CMT Insider Interview: Keith Urban on the Road

He's Glad to Feel the Energy of a U.S. Audience

See the interview with Keith Urban when the new episode of CMT Insider premieres Saturday (June 23) at 2 p.m. ET/PT.

“There’s an energy about American audiences that I haven’t seen in any other country,” Keith Urban says. “I don’t know how to define it. It’s just a frenetic kind of energy. I’ve heard other artists say that they’d prefer sort of a sit-down sort of listening crowd, but I’m all about them getting up and getting into it.”

That’s exactly what’s been happening after Urban opened the U.S. leg of his world tour earlier this month in Phoenix. Six other shows followed in Las Vegas and several cities in California, and he’ll return to the road Thursday (June 28) in St. Louis.

Of course, it took him longer than he expected to get back in front of his American fans. Just days before the November 2007 release of his latest album, Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing, Urban voluntarily checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic for treatment of alcohol abuse. News of his treatment spread throughout the world, the gossip quotient no doubt heightened because of Urban’s marriage to actress Nicole Kidman just a few months before.

After launching his tour in April with shows in Germany and England, Urban headed home to Australia for a series of dates in May. He’s spending two hours on stage each night on the U.S. tour that also features the Wreckers.

CMT Insider host Katie Cook visited with Urban in Phoenix as he prepared for the tour’s first arena show in the U.S.

How was the European tour?

It was great. We were doing clubs over there, and it was a good opportunity to focus on the band and the music and the set list. We didn’t have all this production and stuff, so it was a good way to start. And then we eased into Australia, and we had a lot of what you see here. And then this is like the full monty.

What are the fans going to see on this tour that’s new? Looking at the staging, it’s pretty different, isn’t it?

We’ve got a secondary stage set up so we can come out and play some acoustic songs for everybody. We’ve got an absolutely over-the-top gi-normous screen behind us. I think it’s the biggest one that’s ever toured as far as its size and its clarity. But it’s literally so that the guy in the back row can see extremely clearly. I’ve been to a lot of concerts where there’s a lot of video screens, but when you’re at the back of an arena, even the big [screens] seems real small, and it’s not real clear. And there’s often a lot of them, so there are so many images to look at. With this one, there’s just one.

I’ve heard you say you don’t like to play at your crowds. You really like to be part of them.

That’s what the secondary stage is. It really allows us to get literally in amongst them. I love those moments when you’re playing a song and you momentarily get lost in the song, in the crowd, in the environment, and you just recognize that at that moment, everybody’s one. It’s amazing.

How do you keep healthy? The road is not always a healthy place for some people.

It’s good for me. It’s good for me because I have a pretty good structure. I love riding my motor bike, and that’s probably the best part of touring during the summer, of course. I bring my bike out on the road with me and ride most days. That’s good because I get to see a lot of the towns we play in. Before, it was just this place, that place, but I never really got to see it. And I like driving out into the neighborhoods and getting the feel for the cities, as well.

I’ve heard you say that if you spend too much time at home, you get bored, and that can be kind of dangerous.

That’s my old life. That was very much my old life, you know. Boredom is such a selfish word, anyway. I’ve come to realize there’s so much to do, and I realize that if I get bored, then I’m probably a little too centered on me, my needs, what I’m doing. … So I don’t get bored these days.

I understand that you’re running your tour buses on bio-diesel for the U.S. tour.

That’s right. On this tour, we’ve got seven buses out here, so it’s a good saving. We tried to get the trucks on that, too. Actually, we’ve got most of the trucks on that on this tour, as well.

That makes a huge impact. You have such a huge crew and so many buses.

Yeah, it’s a hard thing when you’re touring to sort of offset all those carbon outputs that we’ve got going on, but you’ve got to have trucks, you’ve got to have buses. But this has been a good sort of way to help, at least.

Talk about your opening act for the tour.

The Wreckers. We’re their closing act, actually. We’re glad the girls let us close for them. (laughs) Yeah, it’s great, and I’ve got to say that they’ve been really genuinely supportive of me and what I’ve been going through. This tour was meant to kick off quite a while back, and they had a lot of people wanting them to go out on the road. And they held out, and I’m really, really grateful for that. I don’t take that for granted. It’s just sweet that they’re out here and have stuck in here and believed in it.

Everybody has to be an opening act before they can be a headliner. While you were an opening act, did anything ever happen to you that made you think, “If I ever get to headline, I’m not going to do that to my opening acts”?

I’ve got a few of those stories, for sure, but it’s actually more of along the lines of what I saw people doing for me, and I thought, “Well, I will definitely be like that.” There’s a Scottish comedian named Billy Connolly, and I toured with him. … I was just playing acoustic guitar — half an hour — and I was just doing Credence Clearwater and all these songs to get the crowd singing. And I broke a string one night on my guitar. And I’ve only got the one guitar, and I’m just hacking away on these five strings that have gone wretchedly out of tune. And after the second song, I look to the side of the stage, and Billy’s tour manager was there with an acoustic guitar that Billy would play sometimes. So we swapped guitars, and I used Billy’s. After that song, the tour manager’s there with my guitar, all strung up, and I’m like, “Oh, fantastic! What a great guy.” So I played, and I came off stage and said, “Thank you for doing that.” He said, “Thank Billy. He did it. He heard that you broke a string, so he sent his guitar up and restrung yours.”

You’ve got such a full schedule between now and September. Your wife is working on a film in another country, so I’m thinking there’s going to be a lot travel squeezed into your schedule.

I’ve got about 10 or maybe 11 trips to Australia in about 5 months. … It’s hard to be away from your loved ones. It is hard for me to be away from my wife for two weeks, but it’s the other side of the world. I wish I was touring somewhere closer or she was shooting somewhere closer. But, you know, every year comes with challenges and you’ve got to rise up to them. For me it’s just doing whatever I’ve got to do to stay close.