If Brad Paisley had been awake when the CMA nominations were announced Tuesday (Aug. 26), he would have heard his name called four times. However, he was fast asleep in Los Angeles where he spends part of his time with his wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley. But after a phone call from his tour manager, Paisley perked up and called CMT.com to talk about the upcoming ceremony, to defend Faith Hill and Shania Twain and to thank his audience, both the mature and the immature.
CMT: Congratulations on all your nominations.
Paisley: Thanks a lot. I was awakened for a good cause. Normally I don’t like a phone call that early.
CMT: Three of your nominations this year are for “Celebrity.” Have you encountered any celebrities in L.A. who have said, “Hey, I love that song.”
Paisley: (laughs) Yeah, a few of them. It’s funny, too, when it’s somebody that you’d think that they’d be offended, and it seems like they never are. I don’t know whether it’s that ‘Oh, he couldn’t possibly be talking about me’ type of thinking. (laughs) But somehow they’re always a bit more favorable in their reaction to it than I would think. Hopefully they get it that I’m only having fun with this. I didn’t mean to offend anybody. And so far, I need to be worse if I’m going to, because I don’t feel like I’ve offended anybody.
CMT: You spoof a lot of reality TV in that song. Do you think you’d ever let a camera follow you around?
Paisley: Only for a brief period of time and it would have to be the right circumstances. … We’ve done what you would consider reality TV and they’ll follow you around here and there … and so it’s not far-fetched to think of that as an entertainer. Our lives don’t get too affected by that. But I would reserve a reality TV thing for situation stuff. I keep saying I’d love to do Celebrity Fear Factor. I’m one of those guys who will eat anything. My stomach can handle anything you stick in front of me. But as far as following my real life around, I definitely enjoy the fact that there aren’t cameras on. (laughs)
CMT: With the nominations for “The Fishin’ Song” last year and “Celebrity” this year, are you worried that you’ll be pegged as “the guy who sings fun songs”?
Paisley: No, fun is fine. Fun is great. Any time they want to say that I sing songs that are fun, that’s cool. But if you add “ny” to that — “funny” — that’s when it gets a little bit scarier. Because I have no interest in infringing on Cledus T. Judd’s territory, in that sense. Being that both of these songs have been nominated, hopefully people see that there’s something serious about them. It’s not all meant to be in the cornfield.
CMT: Let’s talk about some other nominations. In the video of the year category, you’re up against Johnny Cash. What did you think of the video for “Hurt”?
Paisley: It’s spectacular. You know what? It’s hard for me to watch. And that’s a good sign of good art. (laughs) It really is painful especially now that June Carter Cash has passed away. I got to be on [TNN’s] Prime Time Country with June Carter Cash and that was special, to get to meet her. It’s very bittersweet to see that. And what’s ironic about that video, I get the sense that it deals with Johnny’s life and it’s kind of a … milestone, or one of those that caps off his career. Meanwhile, June’s in it and she passed away first. That’s really tough for me to watch that, even though I didn’t know them very well.
CMT: The male vocalist category is a tight race this year, with six contenders.
Paisley: Yeah. Why don’t they just open it up to everybody? Like the California governor’s race? (laughs)
CMT: You’re the youngest one in that bunch. What’s the most exciting part of that nomination for you?
Paisley: Probably that as a singer, I do my best to be understated. I never liked over-singing. And I think the industry doesn’t like over-singing either because the guys in the category … you would think of as singers who are understated in their delivery. And I like that, for me. But it’s sometimes harder to be recognized as a singer if you’re not Martina McBride. And I sing because I write, you know? And when you’re singing, it all comes down to the material you’re singing, as well. If I’m out there singing the wrong song, I’m not going to be nominated for male vocalist. That’s a nice feeling that it all worked together to get people to notice my singing a little bit more. To me, it’s always a thrill to be in that category because my favorite male artists of all time have either won that or been up for that a bunch of times. So, to be in company like that is the ultimate compliment.
CMT: In the female vocalist category, you’ve got the traditionalists like Dolly Parton, Alison Krauss and Patty Loveless. Shania and Faith aren’t in there. Do you think that’s a fluke — or a sign that country music might be coming back to its roots?
Paisley: I don’t know. I guess time will tell, won’t it? Who knows at this point? It’s so cyclical, but right now, the voters liked what those five are up to, one way or another. So that’s who’s in there. With Shania and Faith, I would have lost that bet. Because those are very, very important artists in country music that are absent. When that happens, you’ve got to hope that county music isn’t shooting itself in the foot and the ones that are in there will love it as much as they should. Because it’s definitely a tough thing to be in these categories. I would think, in knowing a couple of those folks, that they’re ecstatic. Patty Loveless has got to be ecstatic to be in there. … And I know Alison digs that. And Dolly, heck, she’s happy if she’s in the tabloids and they say that her parents are from the planet Jupiter, so she’s got to be happy with that.
CMT: You mentioned that Shania and Faith are important artists to country music. Why do you say that?
Paisley: Because when you’re talking about people who have sold a lot of records — and they have — then they’re important. And spending a little bit of time out West, it’s been fun to be exposed to a little bit of Hollywood culture through my wife [actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley] and see what they think of country music. There are icons in our business, and those two belong on the list. Whether or not there’s an argument about how country they are, that’s not the point. The fact that they do well and the fact that they’re visible in our industry sends a message to Hollywood that country music is healthy and powerful. What you’ve got to hope is that our industry recognizes that from time to time. It may not be the country-est music being made, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any less important.
CMT: You won the Horizon Award in 2000. What kind of advantage does winning an award like that give your career and your music?
Paisley: I’ll tell you the biggest advantage anything like that has. For weeks after you win something like that, you feel it in your live shows, you feel it when you’re being interviewed and you feel it when you’re shopping at the grocery store. You leave the Opry House that night and you’re on a high, and then you go somewhere and you’re recognized by people that you would have never imagined even knew you and probably wouldn’t have a week before. When you think about  million viewers watching the CMAs, there’s no way on earth that country music reaches more people in any one event than it does that night. It’s as important as anything.
Let’s see. I’ve been to awards shows where I lost and didn’t take anything home. And I’ve been to them where I’ve won and took something home. The thing that’s better about winning is, the next day, it’s like 10-to-1, the amount of people who will congratulate you or say hello to you or want your autograph when you’re in public, if you won. On the nights when I lost on something, the next day, it’s like, “I’m gonna need to see some ID before you make the purchase.” It’s funny how that works. That’s the key, the exposure this show brings.
CMT: Anything else going on that’s new?
Paisley: Nah. I’m really having a blast out on the road. “Celebrity” live is a blast. The only problem is, now you can tell they’re waiting through songs they used to come see, just to get to that, which is the only problem. (laughs) That’s the only problem having a big hit with something new is that sort of anticipation, and they wait all night for that. It’s like “Yeah, yeah, we like ‘We Danced,’ but…” (laughs) But I’m having a blast out there with that. It’s brings a lot of life because, to me, it’s a different groove that I’ve ever done before. And it reaches a whole different audience. I’ve had more kids tell me that’s their favorite thing I’ve ever done. In the past, I’ve done songs that appealed to a more mature audience, and it’s nice to have the immature audience.