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Keith Urban Chats About Touring, ‘Long Hot Summer’ + His Rock Influences

Keith Urban
Jason Merritt, Getty Images

Keith Urban is a huge star. The country heartthrob has No. 1 albums, hit singles and a hot celeb wife in Nicole Kidman. Sometimes a star this bright can seem pretty distant to his fans. But on Urban’s current tour — behind his latest blockbuster, 2010′s ‘Get Closer’ — the Aussie is, well, getting closer to his fans.

Taste of Country caught up with the singer-songwriter-guitarist to chat about his summer arena tour, his Down Under country roots and how his guitar skills measure up to Brad Paisley’s.

We hear the new stage gets you right into the crowd. Can you tell us a little bit about why you wanted to mingle among your fans during the show?
It’s true. I’ve taken one very specific, very literal thing about the album, it’s title, and made it true. I’ve always tried to strive on my tours to be close to the fans, but I’m taking it further this time. This tour is about making a real connection with the audience, finding a way to engage with everybody that doesn’t always rely on massive video walls. The easiest way to do this was to simply get down among them. So I have ramps to literally walk off the stage in the crowd. And I also have a couple of small stages set up around the arena that I’ll play on throughout the show.

Your new song ‘Long Hot Summer’ has a real heartland rock feel to it. It seems to come out of the ’80s rock tradition of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Bryan Adams and John Mellencamp. How intentional is this retro feel?
It’s so awesome that you said that. I never thought that much about John, but John is a huge influence on me. Wow, you’ve blown me away. I’m thinking of a song like ‘Paper and Fire,’ or even ‘Summer of ’69,’ and you’re right, it’s a heartland rocker in that vein. It’s probably my AC/DC upbringing. I’ve always loved 4/4 tunes that are four-on-the-floor and just really want to rock.

Listen to Keith Urban’s ‘Long Hot Summer’

You mention AC/DC, which makes sense being an Aussie kid, but what American country acts did you listen to growing up in Australia? Which American Nashville or Texas icons were playing on your parents’ stereo?
Oh, gosh, it’s such a list. The records in the house I really remember were, well, Glen Campbell’s ‘Wichita Lineman’ and ‘Galveston.’ Even as a kid I knew these songs were glorious. My dad also had records by Merle Haggard, Charley Pride, Waylon Jennings, and then there was also the Eagles and Don Henley. Anything Texas, which includes Don Henley, was big.

There’s likely a connection between the wide open spaces of Texas and the outback of Australia.
Sure, there’s a big link between Australia and Texas. The honky-tonks you find in Texas are a lot like the Aussie pubs.

You’re a country artist, but there’s rock ‘n’ roll in your sound.
Well, country seems to be finding a bigger audience. Certainly an audience out of the general country scene is finding me. I know ‘You’ll Think of Me’ went out and found a wider audience. And seeing us live will make a fan out of you. I love the rock and country mix we get at our concerts.

You mix rock and country when you rip into a guitar solo. When are you and Brad Paisley going to go head-to-head for the crown of “World’s Greatest Country Guitarist”?
[Laughs] I think we do extremely different things and our influences are seemingly very different. I’m deeply into [Dire Straits frontman] Mark Knopfler, Brad’s more of a chicken pickin’ guy. Years ago, I was doing lots of that and listening to those guys. Then I discovered [Pink Floyd's] David Gilmour and all these other players just started to speak to me. I’ve always been drawn to lyrical playing like Mark Knopfler and those long outros he did, like on ‘Tunnel of Love.’ Or those songs that have two parts like ‘Layla.’ They’re not complicated guitar songs but all this raw emotion is right there.

Country, rock, and now pop that you’ve done some work with Richard Marx. Can you tell us what it was like to write ‘Long Hot Summer’ with him?
I’ve always loved pop music, too. And country has a rich history with pop, like Dolly‘s ’9 to 5.’ So working with Richard was a no brainer and we just clicked. Like me, he loves a huge singalong chorus and a song that makes you want to turn it up and blast it. But what’s funny about ‘Long Hot Summer’ is that we wrote it on our bus while I was playing some shows with the Eagles, and Joe Walsh came on right as we were finishing. He apologized and left even though we wanted him to stay. We just laughed. What an awesome moment as songwriters. I’m convinced that, unbeknownst to him, he sprinkled some Joe Walsh mojo on the tune.

Watch a Recent Episode of Keith Urban’s Get Closer Tour Video Series

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