Monty Powell can’t quantify how many songs he and Keith Urban have written together.
They share eight No. 1 hits, and Powell guesses they have created, at the very least, an entire body of work for another artist. Powell has the unique experience of getting to know Urban when he was a brand-new Nashville arrival in 1993, and he is arguably a principal architect in Urban’s sound of today. While talking about his inaugural Troubeliever Fest at Utah’s Snowbasin Resort (Aug. 3-4), Powell shared two songwriting secrets that help him and Urban stay inspired in the event of writer’s block.
“This is how I teach people to write songs in some of my workshops,” Powell tells CMT.com, “start 50 percent there. One of the two things I tell people to do is take a hit song and keep the melody, but rewrite the lyric. And then take another song, keep the lyrics and rewrite your own melody to that lyric so that at least half of what you’re working with has been vetted. We know it’s above the bar, so you’re not left to struggle on your own to win at a very difficult process, which is writing a hit song.”
He says he and Urban apply the same concept when they make music together.
“One of the things that Keith and I did for many years is take something that was interesting and popular — maybe of the moment or on the radio — and we would take a loop of that section of song that we thought was cool and compelling, and we’d drop it into Protools and just loop it. It gets taken out of the context of the entire song; so, then you don’t have to fight to unlearn that song. You just have that little kernel of something to work on. And then we would start writing our own melodies over the top of this little section or the groove to get us started.”
These moments of inspiration led to the genesis of Powell’s inaugural Troubeliever Fest. Powell wants to get attendees as a close to the moment of a song’s creation as possible. “No one ever gets to hear a song at the moment it was born,” Powell says. “We’re trying to absolutely get people as close to that moment of creation when the song came into being as we can.
“It is raw and real, and we’re not trying to enhance it by production, or cover it up by production. Here it is. This song lives and breathes on its own as a piece of material, and we’re comfortable presenting it that way.”
The event will feature performances by Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Shawn Colvin, Billy Dean, Gary Burr, Georgia Middleman, David Pack, Kansas’ John Elefante, Ambrosia’s David Pack and more. Habitat for Humanity is the festival’s charitable sponsor, and the organization will be onsite with a façade of one of the houses that the company built and some artists will perform on the front porch. The façade will then be used to complete a home for a family in Ogden, Utah.