Skip to main content

Keith Urban loses guitars, gains perspective

By Denise Quan, CNN
Click to play
Keith Urban reflects on Nashville flood
  • Keith Urban lost his instruments in the Nashville flood
  • Says he learned to deal with loss after his family home burned down when he was 10
  • His albums are "snapshots of his life," the singer says
  • Keith Urban
  • Nicole Kidman
  • Nashville
  • Music
  • Celebrity News

To hear a longer version of the interview, you can subscribe to "Soundcheck Uncut" on iTunes or at

Nashville, Tennessee (CNN) -- On the back of Keith Urban's sixth studio CD, "Get Closer," there's a photo of him wrapped in a woman's arms. We don't know who the woman is because her head's cut off at the top.

"That's Nicole, isn't it?" we ask.

Urban laughs. "Well, we're making art," he says. "It does leave the story open to much interpretation, and if a picture tells a thousand words, then these speak of something -- hopefully to do with the music."

But Urban says his wife, actress Nicole Kidman, and their 2-year-old daughter, Sunday Rose, are never far from his thoughts. Urban co-penned five of the eight tracks on his new album, but even the cuts he didn't write seem to reflect where he is in life. There are slow-burning love songs and plenty of joyful, upbeat numbers.

"All these albums are like photographs of my life. They're really accurate snapshots," says the 43-year-old country music superstar.

Urban's fairy-tale life is the result of pain and hard work. In 2006, he was going "off the rails," as he described this week to Oprah Winfrey. He entered rehab for the third time in eight years for alcohol and drug abuse after Kidman staged an invention with a few close friends from Nashville.

"I think that's just my particular life's journey, having gone through times where I had distractions in my life from music, and some of the passion that music not only requires but gives back to you as an artist," he says. "I just wasn't as connected to it, and I think today, I'm more connected with it than ever before. For me, as a player and performer, it's the most magical time of my life."

But life always seems to throw you curve balls. In early May, torrential rains and flooding in Nashville left the storage complex that housed Urban's vast guitar collection under water.

"About 50-plus guitars all went under several feet of water," he says ruefully.

Undaunted, he borrowed a few instruments and surfed eBay for amps similar to the ones he had lost.

"Delivery trucks were showing up during the making of the record with, you know, another guitar," he says with a chuckle.

The following Q & A with Urban has been edited for length and clarity:

CNN: The first day you were supposed to go into the studio to record this album, the flooding hit, and you lost all your instruments.

Urban: We were going to the studio to start our record on the Monday, and all these rains came to Nashville on the Saturday and Sunday. It was all very strange, going to the studio with borrowed guitars. But I actually think it gave this record a burst of new life that was very different to the other albums, because the new guitars, and the new amps and the new equipment -- it got me out of my comfort zone in a really good way.

CNN: Who did you borrow the guitars from?

Urban: My guitar tech, originally. I borrowed a couple of guitars from him, and then there were a couple in the studio that we were working in. They weren't like crazy expensive guitars or anything. When I made my first album many, many years ago, I only owned one guitar, so it wasn't like a new thing for me not to have a bunch of guitars to pick from.

CNN: Have you rebuilt your collection?

Urban: Slowly, and the good news is a lot of these guitars that went underwater are being slowly brought back to life. Not all of them, but a significant amount of them -- aesthetically, looking a little worse for the wear, some of them a fraction of their value -- but they feel really good, and they sound as good as they ever did in a lot of cases. So it was a bit of a silver lining.

CNN: I'm sure some of those guitars had a special meaning for you.

Urban: Oh, yeah. Some of them I've had for 20-plus years, and they have a sentimental value, too. One of them, in particular, I've had on every album I've ever recorded, including some of the album covers. So it was really important to me to salvage that guitar.

CNN: You were one of the first celebrities to speak out about the flooding.

Urban: I think we all did. Brad Paisley, and Vince Gill and myself -- we had all of our equipment in the same place, so we all experienced a big equipment loss all simultaneously. Brad was putting together a big tour, and so he had that whole challenge of all his stuff drowning and having to rebuild his tour.

But you know, I've experienced those kind of losses before, and I know the feeling of losing things. There are people who lost so much more -- homes, and people lost family, and it was immensely devastating for a lot of people. So I just wanted to do my bit, along with everybody else, to bring awareness to what was happening here.

CNN: Were you frustrated with the media coverage, or lack thereof, during that time?

Urban: I guess I wasn't aware that it wasn't getting out, because we were too busy here trying to put together telethons and get things rolling. Tennessee really is the Volunteer State, and never was that more apparent than in the floods. Everybody sort of comes to the rescue if they're natives, and it's not about making a big song and dance about it.

It's about rolling up your sleeves and getting in and helping everybody. I think everybody was so focused on helping, they didn't realize half of the country didn't even know.

CNN: Has being a father made your more aware, or more interested in helping people who need it?

Urban: No question. Not just being a father, but both Nic and I have been fortunate to be in a place, and have a life where we've achieved an enormous amount of things, and lived a very particular kind of lifestyle. Both of us have had to work hard to get there, but now that we're there and have an opportunity to help other people, we always look for those moments to be able to give back. And we definitely want to instill that in our daughter, too -- a sense of compassion of awareness of other people, and how we can be of service.

CNN: It's sometimes easy to lose touch when you're living in a rarified atmosphere.

Urban: I come from very, very working-class parents, and my brother and I grew up in a very basic environment. We didn't have lots of stuff, you know.

So even when I first moved to Nashville 18 years ago, I didn't have anything. I had one guitar, and I had some clothing, but I didn't have a lot of stuff. After our own family went through a house fire -- when I was 10, our house burnt down -- so I've experienced first-hand what it's like to lose all that sort of thing.

I mean, our whole house went down. Everything we owned went with it. Fortunately, my mom, and my dad, and my brother and I were OK, but in that moment, organizations like the Salvation Army, Red Cross and Goodwill all came to our aid, as did the people in our community. It was amazing at that age, at 10, to see that kind of instant support, and for no other reason than just a neighbor helping a neighbor. It really affected me.

CNN: When you were a kid, [was] there anything you wanted to be besides a musician?

Urban: Not really, no. I started playing guitar when I was 6, and I knew right then that's what I wanted to do. I just want to play guitar, sing, and I want to tour around and just make music for a living, and I've been very fortunate that that's pretty much all I've ever done. I did telemarketing for -- let's just say long enough to know I wasn't cut out for telemarketing.

CNN: So when they call you at home, do you sit there and listen to their spiel?

Urban: Well, it depends. (He laughs) I usually ask them if it's OK if I call them back at a time that suits me. It doesn't usually fly.