"I have this need to keep country being perceived as a cool genre and a broad genre," says music heartthrob Keith Urban. "I really think that country is a genre as big as rock and roll. I would love to get to the point where someone asks, 'What kind of music do you play?' I say 'Country.' And they say 'Great. What kind of country?" For the Australian born singer/guitarist and former leader of Nashville's famed The Ranch, music has always been about stretching boundaries. Weaned on country greats like Charley Pride as a child and guitar rock like Dire Straits as a teen, Urban has always merged the two genres whenever appropriate. Prior to their breakup, The Ranch had a successful run which included several US Country #1 hits. With his self-titled debut solo album, released late last year, Urban has gone so far as to experiment with pop and hip hop rhythms "not as a novelty," says Urban, "but as a great marriage of rhythm and computer percussiveness with banjos and acoustic guitars and fiddles." Making appearances on Garth Brooks' Double Live, and collaborating with songwriters like hip hop impresario Stevie J and pop singer Richard Marx, Urban's reputation as a creative force and guitar virtuoso is no secret around Nashville. For Keith Urban, the performer scored a collaboration with two of the three Dixie ChicksEmily Robinson and Martie Seidelwho lend their voices to "I Wanna Be Your Man (Forever)." Urban, who is in the midst of a US summer tour, is appealing to the same female demographic as The Dixie Chicks on this new album, dealing mostly with themes of love, relationship struggles and, ultimately, heartbreak on songs like "It's A Love Thing," "If You Wanna Stay," and "Out On My Own." "I try to see the light," says Urban. "Even in the darkest circumstances. "There are songs on the album about losing love, but not being beaten or downtrodden by that loss."
ROCKIN' THE RYMAN
by Larry Wayne Clark
There's a certain irony in a country performer whose name is "urban," let alone one who honed his chops in Brisbane, Australia where they don't even broadcast the Grand Ole Opry, but there's little doubt in anyone's mind that Keith Urban oops, keith urban as he now prefers to be known is destined for greatness. Mention his name to any guitar picker, singer, songwriter or label honcho, and you'll get a nod of approval accompanied, perhaps, by a sigh if that person also happens to be female. Something about all that talent combined with lean, blond good looks and a humble manner seems to have that effect on women, which may be why urban's picture appears on the cover of the March issue of Playgirl. A guitarist whose prowess made jaws drop during an acoustic performance at this year's Country Radio Seminar, urban also has a husky, supple tenor that breathes honesty into every line he sings lines which, much of the time, he's also written. The man seems able to do it all. First attracting notice as a bandleader in the early '90s, he was eventually signed to Capitol Records. A 1997 release, The Ranch, became one of those albums that critics loved but radio couldn't get a handle on. A couple of years later, Keith has become keith, The Ranch no longer exists, and keith urban, his 1999 solo album, has seen his career soar to new levels, culminating in a multi-chart Number One hit with "But For The Grace Of God." Co-written with ex-Go Gos Charlotte Caffrey and Jane Wiedlin, "Grace" is a driving mid-tempo ballad that pretty much epitomizes the new keith urban a thoughtful, romantic troubadour who just happens to be able to make a guitar spit fire when he takes the notion. On February 24, keith urban made a Grand Ole Opry appearance during one of the Opry's periodic returns to the legend-rich Ryman Auditorium. Armed with just his acoustic guitar (from which he's able to draw an orchestra's worth of tone and rhythm), he delighted the packed house with renditions of the current hit and a cover of "Galveston," a Jim Webb-written Glen Campbell hit from the '60s. Music.com spoke to urban moments later in a backstage dressing room, beneath the black & white glossy gazes of James Cagney, legendary Irish tenor John McCormack, and classical piano virtuoso Ignacy Paderewski, momentos of the Ryman's fabled and diverse past.
Music.com: I think the first time I saw you with The Ranch was maybe seven years ago at some place in [Nashville neighborhood] Berry Hill.
keith urban: Wow. Was it Jack's Guitar Bar?
