With Keith Urban being in the music industry as long as he has, plus hearing tons of audition songs through his former role as an “American Idol” judge, it comes as no surprise that he has diverse taste in music.
But it’s somewhat of a relief to learn he discovers this music just like the rest of us.
“I’m a mad Shazamer,” said the country star, referring to the Shazam app that identifies songs after just a few seconds of hearing it.
“I Shazam stuff all the time and make these really eclectic playlists,” he said. “And when I go into the studio, I draw on a lot of those songs when I’m writing, when I’m recording. And so it ends up that they all get filtered through me and come out on the record.”
Urban is touring to promote his latest album, “Graffiti U,” released in April. The Australian singer will be joined by Kelsea Ballerini July 27 at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek.
He talked to The News & Observer about about the album, the tour and how he wished his song “Female” had been interpreted more broadly than just a #MeToo anthem.
Here are excerpts of the conversation.
On ‘Graffiti U’’s influence
“I think it’s reflective of the music I listen to, and reflective of the music that speaks to me. I’m very reactionary to music of all kinds; I don’t think in terms of genre, even when I’m listening to music. And I don’t think many people do really, I think certain songs, certain records, certain artists, certain whatever speak to me for whatever reason.”
On the song, ‘Female’
“The song was written by Nicolle Galyon, Shane McAnally and Ross Copperman. They wrote the song for a lot of different reasons. I think first and foremost, all three of them have young daughters, so when they wrote that song, that was on their minds, and obviously the ‘#MeToo’ movement was on their minds. When I heard the song, it hit me as ‘Dad.’ (Wife Nicole Kidman and I) also have two young girls, but I loved it too for my wife, I loved it for my mother, I loved it just as an empowerment song as well.
“It’s a pity that it got branded as a response song to sexual harassment, because it’s not that. It’s literally not that. Anybody who actually goes and reads the lyrics will really only find two lines in the second verse: (“When somebody laughs and implies that she asked for it/Just ‘cause she was wearing a skirt/Oh, is that how that works?”) that speak to that specifically, the rest of the song is bigger and really about empowerment, more than anything.
“It’s a song that I loved when I first heard it, a song that really moved me, and I’m incredibly grateful I got to record it.”
On using the Merle Haggard sample from ‘Mama Tried’ in ‘Coming Home’
“It was an idea I’ve had for a few years, but I didn’t know how to implement it into a song where it didn’t feel forced. I didn’t just want to have a song and suddenly, boom!, there’s this random sample coming out of nowhere. I wanted to try to write something from the ground up that used that sample in the foundation of the actual song.
“Weirdly enough with ‘Coming Home,’ I didn’t even have a title or a theme or anything in mind for the song, and when I went out to write with J.R. Rotem in Los Angeles, I played him the sample and he loved it. He wrote some chords around it, built this basic music foundation, and the first thing I riffed on was what became the chorus. And really all of those stream-of-consciousness lyrics in the chorus came from the way I felt hearing that Merle Haggard lick.
“So it’s interesting how that lick isn’t just a sonic contribution in the song, it really actually informed the whole story. Because when I heard that sample I thought back on Australia, going to all these country music festivals with my parents, and it just made me think of home, so the whole song came from the way I felt about that sample. It’s nostalgic, for me at least.”
On what it’s like to work with Nile Rodgers of Chic
Note: Nile Rodgers is one of the headline acts at Raleigh’s Hopscotch Music Festival this September. Urban and Rodgers recorded “Sun Don’t Let Me Down” for his 2016 album, “Ripcord.”
“Dude, amazing. It was awesome. He’s always been one of my favorite musicians, his guitar playing especially, and I just had this feeling that if we could ever meet and get into a studio and jam together, I think we’d really hit it off, just on blind faith and confidence.
“So I sought him out: it took forever to hunt him down, but I found out where he was and made contact probably around 2014, 2015. I ended up in New York at the same time he was there, and we booked a studio. And it was crazy, because I literally got to do what I had hoped to do: we ended up at this studio late one night, and he had his guitar, I had my guitar, and we just jammed for hours. We hit it off like long-lost brothers and wrote a bunch of music that night, and one of those things ended up being turned into a song called ‘Sun Don’t Let Me Down’ which was on my album ‘Ripcord.’ It was just a really cool, fun collaboration, and I just love him.”
On what makes this tour special
“I’ve done a lot of collaborations over the years: ‘We Were Us’ with Miranda Lambert, ‘The Fighter’ with Carrie Underwood. On this album alone I’ve got three: one with Kassi Ashton on ‘Drop Top,’ one with Julia Michaels on ‘Coming Home,’ and Shy Carter on ‘My Wave.’ We pre-shot everybody before we started the tour so we could utilize them on the big video walls behind us, and I think there are four different times in the show when I do collaborations between me and the video screens of the artists…
“We also always play a satellite stage on our tours, which is further out by the lawn. And for this tour I had this huge big stage built in the shape of the letter U, and it lights up. So halfway through the show, I go out and do a bunch of songs out on the U stage, so I just want everybody sitting on the lawn to know that at some point in the show they’ll have front row seats.”
On his favorite song from ‘Graffiti U’ to perform live
“They’re all super fun, they really are. There are a couple of surprises in the way fans react to them; one in particular is called ‘Love the Way It Hurts,’ which I wrote with Captain Cuts. I’d never worked with him before, but a friend of mine said she thought we would hit it off. So we wrote that song, and when we’re doing it live, everybody sings along to every word, it’s crazy. So that one caught me by surprise. And I think also ‘Drop Top,’ the duet I do with Kassi Ashton, has been great playing live as well. She’s on the video wall behind us, and I play bass on that song, it’s fun. The new songs are a blast to play.”
Who: Keith Urban and Kelsea Ballerini
When: 7:30 p.m., July 27
Where: Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, 3801 Rock Quarry Road, Raleigh
Cost: $39.25; $103.25; $113.25
Info: LiveNation.com or 919-831-6400