Exclusive Interview: Keith Urban Talks Rehab, Romance and Paparazzi
Country megastar Keith Urban is racking up some major frequent-flier miles these days. He's currently in the middle of the American-leg of his Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy World tour, but he's still flying halfway around the world twice a month.
It's all part of a shift in the newly wed and newly sober singer's life, as he juggles touring with spending time with his wife of one year, actress Nicole Kidman, who is filming a movie in Australia.
Urban took a very early morning wakeup call with AOL Music this week from Darwin, Australia, where he's visiting his bride. Read on as he talks about touring, the paparazzi, his recent stint in rehab and why his main goal in life has nothing to do with music. Plus, we surprise Urban with a rumor about him he's never heard before... but gets quite a laugh out of.
You're in the middle of your Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy World tour, so let's begin by talking about your live shows. How would you say they have evolved over the past decade?
That's a good question. They've certainly gotten bigger. It's not all cerebral what we do, it's just sorta organic evolving so I don't quite know how to quantify that. It's seems to get a little freer every year.
Your fan base has certainly evolved and grown tremendously. You've recently attracted a lot of non-country fans. Why do you think that is?
I think that's happening with a lot of country artists these days. Certainly for me, it's more about the songs. They should defy genre ... like 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.' It's a song that everybody loves to sing. And I think country music has a lot of that type of song, as well, that defy genre.
What would you say is one of your songs that gets the best response from your live audiences?
'You'll Think of Me' is really high on the list, because there are a lot of jilted people out there. (laughs)
You've made a real conscious effort to incorporate breaks into your tour, in order to balance work with your personal life. Being the workhorse that you are, was that hard to do?
No, it's come quite easily. Balance is about adjustments, so occasionally it tips to far and you have to adjust it. But that's life. Right now, I have an enormous amount of gratitude for where I am in life. And I still have a lot of passion and hunger for creating more music and touring. But it seems to be more focused. In the past it was more running from things, because I didn't really have a life outside music ... Getting on the bus and touring was my life. And when that was not around, I felt myself a bit lost at times, because that was all I had. And my life is now much more balanced, which is wonderful.
With your tour and Nicole's movie shooting in Australia, how often do you get to see one another?
This year was odd because she already had the film scheduled to shoot in for six months, which is quite long for a film. And I had a tour already planned. So she's on the other side of the world, and I'm on the other side of the world touring. So how do we make that work? Well, we just said about 11 days is the longest I feel that I can be away. I prefer it to be about 5, but I just couldn't go to the states for 3 days ...come back and go and all that. So we just figured out that we could probably get through about 11-12 days of being apart. So that's what I do. I tour for a little less than two weeks and then I come back to, and I'm here for a week or two weeks and then I go back.
You just celebrated two big occasions: Nicole's 40th birthday and your first anniversary. Did you do anything special to celebrate?
We had a beautiful anniversary. It was very intimate. I don't really need to elaborate ... (laughs) ... but it was lovely.
Ok, we won't make you go into detail! So you've said that your recent stay in rehab strengthened your marriage. How so?
It's hard to put into words that might get misconstrued or taken out of context. It's just made it stronger, that's all I know. And I'm very very grateful for it. We're both grateful for it, and it's brought us very close together.
There have, of course, been a lot of untruths written about you and Nicole in the tabloids. But you've never pulled a Britney Spears move on the paparazzi. What's your take on celebrities like Britney and Posh Spice who fight back at the media?
I think everybody has different priorities in their life. People live their lives differently. People become famous through all sorts of different reasons ... some of it through art and some of it through just wanting to be famous. And I think how that all starts tends to reflect how you live your life daily. I can't speak for other people, I just know that we love our privacy. We value it. We love to be as normal as we can be and just be a husband and wife. Because at the end of the day, that's what we are. We're each other's husband and wife, and we're each other's best friends. And we both have jobs and careers, but that's not who we are. It's not our identity.