Music.com: No, it wasn't a bar. Some sort of rehearsal studio.
keith urban: Oh yes! Stonehenge was the name of the studio. That's a long time ago. Actually it was called Keith Urban's 4-Wheel Drive back then; it wasn't called The Ranch yet.
Music.com: Same lineup?
keith urban: It was exactly the same band, yeah.
Music.com: You've come a long way since then. In fact you've come a long way, period. Where are you from in Australia?
keith urban: Well, I was born in New Zealand but we moved to Australia when I was about two, so I don't consider myself a New Zealander. We moved to Brisbane. Music.com: So would you even have been aware of the Grand Ole Opry?
keith urban: Oh yeah. When I was about seven or eight my dad had a Merle Haggard "Live From The Ryman" album and consequently I found out more about The Opry. We didn't get [the Opry broadcast] in Australia, unfortunately. Music.com: Has your dad seen you perform at The Opry?
keith urban: No. That would be a treat for him. I'm so glad it's filmed, to be able to show him.
Music.com: Congratulations on your new single. You're currently at the top of every chart.
keith urban: Thank you.
Music.com: I understand the recording of that song was quite live?
keith urban: It had a lot of organic elements about it, more than any other song on the record. We didn't do many takes on it. The backup vocals were done by Kim Keyes and myself and we both sang on one microphone. It shouldn't be newsworthy 'cause it's the way records were always done, but it's unusual for this day and age. And then of course the song wasn't mixed. When we finished the final overdubs on the last night the engineer had all the faders up to make sure everything was there, 'cause the mixing was going to be done the next week. And I sat there listening to it and said "this thing sounds great! Can we just throw a DAT in and record this? Then if we get to the mixing stage and it's not sounding like I remember it, I'll have this DAT to say, hey, it needs to be more like this." And that's exactly what happened. I kept putting the DAT in and saying to the guy "no, more like this! more like this!" And then I went "why can't we use that?"
Music.com: So you used the rough mix?
keith urban: Yeah. There's only one mix of it, no vocal-up, -down, nothing. One mix on a DAT, that's it.
Music.com: Which begs the question, why doesn't that happen more often?
keith urban: I think people over-think records. I really do. The players in this town are so good, they have a great sense of dynamic; they know when to ride, when to back down. So all this moving with faders and stuff I think, on certain records, is not necessary. Just let the song breathe.
Music.com: You did a Jimmy Webb song tonight. Are you a big fan?
keith urban: I love Jimmy Webb. Probably "Where's The Playground, Susie?" is my favorite.
Music.com: No kidding! Very few people remember that one.
keith urban: I haven't got Glen Campbell's range, so I can't do that one. Music.com: Was he a hero of yours? Great picker and singer.
keith urban: Yeah. He's a great example of what I'd like to try and do. He was playing country music but it was crossover as well. You know, "Galveston," "Wichita Lineman" they were all big pop hits. What's the difference? He just made great music, picked great songs.
Music.com: You've made a great-sounding album yourself. Probably a lot of people were looking for more of The Ranch, more of the guitar hero stuff.
keith urban: Yeah. That's a side of me and I'll get back toward that sometime. But what I really wanted to do was make an album of songs; that was my priority. Not to say we didn't have them with The Ranch, but that was a real band record and I think the band sound dominated. This time round I wanted the songs to dominate. Music.com: Can you write when you're on the road?
keith urban: Bits and pieces. I've found this last year especially there's a different mind set between politicking and creating. Very different head spaces for me. And we politicked a lot this past year. I wasn't really in a creative mode. It's been just getting out and selling our record. But I find a shift now toward the creative. Music.com: Can you do the politicking on your own or is that something where you just surrender to the machinery around you?
keith urban: No, I actually like it. I don't see it so much as politics from my point of view because I love what I do, and if I'm proud of a record I'm happy to go out and talk about it and promote it. I've taken my acoustic guitar to probably 150 radio stations in the last year. And that's cool.
