9 Dec 2016

I am a satellite: the orbit of Keith Urban

From RNZ Music
Keith Urban

Keith Urban Photo: Supplied

"My job is to keep the satellite dish free from all the leaves and the debris" - Keith Urban

Keith Urban is a huge deal. Of course there is his 10-year marriage to Hollywood actress Nicole Kidman, but he's also won four Grammys (Best Male Country Vocal Performance 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011), released eight studio albums and charted twenty Number One singles. He's been a coach on the Australian television show The Voice and American Idol judge for four seasons.  A satellite dish is definitely not the metaphor I expected the multi-award winning, platinum-record selling pop country star to paint himself as.

The music “is not coming from me as such, my job is to keep the satellite dish free from all the leaves and the debris and the crap, and keep it pointed to the sky and keep it clear.”

In New Zealand for his first ever show in the country of his birth, Keith Urban is a disarmingly charming and thoughtful sort. Ask him anything, and he’ll reply with a considered perspective and a good yarn. We talk about what he’s been listening to (“M83, Leon Russell” and yesterday he “mixed it up by reading a book”), where we touch on the pasttime of rediscovering classic albums (Keith: Prince's lesser-known backcatalogue. Me: Fleetwood Mac's Rumors), it's at this point I am treated to a persuasive explanation on why Dr Hook’s musical output is so criminally underrated:

“Dr Hook never get any props but for country music particularly, their mix of rock, and southern and boogie and country and pop, their fusion was unbelievably unique."

Citing  the “acoustic balladry” of 'Silvia’s Mother' to the “disco-era" of 'Sexy Eyes', Keith has definitely got me thinking I should give Dr Hook a spin.

On having to choose between playing live and recording in the studio, he is pretty adamant:

“I’d hate to choose, I love making records and I love playing live. Ultimately the art form of recording is magical because you are capturing and building upon the capturing. And live is just a one time deal: it’s like an etch-a-sketch, you do your thing, you shake it and it disappears.”

For someone who considers themselves as musical satellite dish, he seems remarkably pragmatic and uncomplicated in his responsibilities to transmit this creative output, snapping his fingers to emphasise his point:

“The hard bit is when it has to be turned on for a certain time frame. That’s the always the biggest problem for us artists...I also think an artist needs to have an opening night or else we’ll never get anything done... or else we’ll be in rehearsal for the rest of our life.”

Though as a songwriter he admits that his ten year marriage to Hollywood actress and fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman does pose unique challenges.

“If I write from just the perspective of a couple it’s immediately perceived as Nic and I. It may not be us, it’s just my lifelong experience in relationships that can be drawn on for all manner of songs. It might be ‘everything is not going well’ songs or complete devastation that has nothing to do with my life and it’s immediately interpreted that that is what is happening. That is the only struggle I find in writing songs... as a writer I like to have things open to make your own connection to.”

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    Music details

    Artist: Keith Urban
    Songs: Blue Ain't Your Colour,
    Composer: Olsen, Lindsey, Lagerberg
    Album: Ripcord
    Label: Universal

    Artist: Dr Hook
    Song: Sexy Eyes
    Composer: Mather, Stegall, Waters
    Album: Sometimes You Win
    Label: Axis

    Artist: Keith Urban
    Songs: Wasted Time
    Composer: Urban, Wells, Abrahart
    Album: Ripcord
    Label: Universal