Piano virtuoso William Joseph talks of touring, his famous friends and more

Allison Corneau

Looking back on their first job as a teen, a handful of adults may remember hawking newspapers or mowing lawns to make a few extra bucks, but 27-year-old William Joseph has an early story of success to rival many others. Showcasing his musical talents at the age of 13 at nursing homes in his Phoenix hometown, Joseph knew not of what was to come for him musically, but is able to say years later that he is now among the company of one of music’s most well known impresarios, David Foster, who produced the young talent’s debut classical pop record, “Within,” now available in stores from Warner Brothers Records. If what they say about being known by the company you keep is true, Joseph can also add to his list of musical friends Josh Groban and Clay Aiken, both of whom he’s toured the country with-most recently completing a 35-city winter tour with Aiken.

The Chronicle caught up with the piano phenom as he was just getting settled back into his home routine after touring the country, to chat about how a chance encounter with one of music’s most influential producers led to his record deal, life on the road, and what it’s really like garnering national music industry acclaim before the age of 30.

How are things going for your lately? Winding down after the tour?

WJ: I’m going into hibernation for a couple of weeks, starting to do some house projects and getting used to a slower life.

You certainly deserve it. In catching up with you after your Wallingford performance at the Chevrolet Theater, it looked like you were getting quite the rock star treatment, complete with fans asking for autographs and photos. What was it like performing on a nationwide tour of that scale?

WJ: Meeting people after the show has been the highlight of the tour, really. There’s just been so many kind people out there, whether they just wanted to get a picture or talk, it’s just been great to meet them.

I read in your biography that you were awarded a full scholarship at the age of 8 to study music. That’s quite the accomplishment!

WJ: That was through the Boys and Girls club, a national scholarship that I had for about eight years. They paid for all my music, my lessons, music camps, everything that would help me progress as a musician.

Being based out of Phoenix, do you have any immediate plans to tour back on the East Coast?

WJ: We’re just looking for different opportunities. Right now, we’ve kind of switched our focus. I’m preparing to go into the studio with David. That will happen in late spring or early summer, and we’ll start recording for the next album. I’m kind of in the mind frame of writing and arranging, and all of my efforts will be toward that for a while.

You just completed a nationwide tour with “American Idol” star Clay Aiken. What’s he like to work with?

WJ: You know what? He is such a wonderful person, and I wish I had more time to be around him. Even though we were on tour for two months plus rehearsals, and everybody had their own duties and things they have to do each day, I did get to spend time with him and talk with him and see how he is with other people. He’s a very generous person. He’s very witty he has a sarcastic humor to him.

He certainly not only had faith in you to give you the opening act gig, but you played piano for his set as well.

WJ: I was kind of up on stage all night long. It was quite a contrast, to go from being the opening act and doing my thing, and it was kind of relaxing. The main pressure for me was gone. It was fun just to be up there and play with the band and accompany Clay. It was a real treat. I’d never really been in that position where I’d played an accompanist to someone in a band like that. It was a huge learning experience for me from a musical standpoint.

Speaking of learning experiences, you mentioned working with David Foster, who has such an eye for talent. How did you initially partner with him?

WJ: The way we met was a pretty exciting event. Every year in Phoenix there is an event called Muhammad Ali’s Celebrity Fight Night, the biggest charity event in Phoenix. For the last few years, David Foster’s been in charge of doing the music for this event, and was able to bring in all sorts of stars. I had a friend who told me David was in charge of directing Rod Stewart and Reba McIntyre, and said ‘I think I can introduce you, maybe you can shake his hand and give him a CD.’ I went down there, and sure enough, I was brought into where the rehearsal was going on, and they introduced me to David and the person who introduced me asked David if I could play his piano. David, being the gracious and spontaneous person that he is, said ‘sure,’ and he took me over the piano. He looked at me and said ‘play something.’ I started playing a song I wrote, called “Within,” and about 15-20 seconds into it, David starts conducting the rest of the band to come in. The next thing I know, I’m playing my original song for David Foster and I’ve got this world class band playing behind me, just rocking out.

Did you think you were dreaming?

