Il Divo were initially brought together by pop impresario Simon Cowell in 2004, following an extensive worldwide audition process. The virtuoso blending of operatic technique with romantic and popular song took the world by storm, with sales of over 22 million. Their first three albums, 'Il Divo', 'Ancora' and 'Siempre' scored 36 number 1 chart positions across 26 countries. But success was hard earned.
"It was a massive experiment, really," recalls David. "You bring four solo singers together, three operatic, one pop, four different countries, there's language barriers, there's no template for what we were trying to do. Simon said, 'here's some songs, make me proud.' We had to figure it out as we went along."
The trick of Il Divo has been to make it look so easy. The public fell for these four handsome men, singing their hearts out, transforming some of the great songs of the popular canon with outstanding vocal skills. But behind the scenes it involved all consuming dedication and a relentless drive for perfection. "For everybody it has been a big journey," explains Sebastian. "We put the work in. We try to make everything the best. That's the challenge."
Il Divo's schedule has been non stop. Two sold out world tours have seen them performing to over 1.5 million people in thirty countries. They appeared at the opening and closing ceremonies of the FIFA 2006 World Cup, singing the official theme song with Toni Braxton. And they were special guests of Barbara Streisand on her 2006 tour of North America. And all the time they have been refining and defining the musical genre they have effectively created, searching, as David puts it, for songs and a style that suit both opera and pop, "so that we can transcend the two."
"It's all a work in progress," says Urs. "You can analyse classical music but in the pop world, it grabs you or it doesn't. You can do your best, and think 'I sang so high, and so loud', and if it didn't touch anyone, you might as well not do it. So there has been a lot to learn, discovering different registers, different facets of the voice, creating sounds that would not be considered technically correct in classical singing, but transmit emotion in a way that is almost spiritual. A nice piece of music that touches people, who cares if its 16th century or 20th century music? In an Il Divo concert, you've got 20,000 people out there, happy to see you, happy to listen to you, that gives you such an energy, that's fantastic."
After three years of constant work establishing themselves as the biggest global breakthrough artists of their time, Il Divo took a well earned break for most of 2007. When they got back together to begin preparations for their fourth album, they found the dynamic had subtly shifted. "We all just sort of looked at each other and realised we are a team," explains David. "We have been each others shoulders to lean on, the guys that have kept it all going. And the whole thing just went click."
"We discover that this is our boat, and we are four captains," announces Carlos, cryptically. "It was very easy to let the busy schedule take over and just let it float you down the river," elaborates Urs. "The record company and management keep the boat afloat but we are steering, and nobody can do it in our place. We have to believe in everything we do, its our responsibility. And so we have developed a very strong feeling about what we have to do, and we do it together."
All four agree that, for their first album, they almost stumbled on a way of working, which they honed and perfected over the follow ups. For the new album they wanted to branch out creatively. An early decision was to work with only one producer, longtime collaborator Steve McCutcheon (aka Steve Mac).
"Steve Mac is a genius," declares Carlos. "One of the best in the world, he creates beautiful orchestrations and he is not afraid to try different ideas and arrangements."
"We were able to think of the album as a whole piece, and find more balance," according to Urs. "So it can be big and dramatic but also quiet and intimate. We have walked down some new paths with these songs."
The result is an album of contrasts. It includes a version of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 'The Power Of Love' with what David hails as "the biggest Il Divo finale you've ever heard." But at the other end of the spectrum stands a haunting and beautiful version of Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah'. "We had to adjust the curve for this," explains Urs. "It is soft and urging, very moving." And they all enthuse about a version of ABBA's 'Winner Takes It All'. "I thought it would be a little cheesy," admits Carlos. "But we slow it down, change the key, and it really works. This is the best album, for me. It's like Il Divo, only more!"
"I think there's something missing in today's music, that hasn't been around for a couple of decades, of the real voice shining through the production," declares David. "This is something we have strived for since the beginning. It's kind of old school. Real voices, real lyricism, real artistry."
"In Il Divo, it's something special when we sing all together," adds Carlos. "It doesn't matter who sings the melody and who sings the harmony, it feels like a big wave, a tsunami is arriving. It's amazing, the feeling, its so powerful, even when I am on stage with the other guys singing, I still get goosebumps."