Vince Gill, Sugarland and Keith Urban Discuss New Music at ACMs

All Expect to Release Albums in Late 2006

LAS VEGAS — Vince Gill, Sugarland and Keith Urban will all be issuing new albums before the end of the year, and they gave reporters backstage at the Academy of Country Music Awards some insight about what to expect — and when.

Gill said his new project will span several genres and include duets with the likes of country favorite John Anderson, jazz singer Diana Krall and bluegrass hero Del McCoury. He expects to release it in October.

“It’s a period in my life when I feel the years adding on, and they’re moving on to the boys with the muscles and stuff, and that’s OK,” he said. “It’s the way it’s supposed to be. I just felt a little bit lost.” But a phone call to perform at Eric Clapton’s guitar festival in Dallas in 2004 “took the handcuffs off me,” inspiring him to start making music again. He’s been in the studio to work on the new music for the past eight months.

Fans who watched him accept the Humanitarian Award might have noticed that he’s slimmed down recently.

“I’m getting in shape. I’ve seen the writing on the wall. You’ve got to be hot to be good,” he said, only half-joking. “I’m trying, you know? I’ve eaten so many steaks and egg whites the last couple of months. I’m about sick to death of oatmeal and egg whites, but I’ve lost 20 pounds. I’ve been working out with a trainer. It’s healthy. I’m not trying to crash diet like I used to. It’s so much healthier.”

Then he added, “In all honesty, I want to live a long time. It’s not about my career on TV. It’s about wanting to be around for my kid who’s 5 years old. When she graduates from high school, I’m going to need a walker. There’s a pretty good chance of that. But I’ve got to tell you, I feel like my best music is still ahead of me. I’ve had a great career and a lot of great records and a lot of wonderful things that have happened to me. But I know in my heart, my best is yet to come.”

Asked if Sugarland has a clear plan for the future, lead singer Jennifer Nettles quickly replied, “Absolutely. Fast and furious. Full speed ahead. We’re in the studio right now recording a new record. We’re super excited about it. We’ve been writing for that for a number of months now. I love what we’re doing. It’s full and rich and meaty and fun, all at the same time. I can’t wait for people to hear it.” The album is scheduled for a fourth-quarter release.

Earlier this year, Nettles notched a No. 1 country hit without Sugarland on “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” a duet with Bon Jovi. She’s not concerned that fans might think she’s trying to go solo by singing beyond the boundaries of her band.

“I think the boat rises with the tide,” she said. “I think if we get out there, however we get out there, that’s important. As long as you’re having fun and doing what you love, the fans will see that. The fact that we’re still standing up here at every awards show, it’s pretty funny.”

She and bandmate Kristian Bush are also unsure whether to call themselves a duo or group, even though they won for top new duo or group.

“We’re such a band mentality anyway,” Nettles said. “We’ve done this for so long and been in bands. It’s hard to feel any differently than that. I don’t know. I guess I would leave it up to the public to say whatever you want us to be. Obviously, we’re two people, but we have a band sound and a band behind us. We write together. There are so many different dynamics for how someone might describe that.”

Meanwhile, Urban told reporters he’s about halfway through making his next record. He’s shooting for a new single in August. Because he’ll be in the studio most of the summer, his tour dates are limited — but not completely wiped off his calendar.

“The odd part is, when you’re making a new record, you’re going out to tour and doing all these old songs,” he said. “And your head is very much in the new record. So that side of it is very discombobulating. But we’ve got scattered shows throughout the summer because I go a little nutty without playing. I’m a little nutty anyway, but we’re going to do enough shows to keep my sanity intact.”

Urban’s dry sense of humor also brought some laughter to the press room when asked if Bette Midler would be indeed performing “Wind Beneath My Wings” at his wedding to actress Nicole Kidman, as was reported by an Australian tabloid.

“Really? Fantastic!” he deadpanned. “I’m looking forward to that. It’s my absolute favorite song now, that’s for sure. That would be killer.”