Since the release of his 1999 debut album, the platinum-selling Who Needs Pictures, Brad Paisley has wasted little time in establishing his reputation as a stellar singer, songwriter and guitarist.
Perhaps even more significantly, the native West Virginian has also emerged as one of country music’s true personalities, thanks in large part to the sense of humor he displays during his live appearances, on his albums and elsewhere. (For an example, check out the animated video he devised to announce his upcoming tour.)
Time Well Wasted, Paisley’s fourth Arista Nashville album, arrived in stores Tuesday (Aug. 16). Working with his longtime producer, Frank Rogers, Paisley has already scored a major hit with the album’s first single, “Alcohol.” The project includes a collaboration with Alan Jackson on “Out in the Parkin’ Lot” and one with Dolly Parton on the inspiring “When I Get Where I’m Going.” Parton also makes a guest appearance on “Cornography,” a comedy track filled with enough double entendres to make you wonder if you really heard what you thought you just heard. The skit signals the return of Kung Pao Buckaroos, an acting ensemble featuring three of the nation’s most respected thespians — Bill Anderson, George Jones and Little Jimmy Dickens.
Paisley recently visited CMT’s offices to talk about the new album.
CMT: How have the challenges of making an album changed over the years?
Paisley: For me, I feel like it’s just a matter of trying to get time to do it. It really is the most important thing to me, career-wise. It’s more important than any single stop on a tour or anything, really, that you can do. … It’s your representation in every way. It’s also something that when you are [a new artist], you make the time and do the record the way you want to do it. And when you’re old, you end up scheduling it between things, including writing for it. (laughs) We had to do a lot of that this time, but it came together like I’d hoped it would. It was just a lot harder work.
An album certainly stays around a lot longer than the tour dates.
No matter how important they are, you’re never necessarily judged based on a tour date for any length of time. You can get a bad review in a paper and come back and do a great show the next time. But an album that doesn’t come out right is there for all the world to buy for a while.
On all of your albums, you seem to experiment in subtle ways. This time around, it seems like part of the emphasis is on rhythms and time signatures. Is that a fairly accurate assessment?
I think that’s right. You know, you run out of things you haven’t done, and I wanted to make sure that I did all of the things that the songs called for. Frank was really focused on making sure that if we did a ballad — or even an up-tempo song — that was the same groove as a previous hit, then we didn’t do it the same way. We would experiment. Like “Waiting on a Woman,” he really pulled the production out of that song. If you’d heard the demo, you’d have never known it was that kind of record. He really pulled that out of me and everyone else.
Did anybody try to discourage you from releasing “Alcohol” as a single?
No, not at my record label or anything. We went around and around, trying to figure out what we should release. All I can do is turn them [the recordings] in and let them hear them. “Alcohol” was our pick, but it didn’t mean it was going to be the first single, that’s for sure, because I don’t have final say on something like that. I think with the response it was getting when I would sing it live, as well as the songwriters who would hear it and come up and talk about how they respected the songwriting, it seemed like something that fit all the criteria for what I feel like a first single should be. Probably the most important thing, I think, about a first single is that when you hear it, you kind of know it’s a new record. I’ve had that problem in the past where I feel like sometimes our first single didn’t necessarily say that so well.
“Alcohol” has a fairly serious message, but it’s delivered in lighthearted manner.
It’s totally meant to be lighthearted. I tackled that subject when I recorded “Whiskey Lullaby,” and I don’t think it can get much darker in terms of the effects of alcohol. Maybe it’s because of the experience of having had a hit on that … maybe that’s what inspired it. It’s a song that deals with life. If you pick anything that’s a constant in life, whether that’s vacation or Christmas, the subject will come back down to somebody’s memories. … As I started to write it, I started to realize that alcohol is a punctuation mark for nearly every really important adult event that you’ll go to. You can hardly name anything where that’s not a contributing factor to someone’s behavior. (laughs) Everything from weddings to communion, you’re talking about something that’s present at very important times in your life and also some very unimportant times.
When I wrote it, I was trying to be very careful to make sure it was lighter. … The first verse was pretty much what it was, and it came together really quickly. The chorus came together, but the second verse was where I wasn’t sure where it was going to go. I had alternate versions that dealt with people dying from it. But, again, I thought I’d already sung about that. I think I wrote about Keith Whitley at one point, and it crossed my mind [about] people like that we’ve lost. In the end, it didn’t make for a very happy song. I think that would have taken it out of what people would see for themselves in their own lives. I wanted it to 100 percent make somebody raise their hand every time one of [the scenarios in the lyrics] applied to them.
When you first heard “Out in the Parkin’ Lot,” did you realize Guy Clark wrote it with Darrell Scott?
