Keith Urban may have been raised on country music while growing up in New Zealand and Australia, but he didn’t become one of its biggest stars by divining inspiration solely from old Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton records.
Ahead of his Friday show at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City, Urban told The Salt Lake Tribune that he’s currently digesting tracks from Drake’s new album, “Scorpion”; he’s obsessed with UK grime/punk/EDM duo Sleaford Mods; he loves Post Malone, whose laconic hip-hop is infused with everything from grunge to country to electric folk; and he counts himself a big fan of the “gorgeous sonic landscape” painted in “Ocean,” a one-off collaboration between Dutch DJ Martin Garrix and Texas R&B star Khalid.
Of course, anyone who’s listened to Urban’s latest album, “Graffiti U,” likely isn’t surprised by the range of his play list.
“This record — the phrase I sort of used while I was creating it was ‘genre-fluid.’ I think I’ve become very genre-fluid!” Urban said with a laugh. “Yeah! I’ve realized that’s what I am.”
Indeed, “Graffiti U” opener “Coming Home” features a Haggard sample given the loop treatment; “Drop Top” is propelled by a bouncy dance beat and a Kassi Ashton vocal feature stacked on EDM synths and bass lines; and the Ed Sheeran-written “Parallel Line” could hardly have come out poppier if the Englishman had sung it himself.
Which isn’t to say Urban doesn’t keep country at the heart of what does. Rather, he has zero interest in limiting his audio augmentations to lap steel and fiddle and banjo — even if he never eschews them altogether.
“I don’t observe any sort of lines — that’s what it is. So there aren’t any boundaries. It’s just pure creativity,” he said. “… This is a completely expressive record, as far as there being no genre criteria, no anything criteria — just, ‘I’m gonna go in the studio and create, whatever mood I’m in, whatever I’m feeling, and not question it, not filter it.’”
But then, that’s not really a new development for him, either.
Urban has long dabbled with other styles. He’s cited Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham as a big influence on his own guitar playing. And he’s acknowledged the impact that listening to Madonna and Fall Out Boy nonstop had on him while he was recording his 2013 album, “Fuse.”
But it was 2016’s “Ripcord” that most amplified his experimentation. That album featured unforced mixtures of country with club synths and rock ’n’ roll power chords, but was most notable for Urban’s collaboration with disco impresario Nile Rodgers and feature-rapper du jour Pitbull on the summer-drenched “Sun Don’t Let Me Down.”
His rationale is simple — if you’re not moving forward, you’re never really getting anywhere.
“I push my own center to a new place. Hopefully that’s all of us, just evolving as people. Hopefully, we can look back to 10 years previously and go, ‘Man, I’ve moved my center a long way!’ — on many issues and subjects and tastes and art and music and fashion; all of it,” Urban said. “I don’t think of it in terms of pushing anything, I think of it just in terms of not stopping it from naturally moving in other directions.”
Sometimes even in the wrong ones.
A big part of his musical evolution, Urban said, has been the realization that sticking to the plan is often overrated.
“I’ve gone into the studio sometimes with a very clear idea of what I’ve wanted to do, and somewhere along the line the whole thing starts to move in some other direction, either because of who I’m collaborating with or because some accident happens, some instrument doesn’t work. And there was a time when I’d probably stop that and go, ‘No, no — that wasn’t what I intended; let’s stop there immediately,’” he said. “And what I did with this record, when those things happened, I went, ‘OK, let’s go down this road. It isn’t what I intended, but it might be something way better. I don’t know.’”
Meanwhile, Urban is glad to take a road back to Utah. Acknowledging that it’s been two years or so since his last trip here, he said he was “looking forward to it” and “just jonesing to get out there and play.”
Asked if he had any connections to the Beehive State aside from his longtime songwriting collaborator Monty Powell being a part-time resident, Urban burst out laughing as he invoked a “jonesing” of a completely different kind.
“I went to rehab in Utah! Does that count?!” he said, straining to stop a sudden fit of giggles. “Yeah, that was my second attempt at all of that, in 2003 I think it was. I have, strangely enough, good memories about that. I had my demons I was trying to learn how to get through and live life a different way. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t ready back then. It didn’t take. But it was a fantastic place up there.”
It’s got some gorgeous landscapes, too — though it’ll be up to Urban to bring those of the sonic variety on Friday night.
With Kelsea Ballerini
When • Friday; doors at 6 p.m., show at 7:30
Where • USANA Amphitheatre, 5150 Upper Ridge Road, West Valley City
Tickets • $30-$110; Smith’s Tix