Keith Urban has a foot in the past and one in the present on “Coming Home,” the first single from his upcoming album, Graffiti U; the song is out Wednesday (March 21) and can be heard below.
The track, co-written by Urban and co-producer J.R. Rotem along with Julie Michaels, who sings on it as well, and Nicolle Galyon, includes a sample of Merle Haggard’s 1968 hit “Mama Tried,” with Haggard also getting a writing credit for “Coming Home.” “I’ve had this idea to use certain samples from famous country songs to try to write something new from it,” Urban tells Billboard. “But I don’t want to sort of gratuitously shove a sample into a song where it didn’t flow, but I did want to try to use something to create something new, and I always loved the intro of ‘Mama Tried,’ the rolling guitar and the (Fender) Telecaster line that’s well-known to country fans.”
Haggard receives a co-writing credit on the track, which has the blessing of Haggard’s widow Theresa and his son, Ben.
Adviser Dan McCarroll suggested Urban take the idea to Rotem, who turned out to be the clean slate he was looking for. “He knew nothing about country music, had never heard of Merle Haggard, never heard of ‘Mama Tried’ which was perfect, ’cause it was very open,” Urban explains. “So I played him that intro and he recorded it and then manipulated it — changed the pitch, changed the key and then wrote these chords around it, which had nothing to do with ‘Mama Tried.’ And I spat the chorus out sort of spontaneously, ’cause the music made me feel that way. It made me think of growing up in Australia and where I’m from…and my dream to come to America. It was all driven by the music speaking and pulling that out.”
Urban enlisted Michaels “to help me flesh out a few little bits and pieces, and then she had this cool bridge idea and she sang that, so she ended up on the song. It’s a very specific piece, drawing from very different places from Merle to Julia to J.R. to what I do, all coming together.”
Urban is still mixing Graffiti U, his 10th studio album, which has no release date yet. Like 2016’s Ripcord and 2013’s Fuse it finds him working with multiple collaborators — “almost all new people,” Urban says, “which was not intentional, but I just started to fall in with different people, people that I saw on records that I liked who I reached out to. And the songs I’d written with those people and produced with those people are the ones that felt cohesive to me.” He predicts that some of the collaborations will again surprise his fans — Urban specifically predicts a “very Daft Punk” track called “Gemini” that he wrote with Michaels, Justin Tranter and Ian Kirkpatrick — but after Ripcord‘s platinum, chart-topping success he’s confident they’ll go along for the ride.
“I think my core fans will know that at this point with me, who knows what it’s going to be,” Urban says with a smile. “I want people I listen to to keep pushing at my musical boundaries, so I feel I might be able to do that for my audience as well. A gentle moving of the center is really what it is, so at some point you look back at where you were and go, ‘Omigosh. Wow. I’ve moved a long way from there,’ and you don’t realize it ’cause it’s just being very slow and steady. So from the Fuse album into Ripcord into Graffiti U, it’s just always moving, hopefully.”
Urban — who sat for a public Q&A and performed at South By Southwest last week — begins his Graffiti U World Tour 2018 on June 15 in St. Louis.