In a room full of about 150 fans in Nashville, Keith Urban was in the middle of explaining how an Ed Sheeran-penned song ended up on his new album when a woman in the back interrupted.
“Play it!” she yelled.
Urban stopped, smiled and chuckled. “I know that voice anywhere.”
For that matter, so did everyone else in the room. It was Urban’s wife, Oscar-winning actress Nicole Kidman, who had tagged along to the Spotify Fans First event promoting Graffiti U, which debuts on Friday.
“You can come and sing it with me,” Urban, 50, teased as the crowd cheered the invitation, “and I’ll do it.”
At first Kidman, who’s also 50, seemed to demur. But then she began to slowly sidle toward the small stage as the crowd obligingly parted. After all, it’s hardly the first time she’s been up for a duet with her husband—most famously, their 2016 carpool karaoke of “The Fighter” that earned over five million YouTube views.
“You’re easing this way!” Urban exclaimed, no doubt pleased he seemed to be having an effect on his famously strong-willed wife. “Come on, baby,” he encouraged.
Kidman’s journey of a few steps took more than a half-minute, but by the time Urban was hitting his first guitar licks of “Parallel Line,” she had descended onto a short stool not far from his center-stage microphone and started to match his singing, word for word—albeit unamplified. Soon enough, a tech placed a mic in front of her. Quickly, Urban abandoned his mic for hers and leaned in so their voices would blend.
Moments before, Urban had just described how much he loved the Sheeran co-write because “it’s very honest and raw with feelings.”
“You don’t hear a guy talk about being scared to have his heart broken, you know, but I feel it, and I know other guys feel it,” he said. “I love the fact that Ed doesn’t shy away from that.”
Obviously, the song had worked its magic on Kidman, too, as she tapped her feet, swayed and sang the sweet, sentimental chorus, “Baby be mine now, maybe it’s time we put our hearts in a parallel line.”
At the last note, the crowd roared. Kidman just grinned, shook her head and buried her face in her hands. Then, after accepting a warm kiss and embrace from her husband, she retook the microphone to offer a disclaimer: “I’m so embarrassed!”
“You did it, though,” Urban beamed. “I love that!”
Urban is now in the midst of a whirlwind promo tour for Graffiti U, and at this private event, he not only performed a short solo set, but he also told some of the stories behind the songs to an audience eager for his first studio album in two years.
Which song was written for his wife? Urban’s answer brought the evening’s first opportunity for Kidman to blush.
“Gemini,” he replied. Named after Kidman’s astrological sign, it’s a cool, sexy song Urban co-wrote that features the chorus, “She’s a maniac in the bed, but a brainiac in her head.”
“She’s definitely a little bit of Gemini,” Urban elaborated. “Maybe the whole thing. Right, baby?”
In the audience, Kidman just grinned sheepishly and shook her head as Urban upped the ante.
“Yes, ‘Gemini’ is definitely her song,” he said.
Urban also shared how he came to put a guitar talk box on his track “Texas Time.” It’s a device that axe-master Peter Frampton made famous—but the Frampton connection doesn’t end there.
For the recording, Urban had dusted off his own talk box, left over from his cover-band days, only to have it melt down in the middle of the session. No problem, said Urban’s guitar tech, Chris Miller: “I’ll just give Pete a call.” That, of course, would be Frampton, whom Miller had previously worked for.
“Because Pete lives in Nashville—because everybody lives in Nashville,” Urban said, “so Chris drives over to his house, gets his personal talk box, and that’s the one that’s on the record. Thank you, Peter Frampton!”
Urban identified current single, “Coming Home,” as his most personal on the album, recalling his loneliness during his early days in Nashville 26 years ago. “It was just getting hard here, like it does for a lot of new artists,” he said, “and you just want to go home and be around people who know the real you and can love you back to life, and I was really missing that. So that feeling has always stayed with me, and so this song became very personal for that.”
As for his favorite song on the album? Urban wasn’t taking that bait. “The ones between the beginning and the end,” he declared, adding, “I love every one of them for different reasons.”
Urban launches his “Graffiti U” concert tour on June 15 in St. Louis and finishes, 54 cities later, in Dallas on Nov. 3.