NASHVILLE, Aug. 11 (UPI) -- Five years ago, West Virginia native Brad Paisley was a new artist, unknown to country music fans, hoping his first single, "Who Needs Pictures," would make a blip on the country charts. Paisley blipped, for sure, scoring a string of hits, including "He Didn't Have To Be," "We Danced" and "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)," amassing awards from the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music and selling more than a million copies each of his first two CDs, "Who Needs Pictures" and "Part II".
Paisley, 30, has released his third Arista Nashville album, "Mud On The Tires," which burst out of the chute July 22, selling more than 85,000 copies the first week and landing at the No. 1 position on the Billboard country albums chart for two weeks running. The debut single, "Celebrity," is closing in on the top spot and the video has already made it to No. 1 on cable's Country Music Television.
As with his other albums, Paisley wrote or co-wrote a majority of the songs on "Mud On The Tires" and showcases his exemplary guitar playing on each tune for a 16-track collection of the best music that he has recorded to date.
United Press International's Crystal Caviness spoke with Paisley recently at Arista Nashville's Music Row offices about the new album, his No. 1 video for "Celebrity," the March 2003 marriage to actress Kimberly Williams that has resulted in a transcontinental lifestyle, and the guest vocalists on his album, who range from Alison Krauss to Dan Aykroyd.
Q. Brad, what were the advantages of having two successful albums behind you when you started No. 3?
A. I was freer.
Q. Your guitar playing really stands out on this project, with some impressive pickin' and solos.
A. Thank you. I sort of sing to get to the next solo. On the past two projects, I played with the thought that I was trying to impress. This time, if a guitar part made me laugh, I kept it.
Q. The song "Celebrity," which you wrote, pokes fun at reality television and the outrageousness of celebrity lives. You brought in some real celebrities for the video, including William Shatner, Jim Belushi from "According To Jim," Jason Alexander from "Seinfeld," Trista Rehn from "The Bachelorette" and Little Jimmie Dickens. Tell me about gathering this cast for the video and how the video came to be.
A. As the writer of the song, I had these ideas in my head, just some rough ideas (for the video). But then myself, the director and the producer and even some friends of mine, everybody got involved as soon as they heard I was doing a new video on this subject. I'd get ideas. I'd be watching late night TV and somebody would have kids with masks, as a joke, and I'm thinking, that's going to happen. It became a big think tank to try to figure out how to do this video. ... The big "if" was which celebrities could I get. I knew I could get Jim Belushi (who stars with Paisley's wife on "According To Jim") and maybe even another possible was Jason Alexander. And Shatner was someone I was starting to get to know but it still doesn't mean I can get him to do a video -- this guy is a legend. It was an amazing thing that it came off like I hoped.
Q. Do you live in Los Angeles now that you and Kim have married?
A. Yeah, some of the time. When Kim is working, we go out there for quite a bit of that, which is not quite half of the year and it's off and on. I still spend the majority of my time in Nashville. No matter what I do in L.A., there's always that flight back from L.A., even though I do have a place to live there.
Q. Did having the (Hollywood) celebrities in your "Celebrity" video come about because you've integrated your lives with them?
A. It really has had some effect on it. In the "The Fishin' Song" video (from the "Part II" album), I sort of called on those people who I knew were fans of my music. This video was more of let's try to get some of these people who I'm getting to know a little bit or who I'm starting to run in the same circles as, even though they don't know who I am. It was a little more of that. It never ceases to amaze me though the amount of people, once they hear country music, that will instantly say, "Wow, I like that." All it took was playing the song for Jason Alexander and he said, "Yeah, I'd love to be a part of it," and he said, "I know what I want to do. I want to throw a fit in a coffee shop," so we did that.
Shatner's part evolved. At first, he was going to be a contestant on "American Idol," and then everybody said "No, he should be the judge." It ends up sort of coming together as a miracle.
Q. As I hear you calmly talking about Jason Alexander and William Shatner as a part of your life, your work, perhaps socially, does that seem a little surreal that five years ago that wasn't a part of your world?
A. Yeah, yeah, it's crazy. I mean five years ago, I was crossing my fingers that we'd have a hit. To have evolved as an artist to where I get to run in some of those circles, it's a lot of fun. I still cherish relationships that I made early on as much as anything in my life. By no means do I try to go out and hang out with famous people. That's what's the interesting thing ... I'm somebody who likes to gravitate toward people who aren't necessarily famous. That's what's strange about the fact that I've gotten to know so many famous people. Maybe that's why. Maybe they sense that, I don't know.