And is that easier to do in Nashville than in Hollywood?
It is. The world is getting so reality-driven these days. It seems to be accelerating exponentially. But it's a dangerous game for a lot of people. The paparazzi do what they do because that's what they're paid to do. We just try and value our privacy, but there are certain situations where you're going to get photographed ... that's all there is to it. And we both accept that. But when it starts to move into stalking and unnecessary invasiveness, that's when anybody with any dignity gets a little disturbed by that type of behavior.
Keith Urban in Pictures
I read on your website that you think of yourself as a "work in progress." What have you yet to accomplish that is an immediate goal?
That's quite a long list. Being a good husband is high on the list for me. And I'm anxious to get back into the studio in the next year to start work on the next record. But right now, touring is just exhilarating for me. Adding to the songs on our setlist is a huge gift for me ... putting the setlist of songs together that everybody who comes to the show seems to know. Consistency and trying to reach new musical places that I haven't reached before. I still have a lot of that want to define what it is that I want to do.
Are you finding any time to write on the road?
No, I haven't had any desire to write on the road. This tour is very intricate ... It's a two-hour show, and it's got a lot of detail, musically and visually. The tour is being tweaked all the time, too. I'm always looking for ways to tweak it. So between that and flying as much as I am doing, my creative brain is all about the tour right now. I think if my past is anything to go by, later on in the tour – likely in the next few months – is when musical things start to come together. If the tour is set in motion, the musical things will start to come. That's what's next. I tend to do one thing at a time creatively.
What's on deck as far as albums go? Is it almost time for a greatest hits collection?
We're actually working on that for next year, and we're hoping to add a couple of new songs. Very early next year is the plan to have that out. But so far right now, we've got this song ('I Told You So') doing great on the charts. Hopefully [there will be] another single or so off this record ('Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing'), because we'll be touring through May of next year. I'm just having a blast touring.
We hear you've been tapped to write the theme song for the epic movie, 'Australia,' that your wife is shooting right now. Have you started writing?
(laughs) Is that true? Wow, that is the first I've heard that. That's fantastic!
Really? We're breaking this news to you right now?
Yes! Quite literally, this is the first time I've heard that.
Well, you better start writing!
I guess so. (laughs)
About seven years ago, I asked Kenny Rogers to name one up-and-coming country star he sees as having a real chance at longevity in the business, and he named you. Who's the one new artist you think has a shot?
There's a girl called Sarah Buxton who wrote 'Stupid Boy,' and I just love her voice. And I feel good that if she keeps on the trajectory, she could really make some great music. Jedd Hughes is another guy who's on my label, and I love his take on things. He's got like a Gram Parsons meets West-Coast country vibe, and he's a great guitar player. There's a bunch right now that I really love. Nashville's kind of bubbling up a bit.
Anyone you're listening to that might surprise us?
I seem to spend a lot of my time putting compilations together. I just got an iPhone, and I'm filling it full of playlists.
Oh! You got the iPhone? Have you mastered it yet?
It's so user-friendly! I will put my finger on something and think, 'I wonder if it'll do that?' And it always does. So I'm impressed.
We'll send Apple this interview and let them know that Keith Urban endorses the iPhone ... We could make you some money here!
(laughs) I'm totally sold. It's like an appendage now. I don't leave anywhere without it. So I'm just looking here, and I have Jackson Browne, Crowded House ... and who I'm really digging right now is the Traveling Wilburys. I just love that record. It's really full of country songs. 'End of the Line' is a country song. We've been jamming a few of their songs at soundcheck, ,and they're a blast to play.
Any plans for some R&R after the tour?
We've been doing that along the way. You know, with [Nicole's] shooting schedule, and my coming back here ... the days don't always lock up with her days off. But every now and then, they do. But ultimately, when we're together, it's a vacation. Truly, we can be doing anything, and it feels like a vacation to me.
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