Lyrics Uncovered: Keith Urban, ‘Wasted Time’
Keith Urban's "Wasted Time" lyrics and edgy track are pushing the boundaries of country radio, and according to one of the song's co-writers and producers, that's exactly what Urban set out to do.
Greg Wells is a songwriter, musician and producer with an extensive list of credits that includes Katy Perry, Adele, Pharrell Williams, Pink and many, many more, but he admits he wasn't entirely familiar with Urban's career in country before he got together with him and another writer at his L.A. studio, though he liked what he'd heard.
"It wasn't that long ago; that was one of the interesting things about this whole process," Wells tells Taste of Country. "It got released a couple of weeks after we finished it. Keith showed up, and I brought in a younger, super-talented songwriter who goes by the moniker of JHart, and I just thought, 'Let's just see what happens.'"
The three spent time simply talking, until Wells got an idea for a piece of music that was funky, consisting of all off-beats. That ended up being the music for the verse of "Wasted Time," which he began to play on the piano. They developed the song from there, jamming on the chords for an hour.
Urban and JHart were also trading vocal riffs and bits of lyrics over the top, and together they began to create a song by fleshing out the pieces that were working. They had some of the "Wasted Time" lyrics and melody, but Wells realized he didn't have any idea where to take the song next musically. Urban suggested the three-chord progression that became the chorus.
There was a rope swing that he grew up with that was a real focal point, and that was where people gathered, and just had a good time. And that's actually a really good thing; it's not a waste of time at all.
JHart suggested the title of the song, based on a conversation they'd had about "the clarity of hindsight ... looking back on your life, you can connect the dots and it all makes sense. It's very hard to do that when you're in the moment or looking ahead at what's coming," Wells reflects.
"As older people who are not teenagers anymore, looking back on that time ... Keith was saying, a lot of people used to tell him, 'What are you doing with your life? Why are you just hanging out and listening to music and having a good time?' And he said, 'That was one of the most productive periods of my life, where I really let a lot of music in, I really enjoyed myself, enjoyed the social element of hanging out and partying, and just had a good time.' There was a rope swing that he grew up with that was a real focal point, and that was where people gathered, and just had a good time. And that's actually a really good thing; it's not a waste of time at all."
The "Wasted Time" lyrics detail that very idea: “When I think about those summer nights / Singin’ out the window on the back roads / Sweet Child Of Mine / Sippin’ on the Loko’s, spark a light / Ain’t it funny how the best days of my life / Was all that wasted time / All that wasted time / Swingin’ out on the line / Livin’ all that wasted time.”
Wells was impressed at Urban's innate musicality, and also by his willingness to experiment.
"He really encouraged me not to do anything that sounds like a country record," he relates with a laugh. "And I'm like, 'What do you mean? You're a country artist.' But he said, 'I will bring that element to the track the minute I start singing on it.' So I just followed my nose."
In fact, the track for "Wasted Time" consisted almost entirely of synths and programmed drums until Wells encouraged Urban to try a pass on the ganjo, a banjo tuned like a guitar. "He very quickly came up with a part in the chorus that just sounded like magic to me, and it made it all just glue together," Wells relates.
Urban also displayed a shrewd understanding of how best to serve his audience while still making top-grade music without compromise.
"He kept saying, 'When I play these huge summer festivals, the seats that are the furthest away aren't seats; it's the lawn. It's all about the people on the lawn, and what they're going to want to sing with and feel at that moment, in the summertime at a concert.' It's a cathartic release, and he said, 'That's what I'm feeling this chorus really needs to be.'"
Wells was impressed with more than just Urban's musical prowess. On subsequent visits to the studio, where they were finishing up the "Wasted Time" track between Urban's American Idol commitments, he remembered Wells' Starbuck's order from their first session and brought it to him without fail when he came to the studio.
"Every day he would walk through the door -- not his assistant; he would walk through the door with the exact thing that I ordered and hand it to me," he marvels. "Who does that? Who even thinks to remember to do that? He's just something else. He's funny as hell, he's humble, he's a killer musician, he's a great singer, and he really is a great songwriter. And he's a gentleman on top of all of it, and a great performer. He's just got the entire package, and he handles it with grace that's unbelievable. It's so refreshing ... a very spoiling experience, working with him, and I hope I get to do it again."
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