Keith Urban was the center of an exclusive performance and interview surrounding the Capitol Records Nashville star’s eighth studio album Ripcord. The gathering was presented by the Recording Academy’s Nashville Chapter and held at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum on Wednesday (Aug. 17),
The three-hour event began with a cocktail reception before guests were welcomed to the Ford Theater by host, CMT Sr. VP of Music Strategy Leslie Fram. Urban gave thoughtful insight to the project’s influences, songwriting and production for the packed audience of VIP industry players.
Central to the conversation was Urban’s interest in musical collaboration.
“The only difference between this record and any other record is I didn’t dis ideas,” recalled Urban. “I thought, ‘Well, let’s try it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But let’s give it a shot.’ It’s not rocket science. We’re not saving the world. We’re just getting laid!”
As a young artist, Urban received the boost of confidence he needed to move to Nashville after Warner Bros. executive Mary Martin replied to his correspondence in 1989. Many walls lay in Urban’s way, but a well-received gesture from Cliff Audretch, then an executive at Sony Music Nashville, inspired him. “He said, ‘You’re really unique. Just remember it will be your biggest curse until it becomes your greatest blessing.’ That one phrase that one night from that one man was enough to carry me through everything.”
By the 2016 release of Ripcord, those years of struggle had forged musical sensibilities that Urban has come to rely on.
“My theory about why artists are always frustrated, is we hear everything it isn’t because we know what we’re trying to do with a song,” said Urban. “For me it takes a long time to hear a record I’ve done for what it is, because I have to forget what I was trying to do. I was really happy with the end result of [Ripcord] much quicker than previous records.”
Producers Dann Huff and Nathan Chapman helped Urban realize his vision. Each producer joined Urban on stage for performances of their contributions to Ripcord.
Before “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” and “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” Huff praised the star, saying, “I’m very blessed to have this relationship because you know who you are and you’re not afraid to say no. What it does is it helps [me] grow too. It’s affected me in everything I do. It’s a masterclass to learning how to produce records with a good bud.”
Chapman was welcomed for “Break On Me.” Chapman praised Urban for providing early inspiration, adding, “When I really opened my eyes and ears to study records to learn how to make them, Golden Road [from 2002] was a huge influence for me.”
Recording out of Nashville was also important for Urban in the making of his most recent records, specifically Fuse and Ripcord.
“What I found is you’ll be in town working with a programmer and they’ll be like, ‘I can program like [Michael Elizondo],’ said Urban. “I’m like, ‘Well, I might just see if I can work with Mike.’ And my experience has been when I go and work with somebody else—I had this with Mike—I’ll have to be like, ‘Give me what you do. Play me something like I’m not from Nashville!’
“What I keep reaching for—what I’m really interested in—is finding someone, say a Nile Rodgers for funk guitar playing. He does what he does, and I do what I do, but I’m trying to find what we do. That third thing sometimes doesn’t happen. But I love getting the chance to work with so many different people who are willing to try to find that place where it really synergizes.”
Ripcord features not only a collaboration with fellow country star Carrie Underwood, but also rapper Pitbull. Urban clarified his desire to reach for a specific sound he envisioned with the latter artist.
“We had recorded ‘Sun Don’t Let Me Down,’ and we just left a musical breakdown about 3/4 the way through, and we just left it there. That was the song finished, done. I was listening to Pitbull’s XM station and every time I heard his voice I thought he would be really good on that song. It seemed like such a bizarre idea for me. I just wanted Pitbull to do something on this song. If he didn’t dig it, then it would have stayed without anybody.”
The event ended with a performance of Ripcord‘s third single, “Wasted Time.”
“I love that I get to do this,” concluded Urban. “I love making records and writing songs. It doesn’t feel any different to me than it did at the beginning, except that I now get the chance to work with a lot of different people that I would have not been able to work with before. I feel like the most blessed, luckiest guy to get to do that.”
— Keith Urban (@KeithUrban) August 17, 2016
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