Music.com: Do you think we should be looking to Australia for more country stars? I know Casey Chambers ended up on a lot of critic's best album lists last year.
keith urban: Yeah, she did. I don't know. There's always some kid out in the middle of nowhere who we don't know about yet. That's always a possibility.
Music.com: I know that this album reflects a lot of very personal stuff in your life during the past couple of years, including a failed love affair. Is that what it takes for you to write are you going to have to be devastated to turn out a new album?
keith urban: I think it was God's way of teaching me a lesson, because when we did The Ranch record I wrote most of the songs with a guy called Vernon Rust. He predominately did the lyrics. We wrote eight songs on that record and he stuck mostly to the stories, and most of them were true for him. And he just lives such a chaotic life, just chaos. And I remember saying one night, "you know, God, please let me be able to keep writing with these co-writers so that they can live all the chaos and I can just bring the music to it." And the next thing you know whew! I was living right in the middle of it all.
Music.com: Hopefully, these things create a bank of emotional information that you can draw from in years to come. Of course, [legendary country songwriter] Harlan Howard has often been quoted as saying that every divorce was responsible for, I don't know, say 50 new songs.
keith urban: Yeah. And you need them for the alimony!
Music.com: Of all the songs you written, what's your favorite? What's the one that tells your story best?
keith urban: I don't know that I've written one that tells it; I think they all, in bits and pieces, do the job.
Music.com: But if somebody said you had five seconds to say what you've written... keith urban: There's a song on The Ranch record called "Tangled Up In Love" that I really love. I think for me it was the closest attempt at getting a Jimmy Webb-inspired melody and weaving it with the lyric. I just like the flow of that song. It was a very true story at the time too. I was falling in love with the girl that ultimately I, you know, fell out with, that created this album. That was a pretty great moment.
April 12, 2001
TV Guide Online: We are here with country singer Keith Urban! Hi Keith! Thanks for joining us.
Urban: I'm calling from the back of my car and driving out to a barbecue with all the boys from Brooks and Dunn. I'm in the back cause you shouldn't drive and talk on the phone. So I have a friend of mine driving.
Question: Do you write your own songs, if so are they from your own experiences?
Urban: I wrote a lot on my own and I cowrite a lot. And most of the songs are from personal experience.
Question: Keith, what do you usually write first, lyrics or music? how long does it take you to write a song?
Urban: Well, that depends on the song. Songs are like giving birth to children. Some come out really easily and some come out cesarean. Let me rephrase it. Some come naturally and some require cesarean.
Question: How-D Keith! How are you today, fine I hope. I was wondering, what town is your fave to perform in or hang out in? HOUSTON LOVES YOU!!
Urban: Thank you Houston. We don't have a problem. :) I have a lot of favorite towns to perform in. Houston is certainly our biggest record buying market. So I have a particular soft spot for Houston.
Question: Why did you decide to put a eagle tattoo on your shoulder?
Urban: I gave it to myself for my 24th birthday. And I've got it because it symbolized freedom and because my freedom at the time was in America, I felt the eagle was appropriate.
Question: Keith, we know you're from Australia, and you've lived in Nashville now for about 10 years...this is an odd question...have you considered becoming a US citizen? or are you one?
Urban: Absolutely I've considered that. I'm hoping that if I can meet a nice American girl, I can become a US citizen.
Question: Will we see more of "sushi guy"?
Urban: Yes. I'm sure if we do another On the Verge, you will see Sushi Guy.
Question: How did you meet up with some of the Go Gos?
Urban: They came to Nashville about three years ago and a friend of mine who knew them asked me if I wanted to write with them. And we spent the morning in a room with my acoustic guitar and after about three hours I left with But for the Grace of God. And they left with two towels and all the soap they could use in a year. LOL
Question: Hi Keith, When do you expect to release a new album? Got one in the works or any ideas for one?
Urban: Yeah, I've been writing for the last six months and I'll keep writing until late this year when we hopefully get in to write the next record. But good songs take a long time.
Question: What are your tour plans for the upcoming months? Upstate NY, I hope.
