After endearing himself to millions of viewers as a judge on American Idol, Keith Urban has jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire with a new album and headlining tour in the works.
“Oh, hands down, absolutely,” he says. “And the most fun, too, because I love making music. I love writing songs. I love recording albums. And I’ve been working on this album for, gosh, a year and a-half, almost two years. So that’s been a great journey.”
No, he hasn’t yet decided if he will return to American Idol, but that’s only because he’s too busy coming up with ideas to impress fans in the short term. Urban recently sat down with CMT Hot 20 Countdown ’s Katie Cook to describe his brand-new concerts, the fun he has hanging out with tourmates and why stretchy pants might be making a comeback.
CMT: In the last few days leading up to the tour, are you like, “OK, most of the major things are taken care of. I can relax and enjoy this.” Or is it like, “Oh, my gosh, the stress! There is so much to do in these last few days!”?
Urban: I definitely have to keep bringing it back to the moment, not think about the 25 different things going on and just think about the next thing. And more so because we’re also finishing an album, so I’m sort of landing that plane, and the tour plane is taking off. I’m air traffic controlling right now.
How do you describe the staging of this year’s tour?
I think the show is more built on energy, projecting to the back. I mean, I always try and use [stage design] to support what we’re doing, not to be the thing. So I try and make sure the band, the set list — everything — is doing its job. If this whole thing doesn’t work, we should be able to play for a couple of hours, and if we can do all that, then the rest of it’s gravy.
Do you still plan on running out into the crowd like you always do?
Absolutely, yes, and performing out there, too. I think I’m like most artists where I just do what I like to see in concert. It’s not rocket science. When I go to a concert, there are certain things that I want to see and feel and experience. And I just try to do all of that. It’s really as simple as that.
You and the others on the tour made a fun promotional video for these concerts. You guys were all driving around in a car and singing songs. I would think just filming that video would give you such a bond and friendship to kick off this tour with.
Yeah, and that’s what I wanted people to see. We’ve been really fortunate to take out artists that I have a good friendship with. It really started when I used to go out with Kenny Chesney and we just had such a great time. Dierks [Bentley] came out with us, then we went out with Brooks & Dunn — and it was us, Toby Keith, Montgomery Gentry, Kix and Ronnie. Everybody just hung out, and it was such great camaraderie. And that’s the tour I want to be on. Even if I’m not the headliner, I want to be a part of that tour, so I feel grateful we get to take out Little Big Town, Dustin Lynch. Dustin’s such a cool guy.
He was the youngest one sitting in that car, and you guys were singing these classic songs. At any point was he like, “I don’t think I know that one?”
Ah, no, he was great. And I just said, “You need to pick the most absurd song for you to sing,” so we picked Wham! Like Dustin’s ever gonna sing, “Wake me up before you go, go.” The guy with the cowboy hat singing that is perfect. He’s such a good sport, and he’s a really good entertainer.
Little Big Town’s career just exploded in the last year. Please tell me you guys are planning an onstage collaboration at some point.
Absolutely! I want to do something with all of them. We’ll figure it out. I’m so happy with their success. It’s been so long and so hard, and they’re the nicest people in the world.
When you first started performing to really large crowds, probably the most distracting thing for you would have been lighters in the air. Now everybody’s got their cell phones out. They’re taking videos, they’re taking pictures. For you as an artist, how do you feel about that shift?
I think, first, everyone’s allowed to have a concert experience however they want to have it. If you want to do this all night long [holds up phone], that’s cool. I’m cool with that. I find it baffling sometimes when I go to a concert, though. We went to see somebody a while back, but the fans were down in the front, and the artist was right there — like inches away from them — and they had their phone right here [holds in front of face.] I’m thinking, “They’re right there! What are you doing?” But I also understand people want to share that experience with everybody, and that’s really beautiful.
I think I would have done it when I was a teenager. But I was also thinking if you were to trip and fall or rip your pants onstage, there’s going to be video evidence on the Internet within 10 seconds.
Yeah, faster than that! 10 seconds? What service are you on?
Dial-up apparently. So just no splitting pants, that’s the point I’m trying to make here.
No, no. I’m bringing back Lycra to make sure that doesn’t happen.