WJ: I was thinking ‘don’t mess up now.’ After I played, David gave me a high five and said ‘what was that song?’ After talking for a few minutes, he asked if I was coming to the show tonight, and I told him I didn’t have tickets. He said I was not only going to come to the show, but I was going to open the show. (laughs) It was a surreal moment. I knew that this could potentially be my big break. I knew exactly who David Foster was, and was aware of this huge opportunity that was in front of me. I performed the piece, got a standing ovation, and the reception was wonderful. I ended up getting his phone number and got a meeting with him, and he said he’d love to pitch me to Warner Brothers as a recording artist.

What would you classify your sound as? Classical pop?

WJ: That’s what people have been referring to it as. When we sat down to have our first meeting about the album, David asked what style of music I like, and what I write. I love classical music, but I also love pop and rock music. We incorporated all of that into one style. The album is very thematic. We wanted to make sure it had very strong melodies. At times, it’s cinematic. It really takes the listener on a journey, and I think a lot of people can relate to the music because there’s so many different styles that have been woven into the whole musical bed of the CD.

Talk to me about the reception you’ve gotten from fans. I was looking around online the other day, and saw that you have one of those MySpace profiles to showcase your music. Can you speak to how the internet has helped you gain new listeners?

WJ: The internet provides a whole different world. Traditionally the way people would hear music is on the radio, or paid promotion. MySpace is a great way to go into a whole new world of people searching for different types of music or wanting to meet different people. You have the ability of reaching so many more people than you wouldn’t ordinarily reach.

I saw you had your cover of Led Zepplin’s “Kashmir” available at your site, www.myspace.com/williamjoseph. Any plans to add additional songs?

WJ: I’m not the biggest tech guy. I was proud to get that up, now I’ve got to figure out how to get the rest up.

Speaking of fan reception, I turned on the TV recently, and on this year’s Miss America pageant, the winner danced to your song “Within.” How cool was that?

WJ: Know what’s funny? I didn’t even know about that until someone came up to me and said they heard my music on the pageant. I watched that and was so excited, like ‘how did my music get to her?’ It’s funny, because sometimes, I’m the last person to find out.

How has your family reacted to your success, just having come off Clay Aiken’s Joyful Noise tour?

WJ: My family’s really excited about it. They’re even more excited about me being home. That’s the hardest part about touring, being away from home. It is really fun. My family also helps keep me grounded.

Not living on a tour bus, it must be nice to be able to sleep in your own bed.

WJ: No kidding, and not having to live out of suitcases.

But then you have to do your own laundry, which is certainly not fun.

WJ: You have to do your own laundry. The hardest part about touring is half of the nights you sleep on the bus, and half in hotels. The bus doesn’t have showers. That doesn’t mean you don’t shower, but what it means is that you have to lug your suitcase up flights of stairs at the theater, and pray that you have a halfway clean shower. That was probably the hardest part. As far as having nice accommodations, there was no question. The bus was decked out-we had more food than we could ever want. We had to be careful to make sure we went running to make sure we stayed in shape. It would be easy to lose yourself.

Well, no worries about that now. What’s keeping you occupied now that you’re not touring?

WJ: Just everyday things. There’s advantages and disadvantages of being in the music industry. The disadvantage is that you’re away from your family a lot, but the advantage is that when you’re home, you’re home. Right now, I’ve got a few months to catch up doing house projects, working in the yard.

So you’re still practicing when you’re at home, but this time it’s to the extent of singing in the shower-no pressure to perform. You can just hang out.

WJ: Right. I’ve still got to practice and keep writing, but it’s going be a nice break.

Do you keep up with any current television shows or recent movies?

WJ: I’m not really a TV or movie watcher. We watched “Forrest Gump” (on the bus), but I don’t know if that’s notable. With CDs, I love Journey. I’m a big John Mayer fan.

He’s actually from our area.

WJ: My whole family, we’re huge John Mayer fans! I’ve got my kids singing all the songs.

Is there a new artist you’re supporting?

WJ: Renee Olstead is another David Foster produced artist. She’s just got the most amazing voice. She’s sixteen, and working on her second album.

Lastly, being in your mid-twenties, you’ve done more than most people our age could ever dream of, in terms of not only having a record deal, but also touring the country. What advice can you offer for aspiring performers in our age group?

WJ: First of all, there’s hardly ever an instance where there’s an overnight success, and that’s a misconception people have. The biggest thing is putting in the work and getting ready for an opportunity when it presents itself, because you might only have that one opportunity. The key to performing and having success is persistence.