Friday, June 9
Main Stage – 10:45 p.m.
There’s no looking back for Keith Urban. One of music’s most innovative, progressive artists, his creativity only moves forward, as the four-time Grammy winner discovered for himself when he started on Ripcord, his eighth studio album.
After collaborating with a sweeping crop of writers and producers for 2013’s Fuse, and its resulting four number-one hits, the renowned guitarist figured his next project would be much easier, because, as he reasons, “I’d already done the research and development” with Fuse’s challenging birth.
He was wrong. His desire to expand on what he’s done previously — as a songwriter, producer, singer and guitarist — and to create something entirely new and groundbreaking led him to reach out to people he’d never worked with before and, as he puts it, “wander off into the forest again” to create songs that felt “bristling and alive.”
With no time constraints, Urban followed his muse on Ripcord, taking a journey beyond his wildest dreams. From appearances by Grammy Award-winning artists Carrie Underwood and Pitbull to a who’s who of new and returning producers, musicians and songwriters, including Nile Rodgers, Jeff Bhasker, Dann Huff, Nathan Chapman, K-Kov, busbee, Shane McAnally, Pino Paladino, and Matt Chamberlain, it’s no surprise that Urban calls Ripcord his most exhilarating album yet.
“I felt this rolling energy working on these songs unlike anything before,” Urban said. “This sort of musical experimentation and liberation of not feeling confined to anything.”
Such experimentation has been the hallmark of Urban’s career. Ever since 2002’s “Somebody Like You” arrived like a blast across the bow with its inventive combination of drum programming and Ganjo (a six-string banjo), Urban has been stirring up country music with his sonic sensibilities that never chase fads.
Surely the only artist to have a drum machine that he programmed, to be included in his Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit, Urban handpicked each of his collaborators and co-producers for Ripcord as he executed his clear vision to build upon his unique musical template.
Urban cast the album like a director would cast a movie: picking Rodgers (Chic, Daft Punk, David Bowie) for his extraordinary way with a groove. Of their first meeting, Urban said, “He had his famous Strat with him, and I had my Ganjo. He threw up a little groove and started playing, and I thought this is going to marry up perfectly with what I do.” Similarly, Urban sought out Bhasker because he admired the sounds he’d gotten through his work with artists like Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran.
A sense of vitality ripple through the pulsating, Ganjo-fueled current single, “Wasted Time,” irresistibly joyous “Sun Don’t Let Me Down,” featuring Pitbull; and the sexy, upbeat call-and-response of “The Fighter,” with Underwood, as well as on “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” and “Break On Me,” Urban’s 19th and 20th number ones.
Relentlessly curious, Urban found himself turned on by sounds he heard from across a wide musical spectrum. For example, after hearing the doubling effect on Rihanna’s voice on “American Oxygen,” he tried the same technique for his vocal on “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16.” “I’m Shazaming stuff all the time. I’m like a Shazam addict,” he said with a laugh. “It’s insane, but it’s expanded my musical palette to draw from exponentially.”
For the several songs he co-wrote on Ripcord, Urban started with the beat. “The drum machine and Ganjo are the foundation of what I do,” he says. “Even a ballad will be rhythmic. The feel is everything,” he said.
Urban would turn to writing the lyrics only after he established the melody. “The music is trying to say something and so I draw the story out of the music,” he said. “I haven’t scratched out a bunch of lyrics and then I’m shoving them onto a piece of music that I like. I don’t think I’ve ever written that way.”
Lyrically, many of the songs, including album opener “Gone Tomorrow (Here Today),” “Boy Gets A Truck,” and “Wasted Time,” deal with the passage of time, a recurring theme in Urban’s work.
“I’ve been very aware of that since I wrote [2004’s] ‘Days Go By.’ That was the first song that really talked about that it all goes by really quickly,” he said. “It got amplified with the passing of my father last year, and then some friends of mine passing as well.”
Others, such as “Habit of You,” “Gettin’ In The Way,” and “Your Body,” deal with affairs of the heart and the idea of a lover as refuge.
A month after Ripcord’s release, Urban’s “ripCORD World Tour 2016” with Brett Eldredge and Maren Morris began June 2 in Kansas City and has traveled to arenas (including a stop at the Target Center in Minneapolis in November) and amphitheaters in more than 50 cities in North America before tackling the rest of the world.
Once reluctant to play amphitheaters, Urban now loves playing both indoors and out. “I wished I’d been doing them a lot sooner,” he said. “It’s great and I think it dawned on me that the way I like to perform and so much of my catalog works in that place.”
He’s become so fond of amphitheaters that he even wrote “Wasted Time” with the folks on the grassy hills in mind. “I kept saying I wanted it to be something that’s easy to sing along with when you’re half-tanked up on the lawn, because the lawn is awesome,” he said. “It’s its own party, and we’re just a glorified boom box. So it’s interesting how that environment really informed the writing of that song.”
Whether in the studio or on the road, Urban is solidly in command. With Ripcord, he winningly displays his intense determination to push himself a little bit further musically every day for both him and his fans.
Some of Keith Urban’s hit songs:
- “Blue Ain’t Your Color”
- “Wasted Time”
- “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16“
- “Somewhere in My Car”
- “Cop Car”
- “You Gonna Fly”
- “Long Hot Summer”
- “Without You”
- “Put You In a Song”
- “I’m In”
- “Sweet Thing”
- “You Look Good in My Shirt”
- “Stupid Boy”
- “Better Life”
- “Days Go By”
- “Somebody Like You”
- “Where the Blacktop Ends”
- “But For the Grace of God”