Keith Urban Finds His Voice … Again

Even as Keith Urban ’s hit “Somebody Like You” blasted through every country fan’s radio, the Australian star found himself silenced by a polyp on his vocal cord. After taking a breather, including two weeks when he literally couldn’t speak at all, Urban has returned to the road to support his second album, Golden Road. Here, Urban catches up with Nashville reporters curious about his condition.

Look for Keith Urban on MWL Star on Tuesday (April 8) at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

What exactly was the problem and are you 100 percent out of the woods now?
I’m about 90-something percent out of the woods. I had a polyp on my right vocal cord that’s been there for years, and I’ve just managed to be able to keep it at bay. For some reason across the last few months, I think a lot of the work we did last year caught up with me.

To back up a little bit, where I got caught off guard is, we released “Somebody Like You,” and we thought we had quite a bit of time to get in and finish the record. Then the single took off and we had to release the record a little quicker than we anticipated. That pushed up all the release work that had to be done in a promotional area, as well as all the gigs we had. So I found myself doing maybe two or three times the amount of work that we had planned in a very short space of time, and it really took its toll on me. I wasn’t necessarily taking the best care of myself at the time either and just working too much basically. So my right vocal cord hemorrhaged just before a gig in January. I got through the gig, but the next day I was barely able to speak.

That week we were supposed to go to New York to do a bunch of television. And I went to Vanderbilt [Voice Center] thinking they’d give me a little shot and I’d be on my way. I literally was going from there to the airport. That was my plan and they said “No, you’re not going anywhere.” It really upset me because I had these tremendous television shows in New York to do. Not only did they then get cancelled, but they put me on further six weeks voice rest, so it’s been a strange time.

Was that frightening for you?
It still is. When you get reminded of the vulnerability of your livelihood, you get very nervous about taking care of it and drinking a lot of water and making sure that you do sleep. And not yelling out. Just simple human things you have a tendency to do. We were skiing a little while ago, and I was going up in the chair lift and there were some of our skiing partners down there. And my skiing instructor was like, “Just yell out to them.” And I was about to yell out and something inside said, “Don’t yell.” This is one of those things you’ve got to avoid and take care of your voice. But, yeah, it’s a very nervous thing for me to be aware of it.

How did you communicate?
I carried a little white board around with me with a marker and wrote. But in the end I just stayed around people who knew me best, and they sort of knew what I was talking about. Or not talking about actually.

What was the first concert like, since coming off voice rest?
I was really nervous. … As much rehearsal as we’d put in a week before … I literally hadn’t played a guitar in about a month. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” applies to your instrument, too. Sometimes not picking it up for a month can be really beneficial too, as far as the passion with which you attack it with. But I didn’t think about my fingers losing their muscular nature, and the tips of my fingers hurt. I haven’t felt like that in 20-some-odd years. But within two gigs — back again. It’s all good, and the crowd was very sympathetic and compassionate so I was very grateful.

Have you noticed any change in the sound of your voice?
It seems a little smoother than it was, definitely when the cords don’t have any of the garbage on them that mine did. They smooth out quite a bit. My voice has been a bit more nasally recently with the allergies here in wonderful Tennessee, but I’m getting through that.

What sort of regimen did the doctors prescribe?
It’s drinking copious amounts of water and really ensuring that I sleep. I think water and sleep are two huge things that you tend to neglect. My management has also been great at restructuring a lot of my schedule to accommodate that. Being aware that this is what it’s all about. Once [the voice] goes, all the rest is out the window anyway.

Was that a productive time for you to write since you couldn’t speak?
I actually don’t think I wrote at all. For me it was just an input time. I found you just listen a lot more. What a concept. It was educational.

Did that make you a better listener, to not be able to talk?
Yeah, it kind of forces you to listen. I think a lot of the times when you are listening to people, you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next, and you’re not really listening.

You had the gift of silence and not even having the interruption of your own words to your thoughts. Did you come to any revelations?
It’s helped me slow down a bit. Hopefully it’s changed some of the way I perform as well. I still wrestle sometimes between having to get out there and give 150 percent, where really — anything past 100 percent — does anyone really notice the difference? If you’re giving all of yourself, that’s it. Hopefully I can learn to focus a little more. I have a tendency to be a bit of a loose cannon sometimes, so this time off has helped me look at that. … I guess I used to be one of those ready, fire, aim guys. So hopefully that’s now changed.