Yeah. Guy had it on an album where he did it live. That’s the only version, I think, that exists. I love Guy. I just think he’s really remarkable — a really cool, legendary figure. I wouldn’t even say “songwriter” because he’s so much more than that. I’ve always wanted to cut one of his songs, but his songs are so eclectic and fit such a different niche. It was that one that sparked my interest because I thought it always sounded more like a couple of guys, instead of just the one guy. That’s one of the reasons I asked Alan to sing on it. I felt like it would really make a better picture if you could see the two of us.
Alan Jackson doesn’t do a lot of outside work.
I was thinking about that. He hasn’t done a lot of those. A few really good ones.
Was it you or the song that convinced him to record with you?
I don’t know. Probably a little bit of both. He’s always been very supportive of me, and the song’s really cool.
Hanging around parking lots can be a scary thing.
You’ve got to pick the right parking lot.
What’s the craziest thing you ever saw in a parking lot at a nightclub?
It’s been a while. But any time there’s drinking in a parking lot, it can get rowdier than the bar or the concert, for sure. I have a lot of good memories of parking lots. I think of football games when I think of parking lots. I think of West Virginia [University] football games, specifically. For the WVU games, they would have a tailgate party area where people would really fight for a presence there. They would get their slot for their motor home or their car. They’d go all out. They were cooking everything. You could walk around that parking lot and eat better than in the stadium. Way better. That’s the case I’ve seen at some of my concerts, too. I’ve actually gone out there in the middle of an afternoon. I’ve gone jogging — a little bit incognito — and take off running through the parking lot and look for somebody grilling out and stop and eat with them. They’ve got corn on the cob, and I stop and say, “Can I have a piece of that?” It’s always fun to surprise somebody.
When I saw the album’s song list, I assumed “The Uncloudy Day” would be the gospel song for the project, but it just sets up “When I Get Where I’m Going.”
“When I Get Where I’m Going” was written by Rivers Rutherford and George Teren. Rivers is a close friend of mine, and I’ve always been a fan of his songwriting. He’s a really interesting guy and a good guy. … I can learn so much from him. He wrote that song about his grandfather. He lost him a few years back, and that was his inspiration for writing it. And then I ended up losing my aunt, Rita, to cancer in November. I tried to tell my wife about the song I heard from Rivers, and I couldn’t even begin to tell her the words. I think it was months before I could actually sing it. It’s very difficult to sing it when you’ve recently lost somebody.
Dolly Parton sounds great with everybody she sings with, but your voices really complement each other.
She is unbelievable. Everybody says it, but having been in the studio and seen her do it, I can’t believe that she is who she is and that she is so … I don’t know … extra-terrestrial-like. It’s amazing. She can walk in there [the studio] and just elevate anything, I think. Just by being in the room, she makes something legitimate. I was there when she sang and couldn’t believe it. I’ve never heard anything like what the song sounded like before she was on it compared to when she was done. And it’s a harmony part. It’s not even a duet, but it becomes an event. You could blindfold me and give me different soft drinks, and I could tell you which one was Coke, I promise. It’s the same with her. I’ve played this record for people and not told them anything about it. And they instantly say, “Is that Dolly?” the minute she starts singing.
Your albums always feature a gospel song, but you always include an instrumental, too. “Time Warp,” the instrumental on the new album, moves at breakneck speed.
It’s fast, isn’t it? That was our exact intent. I even said when we cut this record, “It’s very important to me that we put all songs on this record that people want to hear multiple times and won’t get tired of it.” That was really my criteria: not just for something being a good song but that it felt like it wouldn’t get old … that it was an experience that you’d want to last and you’d want to hear again. Except for one. (laughs) … “Time Warp” is on there for us, as musicians. The average fan might or might not listen to that twice. I don’t know if it’s the kind of thing they’d want to hear again.
And you once again delve into comedy with a return of the Kung Pao Buckaroos. How far can you push it without getting a parental advisory warning sticker slapped on the CD cover?
We just about pushed it that far already. The next time, it’ll be a whole different subject, if we do it again. It was hilarious, though. … Jimmy, as you can tell, was prepared this time. I mean, he wasn’t going to screw up Kung Pao to save his life. He was going to make sure he nailed it. He came in there and was all business. It was hilarious to watch.
I understand Dickens’ sense of humor is a little more blue than most people would expect.
It is. This was tame for him. That’s actually what was funny to me. They [Dickens, Anderson and Jones] started to crack themselves up when they read it, and nobody got scared of it. I was surprised at how open-minded they were. Because what I tried to do there with my co-writers was to write something that was all innuendo, but that kids wouldn’t get it at all.