Paisley’s Celebrity Theory

Now at the top of Billboard’s country albums chart for a second straight week, Brad Paisley’s Mud on the Tires features guest appearances by Bill Anderson, Little Jimmy Dickens, George Jones, Vince Gill, guitarist Redd Volkaert, Alison Krauss and members of her band, Union Station.

But the new album also features background vocals by Jim Belushi and Dan Aykroyd on the track, “That’s Love.” Paisley became friends with the two actors when he made a guest appearance on Belushi’s TV sitcom, According to Jim. The TV series also stars Paisley’s wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley.

With Paisley’s “Celebrity” at No. 3 on Billboard’s country singles chart, it seemed like a good time to ask him about his views on the entertainment industry in Nashville and Hollywood. In this final installment of a two-part conversation with CMT.com, Paisley recalls his reaction when he met actor Don Knotts — and how fame can have a detrimental effect on an artist’s creative process.

CMT: I’m assuming you were in the studio when Akroyd and Belushi did their vocals?
Paisley: Actually, I wasn’t. I was out in California and ran into Jim on the set [of According to Jim] and I said, “I’ve got a song that has a little background vocal part. I think it’d be the coolest thing if you guys would want to do this.” And I actually met Dan when I had a tiny little cameo on one of the episodes that he was on. To me, it was just cooler than getting a couple of hired session guys to sing “yeahs” on the song … to get the actual guys who do that in the movies. There was something really cool about sticking their names on the album cover.

CMT: Now that you’re married, how much time are you spending on the West Coast?
Paisley: Luckily with her job, she has certain weeks that she has to work, and she’s off quite a bit. In fact, roughly half of the year she’s completely off. They [actors and actresses] have a vacation like no other job I’ve ever seen. … And then she only works a couple of weeks a month. So with a little bit of flying, we spend most of our time in Nashville. Then certain times of the year I just focus on the West Coast. We have a West Coast run at the end of the year where we’re going to go head out west to Vegas and California. We’ll play that little run and base out there for that month. She’s actually working then. It takes a little planning, but it’s not too bad to work out.

CMT: Now that you’ve seen the inside of the music industry here in Nashville and the film and TV industry in L.A., how do you compare the two?
Paisley: I don’t know. I would say they’re twin sons of different mothers, maybe, in that one was sort of raised differently. They’re both from the same family. One of them’s wild and crazy — and the other is kind of the one who stays home and helps take care of the farm. In Hollywood, there’s a lot less regard paid to personal feelings or even in something as simple as class or just common decency. It’s a very fast-moving business. It’s a scary business. In country music, even though it can be a fast-moving business, we sort of follow everything up with “bless his heart.” Out there in Hollywood, they will just say the phrase, “Well, his career’s over.” And here we say, “Well, his career’s over — bless his heart.” It’s a great way to look at it — and that’s sort of the difference.

CMT: As far as celebrities, I guess everybody’s in awe of somebody else.
Paisley: Oh yeah. I turned into that when I met Don Knotts. Here I get to know some of my heroes like Buck [Owens] and George [Jones] and people like Jimmy Dickens and get to spend time with them and get over the breaking-out-in-hives part of the relationship. And then when Don Knotts was in Nashville, I was in awe. I couldn’t help it. It was the first time I found myself really being sympathetic to what some of the people that I meet probably feel, which I couldn’t understand. When I met somebody out on the road, it was hard for me to understand when somebody said, “Oh my gosh! I’m going to hyperventilate.” It was totally beyond me why anybody would ever feel that way.

And then, though, I run into a guy like Don Knotts, who has been very important to me. I mean, we TiVo Andy Griffith, and Don Knotts has shaped the way that I say certain phrases because of the amount of times I’ve watched that show. And then when I run into him, I just find myself saying, “If you’ll just sign this one last thing. Oh, and this — and will you sign this for my friend?” You find yourself blubbering like an idiot, so it’s definitely true that there is somebody out there that scares everybody. Or that intimidates everybody.

CMT: For some people in the entertainment industry, it seems that when they become really famous it has an adverse effect on their work. Who are some people that you kind of look to as a beacon of light — people whose work didn’t suffer, regardless of how famous they became?
Paisley: More often then not, it’s the case that their work did suffer when they became famous. But there are a few exceptions that come to mind. Like Alan Jackson or George Strait. People like that, I think, continue to raise the bar. One of the reasons is that I don’t think either one of those guys ever lost touch of who they really are. I don’t think either one of them ever bought into the “I no longer have to dress myself or put on my pants one leg at a time” kind of thinking. And they both have built their own little worlds to where they are normal people. I’ve been getting to know them a little bit and I think that’s the key. But it’s happened to some of my favorite musicians when you hear their later records and go, “Huh? He’s not playing as good.”

CMT: As you become more famous, do you worry about that happening to you?
Paisley: Yeah, I definitely do. One of the curses with selling more records or more tickets is whether it’s going to change the show you do. I mean, we’ve had to expand over the last couple of years. We now travel with a set that’s got a bass boat on it — for fun — but I’ve tried to not let that influence the way I do a show. I’ve always been the type of guy that likes to do a show where I entertain the audience with the things that I say and the songs that I play. … And as your set grows, it’s easy to start going, “You know, if we add a few explosions to the act, pretty soon I won’t have to say anything.” I try to guard myself against that. You definitely try not to fall into the trap. … I think a part of it, too, is that once you become bigger as an artist, you want to become even bigger than that. It’s just human nature. I fight that all the time. There’s no reason you have to sell more records than you’re selling right now. If I continue to sell records like I do right now, I’m going to be around. There’s no reason to think that I’ve got to change a bunch of stuff right here. And inevitably, I think that’s healthier thinking.

CMT: Your initial career goal was to get signed by Arista. What’s your current long-term goal?
Paisley: The long-term goal was getting to be a member of the Grand Ole Opry. And that came a lot earlier than I thought it would. Now I think a long-term goal has changed to where I never look back on something and think that it wasn’t good, in terms of a song that I cut or an album I recorded. I know some other artists that have looked back [at their own careers] and said, “That wasn’t a really good album.”

CMT: It breaks your heart when you hear an artist say that about their own work.
Paisley: It does. I hate that. I wonder what happened in the process that they didn’t realize it going in. Or maybe they did realize it, but they were stuck because they’d already spent the money [from the record label] and had to put something out. To me, my main priority is that some day when I look back on this career, I’m absolutely tickled at every song that we’ve decided to record and with a majority of the shows we’ve played. You’re not always going to have great live shows, but I want to feel like I really gave it up — that I went in there and played my best, sang my best and did the best that I possibly could. I think that’s all you can ask.

Read Part I of this two-part conversation: Paisley Rides With Mud on the Tires