If you ever want a shot at writing a hit song with Keith Urban, you’d better know he has one giant turnoff. Don’t ever say, “Let’s write a hit song.”
“I think if someone said that in a writing session, I’d probably leave,” says Urban, 49.
Then again, maybe it just goes without saying. After all, he has writing credit for nine of his 21 chart-toppers, including his latest, “Wasted Time.”
On Tuesday, he celebrated his most recent success at a No. 1 party in Nashville with co-writers Greg Wells and James (JHart) Abrahart. The three men talked about their unlikely collaboration, their magic-making session and what motivates them as songwriters. Here’s a hint: it’s far more than hit-making.
“We got together just to see what would happen,” Wells says. “We never talked about writing a single, never talked about writing a hit. Let’s just see where the writing takes us. No ego.”
“If you’re having a great time,” adds Urban, “and enjoying it and loving it and it’s contagious between three total strangers, the song is happening.”
Urban was the one with the least connections among the three. He’d never met Abrahart and had only a brief encounter with Wells years before. Both based in Los Angeles, Abrahart and Wells are pop writer-producers with multiple million-selling songs for such artists as Adele, Katy Perry, Fifth Harmony, and Justin Bieber. Neither had ever written with a country artist — Urban said he “crashed” their LA session at the suggestion of a matchmaking record executive.
“I’ve always loved country music so much,” said Abrahart, “so when Greg sort of mentioned to me the possibility of writing with Keith I could not pass that up.”
Abrahart had the song title, Wells had a wisp of the melody, but both said Urban supplied the magic.
“I don’t know if you’re gonna like this, but I’m hearing this tune,” Wells recalls saying during the session as he sat down at the piano. After a few notes, Urban grabbed a guitar “and we jammed on it for a while. And then very quickly the melody came flying out of him. Just like that. … It was nuts, actually.”
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Though the lyrics didn’t come quite so easily, the three men quickly bonded over the subject of youthful revelry. Abrahart grew up in Georgia, Wells in Canada, and Urban, of course, in Australia, but they all had similar experiences in their teenage years.
“There’s girls, there’s drinking, there’s cars, there’s smoking stuff sometimes,” Urban says. “There’s just so much shared experience in youth. We thought, well, this has got to be something that will resonate.”
Both Wells and Abrahart were blown away by the No. 1 party – a fixture in the Nashville music scene, but nonexistent in the pop world. And their encounter with Urban left them wanting more.
“Working with Keith is a really special experience,” Wells enthused. “There’s a downside to it as well. It also kind of wrecks working with any other artist.”
Urban is back out on the road this weekend, finishing the U.S. leg of his Ripcord tour in Brooklyn. In December he heads out again to play nine dates in Australia and New Zealand with Carrie Underwood.
Urban said he’s especially stoked to tour New Zealand. “I just can’t believe it’s taken me this long to play there,” he said. “I was born there and I’ve never played New Zealand before. It’s going to be a phenomenal thing.”