Keith Urban has no hesitation in saying his new release, “Graffiti U,” is not a country album. Fact is, Urban says, it’s not any particular type of album.
“I didn’t want to present any particular genre,” Urban said in a late-June phone interview. “I wasn’t trying to make a pop album. I wasn’t trying to make a country album. I was just trying to make a me album in 2018.”
And a “me album” at this point in time meant reflecting the kind of music that Urban — appearing Friday at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City — currently is drawn to and finding ways to take those influences and come out with songs that felt authentic to him.
Defining exactly what types of music inspired “Graffiti U” proved to be hard to pin down, even for Urban. He allowed that he’s attracted to a lot of new music at this point, but he works more by instinct than any other factor in crafting songs.
“It’s always based on an energy. I get pulled toward a certain energy, whether it’s in people I meet, whether it’s in art in some form, movies, music, whatever it is, I get pulled toward certain energies,” Urban said. “And I have personally found myself being very pulled toward a lot of new music that’s being made, not just in pop, but in country. There’s a lot of great music. And there’s non-genre music, like Post Malone is happening right now, that I find myself strongly pulled toward because it’s so original. I was watching a documentary last night about this band over in the U.K., this duo called the Sleaford Mods. That documentary is called ‘A Bunch of Kunst.’ I was riveted by that documentary because the music is so uncategorizable and so (original) and so raw. So it doesn’t matter what the genre is. I can be pulled toward anything that just has this riveting (quality) in it.”
In fact, Urban said he titled the album “Graffiti U” because he sees graffiti as a pure form of expression, and he wanted to experience that sort of unfiltered freedom and creativity as he wrote and recorded the album.
In the process, he came up with an album that’s diverse musically and feels quite effortless, breezy and, yes, spontaneous.
The opening track, Urban said, sets the tone for the rest of “Graffiti U.” Called “Coming Home,” it mixes folk with banjo and other acoustic instruments, pop with its warm melody and a bit of hip-hop in the cadence of Julia Michael’s vocal and the song’s programmed percussion.
“I like the fusion of all the elements that came together on that song,” Urban said. “It felt like that was a good, broad entry into the rest of the album.”
Other songs are just as stylistically blended, with “Drop Top” inserting the kind of shout-along chorus heard in songs like Fitz and the Tantrums’ “Hand Clap” within a spunky pop-rock tune, or “Never Coming Down” bringing together Mumford & Sons-ish country-folk, hip-hop and a funky bass line. There’s a good bit of R&B in the sweet ballad “Parallel Line.” “My Wave” is a beachy song that’s equal parts pop, hip-hop and light folk. “Love the Way It Hurts (So Good)” brings some EDM touches into this decidedly modern sounding track.
The amalgam of styles heard within “Graffiti U” puts the album right in step, not only with today’s pop trends, but the way many country artists are incorporating pop, hip-hop and other genres into their music.
As such, Urban seems to be navigating the latest trends in country just as easily as he has worked through the various shifts that have occurred in country during the previous two decades.
A native of New Zealand, Urban, 50, had considerable success in Australia with an album he released in 1991 before he came to the United States in search of an American record deal. He released an album with the band he formed, the Ranch, before getting signed as a solo artist by Capitol Records.
Success came quickly, with Urban’s 1999 self-titled debut album giving him his first No. 1 single, “But For the Grace of God.” The hits have kept coming at a steady pace ever since. Urban is now nearing 40 hit singles in all, 18 of which have topped a country chart, including seven No. 1’s from his previous two albums, “Fuse” (2013) and “Ripcord” (2016).
Urban’s eight previous solo albums have all gone either platinum or gold, with his 2004 album, “Be Here,” his most popular release, with sales of more than 4 million copies.
Urban’s personal life is going just as well as his career and also continues to be in a good place. The turnaround for Urban came when he married actress Nicole Kidman in 2006, kicked (with Kidman’s help) his addiction to alcohol and started a family that now includes two young girls. The couple recently celebrated their 12th anniversary, and Urban had little trouble explaining why their marriage is thriving.
“Well, first of all she’s my favorite person to be around. I love, love, love her company. I love every part of her company,” he said. “That’s really the first thing. I want to be around her all the time, talk to her and listen to her. We’re just very, very simpatico as personalities, the two of us. I think that’s key. I loved being around her when I first met her, and doing every and anything with her when I first met her. And that hasn’t changed. That feels exactly the same as it did the first week we started going out.”
Another secret to the relationship is that Urban and Kidman put their relationship ahead of their careers and find ways to spend as much time together as possible.
“Like if she’s shooting out in California, which is what she’s been doing recently for (the HBO series) ‘Big Little Lies,’ we just relocate out there, even if it’s in a rented place, or a hotel, wherever it is. We just go as a family, the four of us,” Urban said. “Obviously, I’m on tour. I go to where the show is and then I go back to wherever she and the girls are, so that we stay together.”
There will be plenty of trips to tour stops and family locations over the next several months as Urban spends his weekends (and a few scattered weekdays) playing concerts in the states and Canada. He said his hit-filled show very much aims to reinforce the themes of the “Graffiti U” album.
“I think if there’s a theme to this album and a want for this tour it’s to inspire a confidence in each person to just express who they are and how they feel and not feel like they have to apologize for it or make excuses for it or filter it in any way or change it to suit anybody’s expectations,” Urban said. “It’s just an absolutely natural, unapologetic form of expression. That’s what the album is. It’s very much what the tour is. And if people feel that way in listening to the music and seeing the show, then I think I’ve done my job.”