Keith Urban isn’t a Nashville superstar because he was unable to settle on a signature sound. Fans all over the globe have come to know the vibe the Australian-raised singer/songwriter brings to all of his highly successful records. However, for his eighth studio album, Fuse, they will no doubt notice that Urban sounds, well, a little different.
And for good reason: He’s been working with different sounds, different instrumentation, different influences, and a bunch of different collaborators — including a handful of producers; some best-known for working outside of the country genre.
“I didn’t really start from wanting to make an album that sounded different. I just had a different sound in my head,” Urban explains of the angle Fuse eventually took. “And I think I’ve had it in there for quite a few years. But it was going to take time, because I knew it was one of those things that were going to be about trial and error. Working with different people that I’d never worked with before. So that whole journey was going to take longer than normal record making does for me. I needed to be mentally prepared for the journey.”
Some experiments, like one of Fuse‘s standouts, the glittering and unusual tune “Even The Stars Fall 4 U,” were trials that paid off handsomely. “And some of those things don’t work, you know,” Urban admits with a smile. “Sometimes you write a song, you take it in a collaborative situation and it just doesn’t work. And maybe the song’s right, but the collaborative environment was wrong, so you have to then dismantle it and take the song to somewhere else.”
“There’s a few little Frankensteins lying on the side of the road that didn’t make it to this record that are still good songs. They just never found their presentation, so I pushed them to the side,” he notes. “There’s some people I worked with that didn’t work out….that was part of the journey. “
One unexpected candidate for the job who did work out, and very well, was the eclectic musician/producer Butch Walker, who’s not known for his work in country music (save his somewhat under-the-radar collaborations with Taylor Swift). Urban came to work with Walker via yet another unexpected route: “One day I heard this song, ‘My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark’ by [alt-rock group] Fall Out Boy. And I was just riveted by the sound of the track.” Urban, who had already written “Even The Stars Fall 4 U,” was hit with a vision: “I suddenly thought about, if we took ‘Even The Stars Fall 4 u ‘and put it into that sonic environment, what would happen? What sort of song would we turn out?”
He didn’t take any chances on missing out. “I then figured out who produced the record, which was Butch. And I hunted Butch down. Stalked him!”
Working with different professionals turned out to be a refreshing process for Urban, who famously has aligned himself with producer Dann Huff for the majority of his career. “I wanted to work with Dann again — but I wanted to start by working with only people I’d never worked with, and then I would circle back around…which is what I did with Dann,” he explains. “It was really fun because it was liberating. I had no set way of doing anything.”
“I think the main challenge for me was always finding the balance between keeping myself open to new ways to go whilst not losing my focus,” he continues. “It’s sort of like if I had a hard-and-fast focus and I knew what was in and what was out, it would have been easier. But so much of this journey was not knowing what’s in and what’s out until I get to it. And some things that might have felt a little jarring to me at first, I needed to let them sit for a while to see if they, you know, started to gel with me. ‘Cause some things don’t feel right immediately. That doesn’t make them wrong. It just means they just need a little time.”
One surprising thing that actually helped Urban in the making of Fuse: His “other” job, namely, judge on “American Idol.” He noted that, although he has been certainly busy juggling both demands, the show gave him an outlet to rest his “studio mind” for a bit. “I [previously] sort of utilized the ‘you can make a record by staying in the zone and not being distracted, keeping the vision’ [mindset],” he says. “But this time I actually found myself being able to step away from that, and go into another world for a while. And then come back to it with this completely fresh perspective every time. Even if it was just a couple days away doing Idol.
“I really liked that fresh perspective I always had,” he adds. “‘Cause certain things kept holding up. And other things, that I’d always be agonizing over, I’d go here for two days, come back and go, ‘oh, this just needs to do this. Great!’ I wouldn’t have figured that out if I’d been stuck in it the whole way.”