Juggling a busy schedule of American Idol tapings, tour dates, rehearsals and his wife’s film shoots, Keith Urban recorded Ripcord all over the world, booking studio time on three different continents along the way. One week before the album’s release, he invited Rolling Stone Country into Nashville’s Blackbird Studios, where singles like “Breakon Me” and “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” were tracked. There, using a six-string ganjo and an acoustic guitar to illustrate his points, Urban talked about an album whose songs are as varied as the cities in which they were created.
“I remember Don Williams saying, ‘It’s about the frame,'” Urban says in the above video, name-checking one of the album’s many influences. “The song is the picture, and the record is the frame. You’ve got to put no more, no less of a frame around that picture and let the picture be everything.”
As Ripcord‘s co-producer, Urban shared the responsibility of shaping his album’s mix of analog country and digital pop, creating a genre-jumping sound filled with synth pads, banjo riffs, drum loops, mandolin chords and — only where it was needed — the familiar roar of his electric guitar. There’s less traditional guitar playing on Ripcord, whose songs rarely call for the arena-sized solos that brought earlier hits like “Somebody Like You” and “Stupid Boy” to epic heights. Instead, Urban fills the gap in unpredictable ways: with a Pitbull cameo in “Sun Don’t Let Me Down,” a Middle Eastern-inspired banjo in “Gone Tomorrow (Here Today)” and a tangle of vintage keyboards on his R&B duet with Carrie Underwood, “The Fighter.”
“It’s a natural progression,” he says of his own production work, “because I’ve been doing demos at home of my stuff, ever since I was a kid. Even before I bought a multi-track, I bought two cassette decks and would play onto one, then press play, then sing along with it into the next one. I’d put my voice up next to the microphone on the cassette desk and add my harmonies, then play that back [into the other cassette deck] and add another harmony. That’s how I started cheap-ass multi-tracking.”
Released today, Ripcord picks up where 2013’s Fuse left off. It’s not traditional country music, by any means. . .but Urban, with his Australian accent and rock & roll guitar chops, has never been country music’s staunchest traditionalist. If Fuse signaled the spark of something new, then Ripcord is a full-on fire, with Urban taking familiar fuel — the beat and bounce of pop music, the twang of country, the late-night ambiance of R&B — and forging something new.
Read more of our exclusive interview with Keith Urban here.