Keith Urban talked about his life, his ups and downs, stripped down the songs on his newest album, Ripcord, performed pieces of songs accompanied by some of the key players, and charmed an invited guest list in an intimate presentation on September 22 in EastWest Studio One’s legendary room.
The four-time Grammy winner is becoming pretty legendary himself, breaking records everywhere. “Wasted Time” from Ripcord is his 21st Number One song, making Urban the artist with the most consecutive top 10 songs on Billboard’s country chart.
Grammy Foundation vice president Scott Goldman moderated the discussion with Urban, weaving him from his early life in Australia to his journey to Nashville in 1989.
Urban talked about the 10 years it took him to make his first album and the trust he needed to build in the Nashville community before they could take him seriously. Since he was on a visa, each time he had to return to Australia, the Nashville folks thought he was not coming back.
Addressing Ripcord, which debuted on the country charts at Number One, Goldman and Urban detailed the writing, production and instrumentation, which included Nathan Barlowe on what he developed and dubbed The Phantom System, a MIDI triggering sample system using four iPads with an Akai MPD 232, which acts as a mixer with 16 pads of its own.
About the second single, “Break on Me,” another Number One country hit, Urban talked about creating simplicity.
“Growing up with those Don Williams records still has an influence on me,” Urban said. “It was really Garth Fundis and him who made those records, and it was masterful in minimalism. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do. It’s like the audible version of what Dolly Parton says: ‘It costs a lot of money to look this cheap.’”
He wrote “The Fighter,” with busbee in London. “I wanted a simple conversation between a guy and a girl,” Urban said. “We finished the bridge in this room.” They had to record Carrie Underwood’s vocals in a studio in St. Louis before her gig, while Urban Facetimed during his video shoot for “Wasted Time.”
Touted as his most experimental record, Urban enlisted musicians not always thought of for “country” records, such as guitarist Nile Rodgers, rapper Pitbull, bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, and drummers James Gadson and Matt Chamberlain. “The initial thing I wanted to do was get [Rodgers] into a studio and take my 6-string banjo and have him play his funk thing he does and see if the banjo would go with it,” Urban said, demonstrating his banjo along with Rodgers’ part on “Sun Don’t Let Me Down.”