You Sing, I Write: Q&A with Brad Paisley

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Q&A with Brad Paisley

Photo Credit: David McClister

Far from a newcomer to the country music scene, Brad Paisley is what legends are made of. A three-time Grammy award winner, Paisley has secured 14 No. 1 singles and recorded eight albums which have amassed to over 10 million albums sold. Hard to believe it all started just a decade ago with his debut, Who Needs Pictures.

Since 1999, Paisley has secured himself as a talented singer-songwriter and admired entertainer. His concerts are known for their interactive and animated backdrops and energetic performances, as Paisley can be found continually running around the stage between his breathtaking guitar solos. A stand-out performer at this year's CMA Music Festival, in the press conference Paisley discussed visiting the festival before he was a country star, his current tour and album, American Saturday Night, and the freedom he felt making his previous instrumental album, Play. Read on for more.

How does this year’s CMA differ than previous years?

It’s great. It’s come a long way since Fan Fair of ’99 [which] I think was the first time I played, back before anybody knew who I was. For me, I used to visit Nashville during Fan Fair. I came down a few times before I had any real reason to be here than just to watch and so it’s an interesting thing to see it evolve. I think it’s really important for a couple of reasons, the big one being this city. Having a music festival that is country in Nashville is very important. They have great music festivals everywhere else and one of them needs to be here. I think they’re doing a great job here. The lineup is great and everybody seems excited. Last night I did a performance at 1 in the morning at a club downtown and the crowd was young and just excited and it just feels like this festival is still young, in a good way. It feels almost new and that’s a good feeling.

Why is it important for Tennesseans to support CMA Music Fest?

Well, because it’s ours. It’s something that brings a lot of money into this city and keeps it the center of country music’s attention. We shouldn’t be getting on our busses and only playing other places. It’s a big deal that we actually present what we do here to some degree, even though all of us go out there and it’s a different thing than putting on your full production. It’s a good thing to have this celebration of our music, which is largely, probably 90% recorded on these streets.

You kicked off your “American Saturday Night Tour” this past weekend. How did it go? Why did you feel your opening acts were the perfect fit for this tour?

I’ve got Dierks [Bentley] and Jimmy Wayne out. I just like what they’re doing and it’s a great thing to have. Also, they’re both old friends of mine. We really wanted to give the kind of show to these fans where they have gotten their money’s worth before I even strike the first note. And I think they do, they get their money’s worth with these two.

The comments from Jimmy the first night I heard about from meet and greet, and a lot of people were very excited about him. That’s not always the case. It’s not a normal thing for the fans to come to the meet and greet and say, “Oh, I love Jimmy Wayne!” Which is really great and it says a lot about him. He really relates to a lot of these people I think. As far as how the tour went, for the first weekend it really couldn’t have gone better. You walk away with some tweaks, I did, I was like, “This song needs to be here, not there” and certain things felt like they could be tighter, but we’ll get it right I think.

You’re such a guitar aficionado. Did you enjoy making your guitar album better than your vocal album?

I loved making that. I don’t know that I liked it better. I liked it from the standpoint of, creatively there was so much freedom to do whatever I wanted to do. I also felt freedom in the sense that I didn’t think that anybody was going to buy it. So it’s the kind of thing where you go in and make a different record when you’re not the least bit concerned with that. In the end, it’s done very well and I’m really proud that I did that. And it’s the reason we didn’t do an instrumental on this new album because I figured there are 10 new ones and the time to take a break from that was this new album. I didn’t need to add another one to that.

Can you talk about your pants? Are those designer paint pants or did you just add slaps of paint on them?

On the way here there were some protestors. The blue, they were protesting Smurfs. [Laughs]. No. The album cover and the whole package is about this painting that I did in an hour of the town, basically with red buildings and the sky. It’s cartoonish. And then we took photos in front of that and that’s our album cover and the entire inside is me painting that. So, we had this idea for the tour where we would just take clothes and throw paint on them, and that’s what we wear. From the first night on through this tour, we basically come out with something with stripes of paint on it. I’ve always liked that thought process of you feel like when you go to this tour, it’s launching an album at the same time. There’s a concept behind it, which is we’re coming basically to paint your town and we’re going to try to do that in one night on one of these nights when we play a city and we walk out there covered in it. I think it kind of says, “New tour. You’re in for something.”

