KEITH URBAN REVEALED - PART TWO
In the conclusion of our exclusive interview, the country superstar talks about his childhood on the farm, whether success has gone to his head-and why he's "like a Frosted Mini-Wheat."
To begin the second and final installment of Country Weekly's in-depth conversation, we go back to the beginning-to Caboolture, Australia, and a little boy named Keith Urban who would someday cross the ocean to become one of country's biggest stars. Do you remember first learning to play guitar?
Oh yeah, I hated it. After my guitar teacher left, I'd go in to my dad and say, "My fingers hurt. I don't want to do this anymore." He'd always say, "Well then, don't." I'd think, "That's not what I wanted to hear!" I wanted him to say, "You're gonna damn well do it," and he never did that. He used reverse psychology-and it worked perfectly. Do you still feel like you have to practice every day?
I went to Australia for Christmas for 27 days and didn't take a guitar with me. When I came back, my fingers hurt like hell. I'll bet that since I started playing guitar at 6, I have not gone a month without playing. That's the first time in my life that I've gone that long, and I really felt it the first week back. Do you feel better just holding a guitar? Is it a comfort?
I feel more comfortable now with or without it. It used to be much more like Linus and his security blanket, definitely. What do you think drew you to music in the first place?
God, man. It was like a baby turtle walking into the ocean. It was destined and instinctual to me. Did you enjoy growing up on a farm?
I didn't realize how much I enjoyed it until we left. We lived about three miles outside of town on 12 and a half acres, so it wasn't massive-of course, when you're young, it's huge. There were pine forests, we used to go hiking. We lived there for a few good years, but eventually my dad sold the farm and we moved into town. You recently played a sold-out show in Brisbane, the big city near where you grew up in Caboolture. That has to have been a thrill.
It's the classic story. Growing up, we had this thing called the Brisbane Entertainment Center, which is quite a large venue. I saw numerous concerts there-Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Huey Lewis and The News, Prince, Kiss. And of course I was the kid thinking, "Could I ever play here?" So getting to do that was a real dream come true. What was the first show you ever saw?
My dad took my brother and I to see Tom T. Hall when we were 6 or 7 years old. I don't recall that at all. The one after that was Johnny Cash, and I remember that one really well. That was probably around '75, at the Brisbane Festival Hall. It was a big, funky 5,000-seat wooden hall that was actually built for boxing matches. Smelled like a gym-a great, sweaty, smoky old place. I remember looking up and seeing that big single spotlight coming across the top of me and shooting up to the stage onto this guy way up there with this big voice. It was so rowdy before, and now you could hear a pin drop. That was a major revelation to me: that guy's got a lot of power. When you're at home in Australia now, do the people you knew before treat you differently?
No, I haven't found that. I think that is one of the things about Australia-people are always looking to see if you've changed, if you've got an accent, or if anything has gone to your head. If they sense any of that, they're quick to cut you right back down to earth. It's a pretty grounded place. Do you think you have lost your accent a little?
I find that it ebbs and flows depending on who I'm talking to! [Laughs] I think there's an element of needing to pronounce words a certain way when you're in the States, just for ease of communication. Is there some element of your music that is innately Australian?
I think there's an intensity about the performance that comes from playing in these Aussie pubs when I was growing up. They're really rough, rowdy places, probably not too different to some of the honky-tonks through Texas. Places where you've got to step up to the plate and perform with conviction or they're gonna eat you alive. You're at a level of success now where you're meeting people who you've idolized-you played at the Grammys with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Elvin Bishop, and did the CMT Crossroads show with John Fogerty. How does that feel?
Talk about checking off things to do in life before you die. "Play 'Sweet Home Alabama' with Lynyrd Skynyrd-check!" And John is just a treasure. It's still a bit intimidating. I still keep waiting for someone to come along, rip off my laminate and tell me it's not valid anymore, tell me I have to leave. I know that after the Grammys, Earl Scruggs asked to meet you. What do you talk about with somebody like that?
"More ice, sir? Can I freshen your drink?" [Laughs] You mentioned earlier that you worked out this morning. What's your routine?
Oh, it depends. We mix it up. My whole thing is not about being massive and big, it's more for tone. It's all core stuff for what I do onstage, for balance and stamina. Is that your motivation to do it?
My motivation is to keep performing the way I do as I get older. I never worked out when I was in my teens and 20s, and I'd get onstage and play for three hours, fling myself around like a rubber-band man and it was nothing. Then you hit your mid-30s and you're like, "Ooh, I'm a little sore this morning!" [Laughs] I want to be able to keep performing this way for as long as I can. How involved are you with your business? Are you a micromanager?
Not a micromanager, but I'm very aware of everything, particularly merchandise. I'm striving really hard to have good-quality T-shirts. I would like ultimately to get into having a clothing line of some sort, and this is where the quality starts. Quality should be in everything you create. It's all part of your art. What kind of a boss are you?
I try to have people around me that are "born-to-be"s: "I was born to be a bass player." "I was born to be a front-of-house engineer." That's my favorite kind of person to be around. Not someone who's dabbling or semipassionate about it. This has got to be what you live and die for. This is it. Life's too short, man. I'm really a one-day-at-a-time kind of person, especially now in my life. I read this quote recently: "Every day, you get better or you get worse. What did you do today?" It's so blunt, but it resonated with me. I think about that before I go to bed each night. It's great to be able to think, "Today, I got better." It's great having that sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.