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"I knew it would take time to build an album in a different way," he says of the nearly two years he spent developing the new sound. "The stars aligned and it was the right time to experiment, have things not work and still be able to try again. I was ready for that journey. I didn't want to think in terms of any limitations on the songs—just honor the song and let them be what they want to be."
With his seventh album, FUSE, Urban takes some bold strides, pursuing new sounds and new approaches that will surprise even his most devoted fans. This fearless experimentation is evident just from looking at the album's credits, which reveal a list of acclaimed producers and writers who are new collaborators for Urban, including such diverse hitmakers as Butch Walker, Mike Elizondo, Jay Joyce, and Stargate.
"This album started with me wanting to work with people I hadn’t worked with before," says the multi-platinum singer/songwriter. "I wanted to start in completely uncharted waters. I didn’t set out for there to be eight different producers—I thought I would find one or two guys and then we’d go make the whole album. But I loved how everybody brought out something different in me, and I wanted to see how much was in there to come out."
FUSE is the follow-up to Urban's 2010 album, Get Closer, which contained the Number One Country singles "Without You," "Long Hot Summer," and "You Gonna Fly." Among other things, the record is a reflection of his last few years—taking his electrifying, widely-beloved tours to sold-out arenas around the world; performing and recording with a wide range of artists including the Rolling Stones, Alicia Keys, and John Mayer; serving as a judge on American Idol, where he will be the only member of last season's panel to return next season.
All of this experience fed into the groundbreaking work that emerged on FUSE. "I think I’ve always had certain elements that were present in my music, but this time they’re more prominent," says Urban. "The basic foundation here was to take a drum loop and a banjo, which has been part of my sound since the mid ‘90s. And then build out from there with other instruments—synthesizers, keyboards, things that I wouldn’t normally put on my records—and seeing if I could bring them together with organic instrumentation."
He notes that inspiration for the album came from a number of directions. "My wife was filming in Europe, so we spent a lot of time in France, Belgium and the UK. I was on tour in Australia and spending a lot of time in LA for American Idol. I found myself listening to music from all over the place—compiling this bizarre, eclectic list of songs and sounds that I loved."
New Zealand-born and Australia-raised, Keith Urban moved to Nashville in 1992. His first American album came as a member of The Ranch (1997), followed by an increasingly accomplished series of chart-topping solo albums: Keith Urban (1999), Golden Road (2002), Be Here (2004), Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing (2006), and Defying Gravity (2009). He’s sold more than 15 million. His lengthy list of Number Ones—which now numbers fifteen—includes “But For The Grace Of God,” “Somebody Like You” (which was named the top Country song of the decade), “Who Wouldn’t Wanna Be Me,” “You’ll Think Of Me,” “Days Go By,” “Better Life,” “You Look Good In My Shirt,” and "Sweet Thing."
Urban has been honored with Grammy Awards, Country Music Association Awards, Academy of County Music Awards, a People’s Choice Award, American Music Award, and Australia’s coveted Aria Award. He was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2012, and for the last several years, he has spearheaded the "All for the Hall" benefit concerts, which have raised nearly $2 million for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
He points to the track "Even the Stars Fall 4 U" as a turning point in the album's trajectory. Urban felt something in the song's energy that reminded him of the recent Fall Out Boy record, so he brought the demo to the band's producer, Butch Walker. "I remember sitting in Butch's studio," says Urban, "and listening to what he did and thinking, ‘we might have gone a little too far off the rails with this one,' but then I realized that this is probably where the expansion of the new sound begins. This is it, this is where we push out from where we used to be and go somewhere different.
On the other end of the spectrum, Urban was sent the song “Shame” co-written by the production team of Stargate and Benny Blanco, who have worked with the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, and Katy Perry. Taking his guitar and six-string banjo he flew to New York. After recording his vocal Urban indicated that he would lay down some back-up harmonies, “But Tor Hermansen of Stargate stopped me," Urban recalls, "and he said, 'No, not on this song—you sing one vocal, top to bottom, storytelling. Pure, honest, true, no other singers, just you.' And I went, 'Gosh, you're so right.' It was a very raw, naked vocal, and if ever there was a song that needed to be left alone, it was this one."
FUSE also features two remarkable guests, who represent the absolute finest in Country's new generation: Eric Church duets with Urban on "Raise 'Em Up," while "We Were Us" starts with the voice of Miranda Lambert. "Miranda opened some shows for us many years ago and we would do a song each night. I always loved the way our voices sounded together and when I came upon “We Were Us” she was the first person I wanted to sing it with.” Urban adds, “I’ve known Eric for a couple of years and I was hoping that I could come upon a song that we could do together. And when I heard “Raise ‘Em Up” I knew I’d found the one.”
Elsewhere on the record, the sounds range from the already #1 single, "A Little Bit of Everything," to the stomping two-step funk of "Good Thing." Though Urban has been working on this album for almost two years, he asserts that it's really the culmination of a long musical quest.
"Certainly, when I play live, we cover a lot of ground," he points out, "so I thought, 'Can I get all of that on an album and still have it be cohesive?' The way I look at it is that if I can pick up the guitar and play a song, then it works as a song. And every one of the songs on this album you can do that with. No matter what the production is, you can pick up an acoustic and play it."
Keith Urban says that there's nothing that he would change on FUSE. He embarked on a musical journey with a clear vision of what he wanted to accomplish, and he delivers. “I set out to make a different -sounding record,” he says, “and in the process found myself in completely unfamiliar, and at times uncomfortable, territory. But it all worked because at the core of everything that we did over the past few years were this group of songs—and I’m so grateful for them.”