One of Keith Urban's earliest showcases in Nashville took place at the Exit/In, a beloved rock club northwest of downtown that has been operating for more than 40 years. By his recollection, Urban's performance didn't go so well: former Capitol Records boss Jimmy Bowen was there long enough to hear part of one song before heading for the door.
"In Jimmy's defense, I think I was a long way from being ready for what I was trying to do. I had a lot of work to still do," says Urban, laughing at the memory.
Years later, Urban is one of the biggest stars on Capitol's Nashville roster, and small rock venues like the Exit/In are largely a thing of the past when it comes to his touring plans. But Urban threw a curveball on Wednesday night, packing the club to capacity to play a free surprise show and unveil plans for his Graffiti U World Tour and forthcoming album, also titled Graffiti U.
Kicking off June 15th in St. Louis, Missouri, the Graffiti U World Tour spans 58 shows in the U.S. and Canada and will feature support from Kelsea Ballerini. The name for the tour and album combines a couple of separate ideas that Urban found appealing.
"I was toying with the letter 'U,'" he tells Rolling Stone Country. "Obviously it's the first letter of my last name, but I liked that when you say it, it's also the word 'You.' For me, that's the listener, that's the audience."
The "Graffiti" portion of the title was more of a sensation.
"The sound of words is a big thing to me – Ripcord was like that, Fuse was like that. Fuse and Ripcord denoted a certain kind of energy in the word to me," he says. "'Graffiti' to me felt very uninhibited, artistic, liberated expression. 'Graffiti' to me is a blank canvas and pure artistic expression upon that."
Details around the album, along with its release date, are still scarce, but Urban notes that it will be "very much cut from the Ripcord cloth," in terms of both its studio-focused genesis and versatility for live shows. Following a live-streamed set of his hits – and a performance of Camila Cabello's "Never Be the Same" with Ballerini – Urban returned to the Exit/In stage to perform some of the new songs, including "Steal My Thunder" and "Same Heart."
Still undecided is whether "Female," Urban's topical release around the #MeToo Movement, will make the album or just exist as a standalone. Urban says he is in the process of sequencing his finished tracks to get the best feel. Perhaps predictably, the well-intentioned song was met with both praise and criticism in a country ecosystem that is struggling to support and sustain its female entertainers.
"Even though I didn't write it, it spoke to me the first time I heard it," says Urban of the song written by Shane McAnally, Nicolle Galyon and Ross Copperman. "I went in and cut it with that 'want' for it to be out. Once it does whatever it does past that, I have no control over, and I just let it go. And I'm back into making my record. I've said what I wanted to say and I'm now back into making the album."
Urban took a similar approach to recording Graffiti U, clearing the slate and refusing to place restrictions on his ideas or creative process.
"It's why I don't have any [of my] awards in my studio," he says. "I don't have any of that stuff anywhere because I like it to be as blank a canvas as it was the very first time I made a record."
Here are the Graffiti U World Tour dates:
June 15 – St. Louis, MO @ Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
June 16 – Indianapolis, IN @ Ruoff Home Mortage Music Center
June 22 – Clarkston, MI @ DTE Energy Music Theatre
June 23 – Pittsburgh, PA @ KeyBank Pavilion
June 27 – Saratoga Springs, NY @ Saratoga Performing Arts Center
June 29 – Toronto, ON @ Budweiser Stage
June 30 – Toronto, ON @ Budweiser Stage
July 5 – Gilford, NH @ Bank of NH Pavilion
July 6 – Gilford, NH @ Bank of NH Pavilion
July 8 – Canandaigua, NY @ CMAC
July 13 – Salt Lake City, UT @ USANA Amphitheatre
July 14 – Denver, CO @ Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre
July 15 – Albuquerque, NM @ Isleta Amphitheater
July 20 – Mountain View, CA @ Shoreline Amphitheatre
July 21 – Lake Tahoe, NV @ Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys
July 22 – Lake Tahoe, NV @ Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena at Harveys
July 27 – Raleigh, NC @ Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek
July 28 – Charlotte, NC @ PNC Music Pavilion
July 29 – Alpharetta, GA @ Verizon Amphitheatre
Aug. 3 – Philadelphia, PA @ BB&T Pavilion
Aug. 4 – Mansfield, MA @ Xfinity Center
Aug. 5 – Bangor, ME @ Darling's Waterfront Pavilion
Aug. 10 – Cleveland, OH @ Blossom Music Center
Aug. 11 – Bristow, VA @ Jiffy Lube Live
Aug. 12 – Virginia Beach, VA @ Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheater
Aug. 15 – Rogers, AR @ Walmart AMP
Aug. 17 – Kansas City, MO @ Sprint Center
Aug. 18 – Chicago, IL @ Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
Aug. 19 – Cincinnati, OH @ Riverbend Music Center
Aug. 24 – Nashville, TN @ Bridgestone Arena
Aug. 25 – Orange Beach, AL @ The Wharf Amphitheater
Aug. 26 – Tuscaloosa, AL @ Tuscaloosa Amphitheater
Sept. 7 – Uncasville, CT @ Mohegan Sun Arena
Sept. 8 – Uncasville, CT @ Mohegan Sun Arena
Sept. 14 – Ottawa, ON @ Canadian Tire Centre
Sept. 15 – London, ON @ Budweiser Gardens
Sept. 19 – Winnipeg, MB @ Bell MTS Place
Sept. 21 – Saskatoon, SK @ SaskTel Centre
Sept. 22 – Edmonton, AB @ Rogers Place
Sept. 23 – Calgary, AB @ ScotiaBank Saddledome
Sept. 25 – Vancouver, BC @ Rogers Arena
Sept. 27 – Eugene, OR @ Matthew Knight Arena
Sept. 28 – Boise, ID @ Taco Bell Arena
Sept. 29 – Missoula, MT @ Adams Center
Oct. 4 – Phoenix, AZ @ Ak-Chin Pavilion
Oct. 5 – Laughlin, NV @ Laughlin Event Center
Oct. 12 – Peoria, IL @ Peoria Civic Center
Oct. 13 – Minneapolis, MN @ Target Center
Oct. 14 – Grand Forks, ND @ Ralph Engelstad Arena
Oct. 18 – Toledo, OH @ Huntington Center
Oct. 19 – Grand Rapids, MI @ Van Andel Arena
Oct. 20 – Louisville, KY @ KFC Yum! Center
Oct. 24 – Youngstown, OH @ Covelli Centre
Oct. 25 – Hershey, PA @ Giant Center
Oct. 27 – Brooklyn, NY @ Barclays Center
Oct. 28 – Charlottesville, VA @ John Paul Jones Arena
Nov. 1 – Little Rock, AR @ Verizon Arena
Nov. 2 – New Orleans, LA @ Smoothie King Center
Nov. 3 – Dallas, TX @ American Airlines Center