There is such great energy behind your latest release, American Saturday Night. What inspired it? Is it something you orchestrated?

I think it’s my team. I have a really good team of writers. I co-wrote every song, there is nothing I wrote by myself. I came to the table as prepared as I can be, but I have a group of songwriters that have since gone on to surpass me and write for other people as much as they write for me. Kelley [Lovelace], Chris [DuBois], Ashley [Gorley] and Tim Owens and all these guys that started out with me in some way. When it was time to do the record it was like all of us got together and said, “What do we got?” Everybody came with ideas. Some of them had 25 on a page and one of them might be something called, “I Thought I Loved You Then” and we wrote that one.

I think my team, as far as Frank [Rogers] as a producer, it goes without saying based on his track record and what he’s doing now without me around. Both of us went to school together and we were each other’s first time . . . you know. He’s gone on and has done such great records. He is just so confident going in there, it’s almost annoying actually. Going into the studio he knows exactly what a song should be like the minute I play it on an acoustic guitar. I can play a song like “Water” and he’ll say, “Okay, it needs this and needs that. How 'bout this in the chorus?” He’s a genius. This crew, they’re really hitting their stride. That was another reason for the album cover. I feel like we got together and threw paint on a canvas and this is it, in a way I’ve never done before. It just felt right to me this time. There are other albums that I’ve done before that are different of course, that are compilations of some outside songs and things I wrote, that in my opinion are perfect the way they are. This album felt like it was time to do one of these — almost hauled up in a studio or a club and play some songs.

You started out with Frank. Were you always cool with him going off and doing so many other projects?

I was cool with it. I make a record every two years and he belongs in the studio doing this. Right off the bat he was sought after we made Who Needs Pictures album. The next album he did was Darryl Whorley and then Josh Turner’s debut, which took a few years before he came out with his first single. I’m cool with him doing any of that. I’m also really content on any album we do, whether it’s instrumental, to not produce, to not co-produce. He is the sole producer on these records.

Frank is the sole producer. He’s the guy in there directing this movie. I like that. I don’t think I’m somebody who can be behind the camera and in front of it. I’m no Clint Eastwood that way. I need somebody to tell me when I didn’t sing it very well 'cause I would go into the studio and sing a song twice if I could get away with it. And Frank usually makes me do it at least eight times on that. He knows. He knows me at this point. He needs to be producing as many people as he feels necessary, that’s for sure.

Your animation started out as a hobby and has since evolved heavily in your shows. Have you thought about taking that talent and skill and putting it somewhere else? Maybe animating movies or television shows?

Not really, but thanks. I should. I’m really proud of the new tour cartoon. The premise of the new cartoon is that it’s the first time that I’ve drawn other artists or cartoons in the show. It says, “Country music singers are under attack. Who will save them?” And I run and I leap into the air and I rip off my clothes and I’m wearing a Superman outfit and Carrie Underwood is tied to train tracks and then I fly and save her and she says, “My hero” as I fly off. And then Kenny Chesney is in the islands getting attacked by robots and I fly and save him and beat the robots up and he says, “My hero.” It also says in the beginning, “This is based on a true story.” [Laughs]. Then Reba is being chased by a dinosaur in it, which could happen. And I save her and she says, “My hero.” Then the third one you just gotta see.

It was fun to do that and also fun to do that without asking permission from any of these guys. I asked about that. “South Park” gets away with amazing stuff and I asked, “How do they do that?” and they said that parody is the broadest of basic copyright licenses. You can parody anybody and get away with it. They’re really lenient with that and I was like, “Great!”

For more on Brad, visit his Web site and catch him currently on tour.

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