Precisely as country star Keith Urban kicked off the Canadian leg of his Light the Fuse tour in Vancouver, he was also in countless living rooms across the continent, kicking off the new season of American Idol (on which he’s a judge, with Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr.).
A little over an hour before he strode with a banjo onto the stage of a packed Rogers Arena, Urban, wearing all shades of black, talked backstage with The Globe about his passion for new music (Jhene Aiko, Blood Orange), who he’d like to work with (Pink, Emeli Sande), and his new, shorter hairstyle (we couldn’t resist).
What’s your normal routine before a show?
It’s always a mix of things. Sometimes an interview or e-mails or just catch up on anything I’ve TiVo’d. There’s a lot of chill-out time on the bus.
What are you watching these days?
I watch a lot of documentaries. My wife [actress Nicole Kidman] loves The Bachelor, so we watch that.
Let’s talk about Idol. How is it with the new mix this year?
It’s great. I think we’re all in it for the same reason and the right reason. It was easy from day one, it felt very fluid.
Harry and Jen are easy to get along with. Ryan [Seacrest] is the best at it so having him there still, and taking Randy [Jackson] out into the mentor position is a really good idea. So I think they’ve just assembled it right.
How do you and Harry get along?
Harry feels seriously like a long lost brother of sorts. There’s a rhythm I find with Harry when we’re bantering or anything and it’s because we’re musicians. It’s like verbal jamming. He knows how to step in and play and he knows how to ease back and give some space. And Jennifer’s a dancer, so she knows how to move within it all.
Last season, were things as tense as they seemed [between fellow judges Nicki Minaj and Mariah Carey]?
Absolutely. You put a group of people together and it creates a particular type of energy and dynamic and I think they just decided we need to rethink what’s happening. I’m glad they put us all together.
The show has had its ratings challenges. Do you feel the weight of that on your shoulders?
Not at all. I don’t know what I would do about it anyway. No matter where the ratings are, we’re going to go in and give it everything. But I think the show might pick back up again. I think it lost a lot of people last season. Because it lost its spirit. It’s got a good spirit and it went to a slightly odd place and I think they’ve sort of recalibrated that now and hopefully the people that went away last season will come back.
Let’s talk about the album. What was the original vision for Fuse?
The vision was just to bring new elements into what I do – sonic elements, rhythmic elements, arrangement elements. Different songs, different writers, different producers, different engineers, different studios. I just wanted everything to be different and I originally planned to work with a bunch of different people and whoever felt the best, I would do most of the album with that person. I didn’t set out for all of these people to end up on the record. But what I liked was everybody brought something different.
What do you dream about for what’s next in your career?
I see myself as a country artist with all these other colours on top of it, but I’m always interested in what other things we can bring into this genre to keep it expanding out. The reason the record’s called Fuse is these elements coming in. It’s fusing things together that might not normally go together. It’s sort of like musical alchemy. There’s such an exhilarating feeling when something comes together and it doesn’t quite sound like everything else. That’s what I’m always striving for, but trying to have it always be me, too.
I have to ask about your hair. Was that difficult, cutting it?
Not really. I just wanted something different and I kept putting it off because we were doing the audition cities, and then I said to Nic ‘when should I get my hair cut?’ She goes ‘just cut it.’ She doesn’t get caught up in all that stuff. I think because she plays so many characters. She’s like just ‘cut your hair; what’s the big deal? It’s hair. If you don’t like it, it’ll grow back.’
What are your impressions of Canada?
The very first time we toured here, there was like this connection between the audience and the music. It felt like playing to a bit of an Australian audience. There’s a real similarity here. I don’t know if it’s just because the Queen’s on our money, if it’s a colonial thing, but I just felt really at home the very first trip.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Keith Urban plays Calgary Jan. 17, Edmonton Jan. 18, Winnipeg Jan. 20, London, Ont., Jan. 23, and Toronto Jan. 24.