Keith Urban Remembers Tearful Career Beginnings
When Keith Urban came to Nashville in 1989, it was love at first sight. He knew immediately it was where he was meant to be. But the road Keith took to get to his superstar status today was never easy. He worked hard to earn his way, struggled desperately to rise above rejection and overcome drug dependency over the course of the next 15 years. But never once did he think of giving up his dream.
"I loved Nashville from the moment I got there," Keith tells St. Louis Today. "I came over with the manager that I had at the time. We stayed four days, and I shopped my little demo tape to all the record labels that would give us a listen. Consequently, we were rejected by everybody."
Nonetheless, Keith was determined to make it as a country singer.
"I remember thinking, 'Yeah, I could absolutely live here, I could really put in the time required to establish myself in this town.'"
He formed a band called The Ranch and played for tiny crowds in tiny clubs every night, hoping to be discovered.
"We played five nights a week down in Florida, and then we'd drive up here on a Monday, and then put on a show Monday afternoon for the record company people ... praying that someone would save us from the abyss of nothingness," Keith recalls. "I was absolutely sure I was in the right place, and I couldn't understand why it wasn't working. It was very frustrating."
And as has been well-documented, Keith's frustration would lead to dependence on alcohol and drugs.
"It was a difficult time for me ... there's only so much constant rejection that I could take until I didn't know what else to do," Keith admits. "It was an escape mechanism that got out of hand, unfortunately."
Fortunately, Keith persevered. His prolific songwriting scored him appointments with respected writers in town. But still, he remembers writing days that would end with tears, as he pushed himself to fit his specific style of songwriting like a square peg through a round hole.
"I feel like I'm a specific kind of lyric writer, but musically, I have different stories to tell that I (only) sometimes articulate with lyrics," he explains. "I often work with other people (so) we can tell a story with the music. It's a bit of trial and error.
"Those early years in Nashville, I was writing a lot on Music Row, doing wretched 9:00 AM sessions with perfect strangers, which is just a bizarre style of writing," Keith remembers. "I hated it at the time, but I felt like, 'I've gotta do it.' There would be some nights I'd be driving around crying in my rental car. I just hated writing that way. But I learned so much. Sometimes you learn a lot from what you don't want to do."