Urban: The best bet is to get on www.keithurban.net and you'll see the full itinerary for where we're going to be.
Question: Keith, do you ever get to answer or read the email that is addressed to you on keithurban.net?
Urban: At the moment I don't have a computer with me, a laptop so I'm hoping to get one soon. It will keep me in touch on a regular basis. If you have e-mailed me, chances are I have or will read your emails.
Question: Keith we all want to know if you are dating someone right now or will you date one of us......love ya.....!
Urban: There are certain things one wishes to keep private and that would be one of them. But I currently live with my mom and a roommate and that's it.
Question: Any acting for you in the future?
Urban: It's an area that I would like to get into at some point, but I think that's further down the track.
Question: Who inspired you musically?
Urban: That's a long list. Equal parts Glen Campbell and John Mellencamp. Two of the many.
Question: Keith, "Are Angry Hearts" and "Every Fire" still contenders for the new album?
Urban: Wow. I can't believe people know that. Yes they are both contenders and thank you so much for the question. That shows you're listening.
Question: Are you planning on a duet song for the next CD?
Urban: I don't know. Can you sing?
Question: Hi keith- Athena in Oz wants to know if you have new management yet? Lisa G.
Urban: Not yet. But we're closing in.
Question: Hey I am Kayla and I am in the 9th grade. What's your fave song on the new album??
Urban: That's like trying to ask which is your favorite child. It depends on which day.
Question: Hi keith...I hear a trip downunder may be scheduled for end of August (Gympie Muster?) When will we have a definite and are you going to come to Adelaide this time or do I have to haul myself back to Sydney?
Urban: We are most likely going to come down at the end of August and if we do we will only be playing Brisbne, for the Goodwill Games opening and one show in Sydney.
Question: Do you have any siblings? ARe they in music also?
Urban: I have one brother who is two years older than me. He is not in the music business. There you have it.
Question: Hi keith-can you tell us a little bit about filming the new video for "Blacktop" yet? Lisa G. in Portland, OR
Urban: We won't film that until the 24th of this month which is two days before we hit the road, Brooks and Dunn.
Question: Has dad sold the house yet?
Urban: No he hasn't but are you interested? We're in the car. My mom's in the front seat, my best friend is driving, his wife is in the backseat, I'm in the backseat and we're drinking very good champagne. We're on our second bottle cause today the album just went Gold.
Question: What kind of comments have you received since posing for Playgirl?
Urban: Favorable at this stage. Comments have been good. Thank goodness I play guitar. And not harmonica. Although I could and I'm sure it wouldn't have been a problem. Heck, I could have played ukulele.
Question: So are your toenails still with gold nailpolish in honor of the record going gold?
Urban: Excellent question, the gold went today, they are now platinum. And thank you for asking. And if you come out on the Brooks and Dunn tour, you can see for yourself.
Question: What would you do if you weren't in the music business?
Urban: Wow. Thankfully I don't know. That's it. And I hope I never do.
Question: I LOVE KEITH URBAN. ONE OF HIS SONGS IS GOING TO BE PLAYED IN MY WEDDING.
Urban: That's absolutely wonderful. Thank you and good luck and God bless.
Question: What do you have planned for us at the fan club party?
Urban: You'll have to wait and see, but I'm glad you're curious.
Question: Keith what do you think about all the kaffuffle about pop versus country...Athena
Urban: Oh gosh. Um, one of my heroes was Glen Campbell was he pop or country you be the judge. Elly Parkins, 9 to 5. You be the judge.
Question: Hi ku! Can you tell us anything about your set on the B&D tour? Any acoustic? Hope so! would love to hear "Shelby County Jail".
Urban: Well, thank you very much. Unfortunately we only get 30 minutes and it won't allow us to do that, but you will hear 6 hopefully great songs. I wish we do more.
TV Guide Online: Thank you Keith! We had a great time! Please come back REALLY soon to talk with us again!
Urban: Thank you very much and I hope to see you all this year. You have no idea what it means to me.