In a video interview for Variety‘s new Soundboard feature, country superstar Keith Urban discusses how he got into the final creative stretch of his new album, “The Speed of Now, Part 1,” well into the 2020 lockdown — and how, perhaps counterintuitively, that ultimately made the record feel more more energized and cut-loose, not less.

“When I was writing these (last) songs,” Urban says, “it was about how do we move forward from this? I’m not that interested in a song about the doldrums of isolating and all that. I’d like a song to go: Eff these doldrums! Eff this isolation! Eff 2020! To quote the other song that’s just so good,” he laughs (alluding to Avenue Beat’s viral hit with the profane name). “Pull me forward, pull me out of this! I’m drowning in this… Show me tomorrow, somebody, please.”

That tomorrow is less than a day away for anyone who picks up “The Speed of Now, Part 1,” an effort that, at 15 songs, is packed enough that it’s hard to be certain Urban didn’t just go ahead and work part 2 into the collection while he was at it. Variety‘s video interview has Urban breaking down a few key tracks from the new release, including his collaborations with Pink and Nile Rodgers, as well as addressing everything from his penchant for banjo funk to the automotive fetishes that inevitably work their way into his lyrics, even for songs penned in the COVID-19 era.

Urban picks up a guitar for illustration at a couple of points, only to chuckle at how his riffing might come off, in isolation: “I sound like I’m at Guitar Center!”

Urban is actually in Australia at the moment, even though 6 million-plus American viewers just saw him hosting the Academy of Country Music Awards from Nashville on Sept. 16. He beat a hasty retreat from Music City to his and Nicole Kidman’s homeland to be together while she’s shooting a film there (for which he’s working on some of the music), though Tennessee remains their primary home.

If his songs conjure images of Urban driving through the hills outside of Nashville at top speed with the windows down… that’s a pretty accurate picture, he says. (Even if his new song “Live With” is probably pushing it a little when he sings, “I want a life I can twist and turn with / Take a 90-mile-an-hour curve with.”)

“My wife will tell you, it’s one of my absolute top passions,” Urban says. “I would actually put driving right alongside guitar playing… I love cars, love — love — driving, not just functionally, but every facet of it,” he says, naming off some of his favorite vehicles, and admitting that he’s a junkie for TV car auction shows, tracing it back to “growing up with our dad taking us on drives on Sundays.”

His father comes up again in the context of talking about one of the new album’s songs, “Say Something.” It’s an inspirational track that originally arrived on his doorstep as a song of pure social consciousness, but when he joined onto it as a co-writer, he tailored the second verse to be about the need to speak up about emotional issues behind closed doors, finding a way to link the two.

Urban remembers his father’s attitude as being largely “‘don’t say anything, don’t get on soapboxes, don’t preach to people. Just get on with your life and your work, and don’t rock the boat.’ So I thought, how does this song resonate with me? Because I think there are times where silence is dangerous, and we need to speak up — and I’m glad a lot of that is happening around the world finally right now. It’s imperative. But I also thought about the way I was raised by my dad.” Although he appreciates aspects of his raising in which letting actions speak louder than words was valued, he admits that “we also didn’t speak about intimate things in our house. So it’s not just about being out there in the world on your soapbox. It’s also about being in my intimate family where we really didn’t speak about things. Silence wasn’t good there either.”

As the song was completed, “I pivoted it to be more personal about the way I was raised and the fact that there’s times I wish I said sorry to somebody before they drifted out of my life or ‘I love you’ to someone who passed away, and I never got the chance.” In the end, Urban says, “It took marrying Nic to learn all about that, learn about how to really communicate properly and speak and say things. I could write a good love song, but I was terrible at relationships, because I didn’t really know. … I’m glad that our girls are in a very different environment where we talk about things all the time.”

Urban also talks about the album’s leadoff track, “Out the Cage,” a collaboration with Rodgers and Breland that is also partly about the unrest in the world in 2020 and partly more universal than that.

“We were sick of being in quarantine and we were sick of being in lockdown and we were sick of being confined,” Urban recalls of its writing, citing not only “that sense of confinement, but also Black Lives Matter was happening, and protests were happening all over the world. And there was all sorts of situations of human confinement that people just wanted to be liberated from and break out of. It was just very apparent that that’s what that song wanted to be. So ‘Out the Cage’ … for me was about giving a song to people in any situation where they’re stuck, whether that’s a crap job or an unfulfilled relationship or negativity that they’re in, or just a life that’s unfulfilled in any way and has oppression of any sort — a song that can help you get out of that, even if that’s only in your mind’ that’s where everything starts.”

Groove-wise, Urban had an idea for the song to start with the kind of rhythm he has long associated with and loved about Fatboy Slim and the Prodigy. “I always like that kind of frenetic energy that makes me either want to break something or miss my exit on the freeway,” he says. “I always wanted to figure out how to bring that into my world.”

This fusion isn’t a new development for him. “I’m interested in sounds that go together – not just genres. I don’t really think in terms of genre. I think in terms of sonics that I’m interested in, seeing if they can find a way to blend together and create something that I really like. And I like energy coming right out of the gate. I think every one of my albums starts with an up-tempo song — and in a lot of cases, programming, too, always factors into it, right from my first solo album in 1999. The very first song on that album is called ‘It’s a Love Thing,’ and it opens with drum machine and an acoustic guitar..  I’ve always been drawn to rhythm, and particularly machinery rhythm … That’s mostly because I grew up playing guitar with drum machines in my bedroom and playing solo gigs at pubs and clubs with a little drum machine.”

Urban talks about meeting up with Chic legend Rodgers to first work together a few years ago: “I sought him out like a stalker. He showed up with his Strat and I showed up with my six-string banjo. The banjo is a very funky instrument for me. … I don’t do it to make it country. I do it because I like the sound of the texture, in that world, particularly with programming. So with Nile and his rhythm playing…”

The singer also discusses enlisting Pink to duet with him on their just-released single, “One Too Many.” “I’m just a huge fan of the depth of her artistry. There’s a lot of great singers, people that have great voices and know how to use their voice really well. But she’s one of those rare, rare artists who can tell the story when she sings, really tell the story, and I feel it. And it doesn’t matter if it’s ‘Get This Party Started’ or something from ‘The Greatest Showman’  the complete opposite ends of things: I always feel her humanity in her voice — all the strength,  rawness, courage, swagger – all the colors of humanity, I always feel that when she sings. And so I was so hoping she would love this song, and was thrilled when she said yes. .. I can’t label what the song is. It’s not country. It’s just a great song, about a very universal situation.”

Anyone who’s followed Urban’s catalog and career shouldn’t be surprised by the carpe diem uplift of the new album, even if there are a few breakup songs like “Superman” that celebrate a carpe diem that happened some time in yesteryear. He has a distinct philosophy about that.

“I’m much more interested in the thing that will pull me out of those situations than the situation, a lot of the time,” he says. “Call it hope, call it whatever you want to call it. But I like that something is always pulling me forward. That gives me a sense of vitality, life, energy, purpose, curiosity, as long as I’m being pulled. … That’s probably why I listen to new music more than old music. I’m constantly listening to everything that’s coming out on the streaming platforms and I have lots of people that hip me to new artists, new bands, new songs, new everything. I’m most interested in going forward.”