By Jeffrey B. Remz, September 2003
Paisley turns the "Celebrity" idea on its head in "Famous People."
The song - frequent Paisley collaborator Chris DuBois wrote it with Chris Wallin - focuses on a Kentuckian who was famous because of high school football and encounters someone he thinks is a movie star, though he can't place him.
Paisley says he heard it a long time before "Celebrity."
"I just loved the images that it gives me of this guy working at a gas station you know. To me, it was a little mini, funny movie in my mind every time I'd sing it. I wanted to cut that for a long time."
"I saw it as so different from 'Celebrity.' Okay, it's dealing with a famous guy. It's more about a redneck who doesn't handle it. He knows he's annoying the guy to death with the things he's saying."
The most haunting song on the album is the ballad "Whiskey Lullaby," a duet with Alison Krauss. It's a downer of a song about a man who drinks himself to death over a failed relationship. The girlfriend is depressed as a result and ultimately dies the same way.
Bill Anderson and Jon Randall co-wrote the song.
"I was writing with Bill Anderson, and my song plugger at my publishing company (the people responsible for finding songs for artists)...came to me and said 'you need to hear this thing that Bill wrote.' I sat in her office. I said, 'let me live with this.' It didn't strike me as a song I needed to cut. It didn't need to be on my record. The subject was extremely dark. I lived with it a little bit."
"Myself and my producer had the same idea at the same time - would this song be a little less grave if it were a duet? That's how it felt. If it's one guy singing, it sounds like the saddest thing in the world. (With a duet), it sounds like each person is giving their (version of the) song. (Krauss) being on there brought it a commercial point, which it would have never have reached. You don't think of Alison Krauss as being commercial. It appeals to more people. I've had so many people tell me that's their favorite thing on their album."
Getting Krauss to agree to sing wasn't difficult, but getting her to actually do the vocals proved more cumbersome.
"I just asked if she would want to be a part of something. She hadn't heard the song yet, and she said 'yeah.' I knew her a little bit through the Opry, but not a lot...I saw her at the CMA awards the next day and she said 'are we going to sing together? I said 'yeah. Wait till you hear the song.'"
"She actually came three different times. She had vocal problems. She had a cold."
In the studio, Paisley says Krauss told him, "I'm not going to sing. I just want to hear you track it. She came back I think a couple of weeks later. She still had vocal problems. She sang two notes. Took off the headphones and said 'I can't do it.' And she did it finally after that."
"She spent a ton of time getting it right," she says. "She spent seven hours. She did her vocal.
"Whiskey Lullaby" is not the type of song most record labels would be eager to release.
Paisley says Arista has a "lot" of influence, though gives him a lot of rope. "The stupidest thing I could do is make an album and never let them hear a song that's on it."
Artist and label had regular meetings going over songs. "They were very plainly surprised when they first heard the first four songs."
In hearing "Celebrity," Paisley says the label execs told him, "That's your first song. That was definitely the right (choice). They're definitely involved. They're not the type of label that would tell me 'you can't cut it.' They love stuff like 'Famous People,' 'Little Moments.'"
Paisley mixes it up musically with instrumentals, "Make a Mistake with Me," which follows a song with lyrics of the same title, and "Spaghetti Western Swing," featuring Redd Volkaert, best known for his work with Merle Haggard, helping out.
"I love instrumentals," says Paisley. "I would do an instrumental album right now if they'd fund it. Someday I will. If I ever have enough clout, I'm going to make it. I probably won't make dime one on it, but that's alright. I love instrumental stuff in country music. The way you do a country instrumental is not a jazz thing or a be bop thing. There's so much emotion of what you can do. The two instrumentals on this album were borne out of the fact I wrote a song with lyrics, and it made a great instrumental, so we cut it two different ways."
As for "Spaghetti Western Swing," Paisley says, "We went upstairs and wrote it the day before we cut it. That's when we came up with idea of commentary - let's be as bizarre as we can."
The bizarre quality includes spoken parts from Little Jimmy Dickens talking about ordering spaghetti, but the song has a spaghetti western soundtrack bent to it with lots of tasty guitar.
"We gave them the 10 songs they'd expect," says Paisley of listeners. "Then we give them 6 or 7 other songs (leaving listeners to wonder) what in the world was he smoking? It's a left field thing out there."