very pleased that we are once again coming over to the UK in order to do this, simply because you guys are really leading the way in terms of the vaccination and compared to what is going on over here in the USA, you guys really are a role model. I know that it is not perfect but thank goodness that you guys have really been following the protocols and you have been able to finally open up. You guys really have been a great example so far, so please, keep carrying on doing what you do.

We don’t usually get things right but on this occasion, I think that we are doing okay and moving in the right direction.

That’s not true, but for now, let’s not go there (laughter).

You have mentioned the fact that you haven’t toured for two years. What can we expect this time around?

Happiness and lots of merriment (laughter). You will see the four of us back together and even for the four of us, for as much as we have been together for so long, and we have been doing this for so long, seventeen years at this point, I always say be careful what you wish for. Whenever you get into a mode of, ‘oh man, I could use a break’ at the end of the day I always remember that I really do miss the guys. You can spend seventeen hours a day with the guys and eventually they become like family. Maybe they will rub you up the wrong way, like family do, little things become big things or whatever, but it is not until you don’t have that anymore that you realise just how much you miss it.

We are bringing our Christmas repertoire over to the UK; we are bringing our holiday cheer, and we know that everyone else will be doing the same and I think that these concerts are going to be particularly special.

May I take you back to 2005? You released The Christmas Collection, and I have to tell you that the British fans went mad for it; they loved it.

Wow, that is going a very long way back (laughter). I had forgotten just how far back that was. For me personally, I think that one of the things about Il Divo which is truly unique is that we present a musical variety show to a degree. It is pop music, it is standards, it has themes that are based upon classical music, and its Christmas songs. It is this; it is that, it is sung in different languages, it is the four of us and whatever. For me being an opera singer, that is all that I did right up until Il Divo, I tend to err on the side of a classical bent. I personally feel that Christmas music lends itself to the more orchestral side of things.

It may not be classical music per se. I know that some of it is; things such as Schubert’s Ave Maria, Thomas Aquinas’ Panis Angelicus, and these things that are steeped in very classical traditions. It is really one of my favourite albums for that reason and I have to say that I love these concerts for that reason. It allows me to stay in that gear a little longer.

Putting you on the spot, do you have a particular favourite carol that you like to perform?

I have to be totally honest with you and say no, not really. For me, I love getting into a mode with my voice, which is more along the lines of being able to open up into a full-throated opera expression, which I think this music does. However, I will say that I did not know the song Panis Angelicus before I became a part of Il Divo. I had never known that as being a Christmas song. And so, for me, it is one of the most traditional of the songs, and I really do enjoy singing that one. We have only ever done two Christmas shows since we released the Christmas album; once around the USA and Canada, and then another one around the USA but that being some ten years after the first show.

So, the song really is still very fresh and almost brand new to me. Apart from recording it sometime between those two tours I have only sung it a handful of times. So, if I had to choose one then it would probably be that one; Panis Angelicus.

Whenever I play the album, I have four go to tracks. They are; O Holy Night, Rejoice, White Christmas and Silent Night.

I have to say that I also love those tracks. They are all super classics.

Have you ever had any thoughts about recording another Christmas album?

You know, we have talked about that on and off since the first Christmas album and, for whatever reason, it just keeps getting side-tracked. We have ideas for the songs, and we also have ideas for the arrangements but then, we will have things like, ‘oh, we are coming up to the sixtieth anniversary of Motown so let’s do a Motown collection this time’ (laughter). Maybe we will record a Christmas collection the next time (laughter). The problem with that is that every time that we get to the next time it always makes sense for us to be doing the other thing (laughter). So, what I will say at this point is that it is on the docket, and I am sure that we will get around to doing it at some point.

Do you enjoy your time spent here in the UK?

Oh yes, I do, very much so. As you know, we were put together in the UK, and those first couple of albums that we recorded before we started touring, we actually totally uprooted our lives and transplanted them to the UK. We lived in apartments which were just a stone’s throw from each other over there in King’s Chelsea. I have to say that it really felt great. In fact, it actually became our home. After we had recorded the first album, we began touring the UK doing the initial promotion together with radio tours which took in all of the local radio stations. We were, in fact, driving all over the UK really getting to know a bit of everywhere (laughter).

It is actually amazing to me that the UK has so many different unique feels to every town, every city; everywhere has its own vibe in such a compact area. It just blows my mind. I have to tell you that I have never had a bad experience anywhere around the UK. To me, it is like one of those magical unicorn places (laughter).

You have mentioned both singing and acting. Which do you prefer?

(Laughter) I would have to be totally honest with you and say that I am not a very good actor at all, I find it fun, but I really am not that good at it (laughter). I use my voice as a means and as a method for acting and I let the music work for me. I have tried straight drama before, but I really am not that good (laughter).

