Brad Paisley Talks About Winning (and Not Winning) at Awards Shows

ACM's Leading Nominee Observes, "Nobody Hates You When You Lose"

Going into the Academy of Country Music awards on Tuesday night (May 23) in Las Vegas, Brad Paisley leads the all-star pack of nominees. With his name found in six categories — including male vocalist — he’ll probably win one or two trophies, right?

Not necessarily. He was shut out of the CMAs in 2005, despite six nominations. In a recent interview with CMT Insider, Paisley explains why walking away empty-handed worked in his favor, being scrutinized after securing several awards early in his career and why he is truly flattered to be nominated.

CMT: When they announced the ACM nominees this year, were you just sitting there as they kept calling your name, thinking, “Wow! This is great!”

Paisley: No, I was asleep. They get up too early and do those things for me. I usually miss them. They’re at 8 in the morning, and I’m lucky if I’m up before noon. I was really wondering what I was going to be up for, and I woke up and checked my e-mail at 10 in the morning, thinking, “Oh, we’ll see.” And there were no e-mails. There was nothing new. There was one from some friend of mine about something else. I started looking around and thought, “This is not good!” I mean, if I was up for anything of substance, someone would say congratulations, you know?

So I checked my voice mail, and there were no messages on there either. I’m thinking, “Well, it’s over. The career’s done. That was fun.” And then I started opening e-mails, and one of the e-mails that I got — which had nothing to do with ACMs — said, “Oh, by the way, I can’t believe how many ACM nominations you’re up for. That’s great.” Then I called my manager and said, “What is going on?” He said, “Oh, I wanted to let you sleep.” (laughs) I said, “You can wake me up for that. Come on! That’s something well worth waking up for.”

It’s not like awards are brand new to you. Do you still get excited about it?

Yeah, I do. I get excited about it. It’s bittersweet because awards shows are so focused on one moment. You either win or you don’t at that moment. On one hand, it is about performing well and having a good time and hanging out. But let’s be honest. Everyone who’s sitting there is hoping to win something. And that’s difficult, because … to me, it’s never been about one moment. That whole “standing there with a gold medal” thing is not appealing to me as a songwriter or as an entertainer or a singer or anything like that. I don’t do it for that single thing. It’s more about longevity and playing songs and writing better and reaching more and more people. In the end, awards serve to further that.

Did it bother you at CMAs when you walked out without any awards?

Oh, yeah. I would say at the CMAs, it was a bit of a letdown to walk out of there without anything — video or something. Not saying I deserved that, but in the end, that probably helped me to be up for a good amount again. I don’t think anybody ever sees you walk out of one of those things and says, “Man, I’m glad he lost.” Maybe they do. There are probably a few people in town who say that, but nobody hates you when you lose. Nobody’s out gunning for you, so it’s kind of nice. I think the best thing to happen would be to lose all of these. (laughs) No one would be like, “Oh, he’s always winning.”

I’ve heard that [comment] too. In the beginning, I won a lot more awards than I’ve won lately. I really was highly awarded in the beginning of my career, and inevitably you have the critics who say, “Is he that good? I don’t think he’s that good.” But when you lose, inevitably, there are people out there who say, “Well, he’s better than that. He’s better than losing. He should win something.”

Is there a backlash among voters saying, “Oh, he’s already won a bunch. Let’s give them to someone else”?

No, I don’t think they think like that. Here’s my philosophy on how you lose — how you’re up for a bunch and how you lose. All you gotta do to get into the nominations is do something within the five best of the category. So, my theory is, I wasn’t the best of any of them, in that sense. It’s definitely a great thing to be in what some people consider the five best of a certain topic. But to walk out of there winning that No. 1 absolute best something-or-other is much harder to do. Man, any time I can be in those top five, I’m really flattered.

I would imagine that the male vocalist award is a prestigious thing to be up for.

Yeah, of course. It really is. When you make your living singing songs and going out there, being awarded that means the world to a singer. I try to sing on key, so that would be nice. (laughs)

“When I Get Where I’m Going” is up for song and “Alcohol” is up for single. That’s a fairly rare thing to be nominated in both categories for different songs.

It is, yeah. But for me, it’s a real honor, because I take the song aspect of what I do with the most seriousness. I think our format really stands out because it does search out the song, normally, prior to a record being made, which is really the opposite of some forms of music. You go find the songs, and then you make your record in country music. That happens in other forms, too, but that’s all you do in this format. I’m really honored that I would be recognized with nominations in those categories because that’s what it’s all about for me. I just think the only thing that separates a person from obscurity and fame is a good song.

Terry Bumgarner is a producer for CMT Insider.