Keith Urban is sitting on a balcony overlooking the stage at the Colosseum in Las Vegas, the site of his new show, and acknowledging a simple fact: he never really wanted to do a residency. Four or five nights a week in the same place, à la Celine Dion’s years-long show? No, thanks. But after realizing that a showroom engagement didn’t necessarily have to be a night-in-night-out grind, he took to the idea.
Earlier this month, Urban launched his residency at Caesars Palace and it’s already become a success (he just added four additional shows for July and September). The country singer-guitarist chatted with Rolling Stone about his vision for the experience, where he is with a new album, and why he thinks pop stars like Post Malone and Selena Gomez are making exciting records.
What’s the appeal of doing a Las Vegas residency?
The room was really the tipping point for me, the Colosseum, Caesars Palace. I came and saw a show here and just thought the room was incredible. Then we got to play here in September, two shows last year, and I just loved the vibe. Because for me, I think what I love about it, it’s three venues in one. You’ve got an arena stage that truly is, I mean the production you can put on a stage is massive. You’ve got a lot of theater seating and a theater vibe, but then you’ve also got this club happening down on the floor where everybody’s standing. It’s rowdy, it’s a raucous vibe. The three venues that I love playing the most are all in one place.
The production in this show is quite involved. What went into it?
We brought in this guy called Ben Dalgliesh. He’s a Kiwi. He’s a great conceptual designer. I met with him in Nashville last year and we talked about, before Vegas really, we talked about doing some other things. TV shows and whatnot. Then I said, “Let’s work on Vegas.” Because my music blends a lot of different things, it’s not just country, obviously. It blends some dance elements, pop and rock and everything in between, I wanted a design that could be flexible to represent whatever it is that’s happening in the set list. That was really the first goal.
How do you pick your songs for the show?
At the end of the day, you just try and hopefully put together a good show. You’re creating an hour-and-a-half-plus party, a night out. I want to do certain things, rise and fall, do this and whatever. I always heard that, at the end of the night, if someone were to say, “It was a bummer that he didn’t play, blah, blah,” I always hope that the follow-up comment is like, “That was a really good show. It was really good.” Because they know that you can’t play everything. People know that, so you just hope that they come away feeling like they really had a great time.
Your touring schedule in 2020 looks to be basically Vegas and Europe.
There are some sporadic things. Festivals here and there through the U.S. We’re doing a big tour of Europe in May. Vegas is definitely threaded through a good chunk of the year. I’m glad because it’s also going to be a good … place where we can slip in some new songs, and we got a lot of new music coming out this year. We may start doing songs in this set list even before they’ve come out.
Is there a particular direction that you’re headed with your next album?
Just whatever that mix is that I do of things. I don’t really think of it in terms of … I couldn’t really label that. It’s a broad mix of songs, genres, styles. There’s guitar stuff in there. There’s lots of everything in there. A bit of everything.
Do you feel pressure to put an album out almost every year or every two years?
No, not at all. I couldn’t imagine. I couldn’t put one out every year anyway. I think you can keep new music coming. I think that’s a better way to be. For someone like me, I like it because it keeps a portal open for new music. Whenever it strikes, you’re gathering songs for this chunk of time, to then have to go in to record doesn’t really, it doesn’t fit me, really.
Is the Vegas residency the future of touring, with artists doing these extended runs in one place?
Everybody likes different things. Some people love the consistency of a venue. I guess you’ve just got to figure out what works for you. Ask me that question at the end of this year, probably.
You’re here, Shania Twain is here, Brooks & Dunn are here, George Strait’s here. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill did a residency a while ago, as did Garth Brooks. Why are so many country artists coming to Vegas?
Everybody’s coming to Vegas. It’s just, entertainment Mecca. Our audience is quite diverse. We have, obviously, people that love more of the country side of what I do. People that love more of the pop-esque side of what I do. All the stuff that doesn’t really fit into any genre or category, which we’ve got a lot of that kind of stuff. Particularly the last couple of albums, Graffiti U and Ripcord, and Fuse, really those last three had lots of songs on them that don’t fit into the country category. They’re just my music. This place really supports that, because you’ve got all kinds of people coming in. People come in to hear “The Fighter” and they want more songs like that. Other people come in for “Blue Ain’t Your Color,” and they want some more songs like that. It’s great to be able to hit all the targets.
Your cover of Taylor Swift’s “Lover” went viral. You did a Post Malone cover the other night. Is it satisfying for you to do other artists’ songs?
Well, Post has transcended categorization, anyway. I mean he’s just Post Malone. Really I think, Post to me is just a pure global rock star. He fits that category better than anybody I can think of right now. Right down to everything about him. Authenticity, the whole lifestyle. Everything legit. He’s legit. Crazy talented. He writes great songs. A song like “Circles,” it’s just a great song. Anybody can pick up an acoustic guitar and play “Circles.” You can sit around the beach and play that song, you know what I mean? It’s just a good song.
What are you listening to right now?
I just love everything that’s new right now. The Weeknd has some new stuff coming out. Both [“Heartless” and “Blinding Lights”] I love. Selena Gomez has a song called “Rare” that I love. I love the recording of it, love the song. Dua Lipa has “Don’t Start Now.” Again, really cool song, but the production is insane. Those things really speak to me for my sonic inspiration. They just excite me.
A lot of pop stars, it sounds like.
Well, because they’re making really exciting records. I love records that have had time spent on them. They weren’t banged out three or four songs in a session. They’re labored over and they’re crafted. There’s a lot of attention to detail. I love those kind of records.