You mentioned earlier that Il Divo have now been together for some seventeen years. Looking back over those seventeen years, did you ever think that you would still be together doing what you love to do?

No, not at the time simply because we had no idea what we were doing. We had absolutely no idea as to what we were doing (laughter). All that we knew was that there were four guys in a room, each of their voices did something different, and we had a handful of songs to see what we could do with them. We all just got along with it, seeing what would happen as we went along, and not knowing if it was going to survive past the first album. As far as I was concerned as an opera singer, whenever you record an album or a cast recording of something, it goes onto the shelves or into the catalogue, and that’s it, you go back to your lives. Having said that, this very quickly became something else.

The record company said to me, “we think that this is really special, and we see this as being maybe the next five years of your lives. You are going to have to cancel all of your opera engagements”. I stewed on that for a while and then decided to take the risk, go along with it, and see where it led. To my amazement it just kept on going and going and it very soon became album after album, tour after tour. Now, there is no end in sight (laughter). It is the complete opposite end of the spectrum to where we were some seventeen years ago.

I have to ask, whose idea was it for Il Divo to record a Motown tribute album?

It was actually an idea that was put to us. We had just finished the Timeless album a couple of years prior, and we were on tour with that album, and we were all trying to think what the next project would be. We had just signed on with a new management company, Red Light Management, and it was them who proposed the idea. They said to us, “we have all of these ideas, and we are happy to explore any of them but, we have got the sixtieth anniversary of Motown coming up, so do you guys know anything about Motown” (laughter). Like most people around the world, we did, as Motown is part of the fabric of everyone’s lives really, and globally these songs have such a reach and they are so classic and iconic, but I doubt that any one of us ever thought, ‘oh let’s make a Motown tribute album’ (laughter).

However, once the idea was put to us, we all thought ‘oh that’s interesting and different’ so we started exploring the Motown repertoire and suddenly realised that it was an opportunity for us to explore the romantic songs, that had an emotional swell to them. We also looked at the ballads that would allow the voice to open up in a certain way or maybe not, but they may have a certain intimacy, remembering that we have never done anything on the scale of these songs, in terms of this uplifting feel. Every one of these tracks has an uplifting feel to them; they all feel so positive. Being totally honest with you, we were supposed to release the album back in 2019, but then, of course, the pandemic hit, and all bets were off. We will definitely release the album when the time is right but it simply doesn’t make sense right now. Given everything that has happened since then, the world needs a dose of positivity, and I think that the album has come exactly at the right time.

I’m a massive Motown and Four Tops fan and I love what you have done with Reach Out (I’ll Be There).

Thank you for saying that. For me personally, all of the tracks on the album are so much fun for us to sing. I think that whenever you get into the zone, and you are having fun with what you are doing; it really is kind of hard to screw up (laughter). The magic is already in the music (laughter).

Will we eventually see you touring the album here in the UK?

We have very big plans to tour with this album and we have been trying to get that off the ground, but it still doesn’t make any sense yet and I think, certainly with us being able to come over there to the UK to tour the Christmas album, we now know that touring around the UK is certainly possible. We are still trying to get venues to commit as we are trying to make a world tour out of this whole thing. So, what can I tell you, we are going to get there some time.

As we have been talking about your Christmas tour, what would be your ideal Christmas?

Short of sounding a little too cheeky, I kind of had two of them in a row just now (laughter). I have loved the fact that I have been able to be home, being with my wife. We are usually touring right up until Christmas, in fact some years we have toured right up to 23rd December, then you spend the 24th travelling in order to get home, and when you do finally get home, you are totally exhausted, and you don’t really have the time and space to be able to enjoy the moment itself. However, you do your best and then a few days later it is time for you to get back out on the road (laughter). These last two years have been, for as much as it has been so challenging in so many ways for so many people, these last couple of Christmases, for me, have just been idyllic. For me, being at home and spending time, and being present at the magic of the moment and having the time and space to do that has been great.

On that note David, let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today, it’s been great. You take care and I will see you in Nottingham.

Well, thank you very much Kevin. I appreciate your time. I have to tell you that Nottingham is actually one of my favourite places for us to go. I have this memory of being there back in 2006 and our drummer at the time said to me, “come on, we have got to go to the pub” (laughter). I said to him, “we can’t go, we are doing a show tonight” but he was most insistent saying, “no, you really have to go to this pub”. So off we went, and he took me to Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem where I had half a pint of real ale and for me just to be there in that historical vibration, was so very deep and profound. And because of that one moment, Nottingham is such a cool place forever, in my book.

Well I’m sure that you will be welcome anytime, but trust me you will have to watch your intake of that real ale (laughter).

Thanks for the warning Kevin (laughter).