The sweetest thing about attending a No. 1 party for Keith Urban is the certainty that he’ll treat the guests to a live performance of the song being honored.
And so it was Wednesday afternoon (Sept. 16) at Nashville’s Sutler saloon. There, accompanied by the song’s writers — Jeffrey Steel, Tom Douglas and Jaren Johnston — and its producer — Nathan Chapman — Urban blazed through a somewhat ragged but splendidly spirited rendition of “Raise ‘Em Up.”
The performance came at the end of a press conference for which Urban was 25 minutes late, not that it seemed to matter to the reporters and TV crews who busied themselves with industry small talk as the clock ticked on.
The three writers said they were unaware that Urban had chosen to turn their song into a duet until it was actually being recorded.
“I had been looking for a song to do with Eric,” Urban explained. “Nathan suggested it might be a good duet. … It’s such a beautifully written melody and lyric.” He said he’s been closing his shows this year with the song.
Urban recalled that when he and Church filmed the accompanying music video, Church was still suffering from the sleep deprivation that comes from having a new baby. (Church’s second son was born this past Feb. 15.)
Urban said Church brought his tour bus to the shoot and retreated to it to nap whenever he was off camera. His condition made one line in the song — “Make some love and then babies come” — particularly relevant, Urban noted with a grin.
Asked if “Raise ‘Em Up” was any sort of template for the album he’s currently putting together, Urban replied that he looks upon each album as “a snapshot” of where he is in life.
He said he’s been working on the album for nine months. “I think we’re a long way into it now,” he mused.
Johnston, who did most of the talking for the songwriters, said he’d had the song’s title stored in his phone for a long time before the three sat down to write it.
As the junior member of the group, he said, “I was stroking my ego to see if I could get Jeffrey Steele and Tom Douglas in a room together.” Both men are members of the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
“It was like having three ninjas in the room discussing how to kill a guy,” Johnston said in an effort to convey the songwriting energy he witnessed.
Douglas opted for a gentler simile: “It was like having three 16-year-olds in a room having fun with their dad’s guitar.”
“Halfway through [the recording process],” Chapman said, “I knew it was one of the best songs I ever produced.” It is the third No. 1 he’s produced for Urban.
Congratulatory speeches and a torrent of awards for Urban, the songwriters and the song’s publishers followed the press conference.
Church sent a video expressing his regrets at having to miss the party and his thanks to Steele and Douglas for “keeping Jaren off the streets.”
“I love this baby a lot more than the other songs I’ve written,” Johnston enthused. “It destroys me every time I listen to it.”
Mike Dungan, who came in to head Capitol Records three years after Urban was signed to the label, told the crowd that his good fortune was that Urban “just fell into my lap.” He said that when he first heard “Raise ‘Em Up,” his first thought was, “What an incredible statement about the human condition!”
“I’m glad I fell into your lap,” Urban told Dungan a few minutes later. “It’s an odd expression,” he observed. “I was just giving a lap dance and you were it.” Urban said he’d just returned from London, where on Monday night he’d had the strange role reversal of being seated in the audience and watching his wife, the actor Nicole Kidman, onstage.
He was referring to Kidman’s starring role in the play Photograph 51, which has already gotten rave reviews, Urban’s own among the loudest.
After expressing his affection for Kidman, the singer returned to the song being celebrated. “It’s the most amazing feeling to get to play this song every night,” he said.
Remarking on its unifying quality, he said, “If we can all just collectively agree on one thing for three minutes, it’s beautiful.”