I definitely like to be around the guys we're talking about. Bill (Shatner), he's a really neat man and smart and hilarious. Somebody who's that successful and well-recognized and who has been that important to entertainment is somebody to learn from, so it's a lot of fun to be around him. But like I said, I still have that plane flight home to Nashville after extended periods in Los Angeles to rethink what I've just done and come back to Nashville and hang out with everybody here who no one knows who they are. That's what keeps you grounded. It's sort of fun to visit both worlds.
Q. You had a lot of guests on your album, from Alison Krauss to Vince Gill to Dan Aykroyd. Alison is perfect on "Whiskey Lullaby," a really haunting song. How did Alison get to be part of the song?
A. She just begged...I'm kidding. She is somebody who I think is the best female singer walking around. I heard the song the first time and knew I'd love to cut it, but wondered about it. It wasn't a duet when I heard it and then my producer and I simultaneously had the same idea, which was what would this sound like with a girl singing the girl's part? Then it seemed like (Alison's) was the voice that it needed...The song is ghostly. It's amazing, (Alison) can bring to life any piece of music that she breathes on. I'm just tickled to have gotten to sing with her. That's something that I'll keep forever.
Q. How about Vince Gill, who sings on "Hold Me In Your Arms" and "Farther Along"?
A. He's never been on an album before (of mine, although) we sing all the time on the Opry together and we've done two or three things on TV where we've sung together. He's so laid back and I am too in the sense that I called him up the day before he cut his vocal (for "Farther Along"). We were in the studio mixing and needed a harmony part on that shuffle ("Hold Me In Your Arms"). I said, "I need a guy to be Don Rich for me tonight." He said, "I'm your man, what time?" He just drove out, showed up and sang the song.
Q. Does it help that he's a fellow guitarist?
A. Yeah. We actually cut another song together for Albert Lee's new project called "The Luxury Line."
Q. I was surprised to see Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi on your project.
A. They were luckily in the studio at the same time that I was in L.A. and so I just asked Jim if he would do it. He said, "Yeah," so they just took it in the studio and did their thing. Jim's easy; he's my wife's boss.
Q. There's a lot of music on this CD.
A. Yeah, 60 minutes of music.
Q. 17 tracks counting the bonus. How did that happen?
A. Well, I had to take a pretty good pay cut as the writer on the album to make it happen, but I don't care. (Songwriters are paid a mechanical royalty for each song they have on an album. In this case, Paisley agreed to a lesser rate so he could get more songs on the album and not cause the publisher to pay more than usual.) I'm going to do well if the album sells and I'm not going to do well if it doesn't, so the best way to make it sell is to pull all the punches. I cut all of these songs and I wanted to see them all make the project.
By the time I was done overdubbing, there were none that I was content not to have on there, so I tried to get it to where it was sequenced and it all worked. Nothing stood out that it didn't belong, to me, so I just had to go to the publisher. I own part of the publishing, but EMI administers it, so I said, "Give me a reduced rate so I can get them all on there." In the end, I don't make that much less, but it's worth it to get songs on the album that wouldn't have gotten on there. And I think it gives people a better value than just getting 10 songs. When you see 16 tracks on it, I think it influences your decision to buy something. I know it does for me.
Q. One of the new songs, "Hold Me In Your Arms," sounds like it's from the 60s.
A. Thank you! I'll take that as a compliment. That was written with Kelley Lovelace and Chris Dubois and we started that chorus a while back and finished it last year. We just wanted to write something that sounded like an old Buck Owens, Roger Miller shuffle. ... If I can, I'll put a shuffle on every album. So far, we have.
Q. You're out touring with the Brooks & Dunn Neon Circus, which wraps up at the end of August. What does your fall look like?
A. Lots of festivals and fairs, typical fall. We'll end the year in Vegas again and New Year's Eve in Bakersfield with Buck Owens, like last year. Last year, my in-laws and in-law friends and some cast members from "According To Jim" got to go up and hang out. They gave us all hotel rooms. They got to drink as much as they wanted and I got to hang out with my hero all night. It was great.
Paisley's second single, "Little Moments," which he co-wrote with Chris Dubois, will hit the airwaves in mid-September.