Keith Urban thinks his fans will see themselves reflected in the lyrics of his new album, Defying Gravity. However, if you pore over every word and phrase, trying to decipher clues about his high-profile marriage, you’re missing the point.
“I try to keep a certain ambiguity about it that lets people read their own thing into it,” he says. “The delicate balance for me is trying to maintain a sense of privacy in my private life but also write songs. I think most of what I am comfortable talking about comes through in the songs.”
In this interview with CMT Insider host Katie Cook, the country superstar discusses drum machines, digital downloading and the heartfelt song he wanted to write for his wife, Nicole Kidman.
CMT Insider: Most people would consider Love, Pain & the Whole Crazy Thing a pretty rocking record. How would you define Defying Gravity?
Urban: It’s a more joyous record. … Not to say the other doesn’t have its joy, but I think this one has a lot more clarity to it than the last one.
Would you say there’s a certain sound or type of lyric, or even an instrument, that it just would not be a Keith Urban sound without it?
Probably the six-string guitjo [a banjo with a six-string guitar neck]. The guitjo is a pretty prominent part of what I do — even since the Ranch record — but on the first solo album, it’s on a lot of songs. I write a lot with it, too — a drum machine loop and little guitjo and the songs start to come. … If I’m gonna write, then they’re the things I need to have — the guitjo, a drum machine with a bunch of loops and a tape deck.
Why the title Defying Gravity? I know it’s a line in a song.
It’s a very “up” record, and the record is a lot of that — falling in love and being brave to fall in love — because it takes a lot of bravery to open your heart up and be vulnerable to love. And so it’s about rising above things and enduring and not being dragged down. There are a lot of metaphors for that in the title.
Some artists prefer fans to buy the album rather than downloading tracks because they want them to have the whole experience. How important is that to you?
The reason I like [buying a full album] is because you can go on a journey with the songs. And more importantly, coming to the concert, you’re going to know more than just the single, which is always good.
You are releasing some songs on iTunes before the album comes out. Does that make you nervous at all?
There are a lot of new ways of doing things that, as an artist, I feel uncertain about. But at the same time, I think at the end of the day, it’s the way in which we listen to music and buy music and stumble upon it. I don’t think having one song [on iTunes] negates the fact that someone might want the record. … This is the way I look at it: I think the idea of buying singles has exploded because people are so sick of buying records that have two good songs. They paid 12 or 15 bucks for an album that’s got 13 songs, and they only want to hear two — and the rest is garbage. I’ve got plenty of records in my collection and they’re rubbish. I like the idea that you can buy one song and another, and if you like three or four, you may like the whole record.
When people download songs, they can put them in any order they want. How important is it to you to have that flow from song to song? Do you focus on that when you’re putting a record together?
Again, I think with people being able to shuffle and do the things they want to do and make their own playlists … I only get to put it out the way I hear it, and then the rest of it’s up to the people buying it, to do what they want with it.
You said there are a lot of different ways of doing things now. Obviously, you have to think of the business side of things. You can’t make music and not think about the economy or people buying singles rather than albums. How often do you think of the business when you’re creating music?
I don’t think about it at all when I’m creating music. No, definitely not. That’s a dangerous place. You’ve got to just create and make music and record it, then all that stuff happens, I think, after the fact.
“Sweet Thing” became your 10th No. 1 single. Do you watch the charts excessively when a song is climbing like that?
Not when it’s climbing, but I think it gets really exciting when it gets up in that top little bottleneck area. It’s very exciting. Part of me wants to be not too aware of it, and the other half of me is very fascinated by all that stuff.
When I listened to “Thank You,” I teared up because I felt so much emotion in your voice. I pictured you in the studio maybe crying while you were singing it.
We recorded it quickly. I think the important thing with that song was to not belabor it too long. Capturing those things in their real form is the most important thing, not worrying about all the other stuff. … That’s hard to talk about that stuff. It’s not meant to be talked about. It’s meant to be played and people take from it what they want. But it’s something I wanted to be able to do for my wife, too. She’s been an incredible strength for me. In the last couple of years, particularly so.