This deep into his career, Brad Paisley probably could be accused of having a little mud on the tires.
Not only is that the title of his third album - and his first to hit the top of the charts - but maybe it was his experience that enabled Paisley to finish the recording quickly.
"With this one, we were trying to get it done more than anything," says Paisley in a phone interview from eastern Tennessee, explaining his goals for the album. "I think what probably shaped what became of this album more than anything is that we didn't have as much time to do it as others. It didn't mean we weren't prepared. We just didn't have time. I had been touring so much. I didn't have the kind of luxury of a year off and on time that I had on the first two albums. This time, we crammed it into a few months really. That's not a long time."
But having less time didn't mean there was less creativity or the opportunity to do things differently.
"It definitely changed in the sound of it in a good way I think," says Paisley. "What I ended up doing is playing a lot more unique stuff on the guitar than I had played on the last albums because I didn't have time to scope it as much. Vocally, you kind of get a sense of who I am in a spontaneous sense. The band sounds fresher and live. This is a bigger conglomeration of my band than on the first two albums. This is mostly them with additional musicians that made sense. None of it is having to replace a band member or anything like that. These guys are really good in the studio."
In other words, once again producer and long-time friend Frank Rogers did not overproduce or make it sound oh so perfect to get rid of Paisley's musical personality.
Paisley also extends credit to Justin Niebank, who mixed the album.
"A lot of it comes down to how it's mixed this time...He's very good at customizing an album to however you want...I like what he does with my music more than any one else. He made it pop more. My vocals are way out there. It just feels like it's got a lot more punch to it. I'm there a lot when we're mixing. I have to be there on every there on any day when there's a really important guitar song. I don't care what he does with my voice. I don't care if he makes me sound like from the Sound of Music."
The disc contains a very hefty 17 songs, including a few dealing with the problems of being a celebrity, honky tonkers, two instrumentals and a gospel song.
In other words, Paisley, who just grabbed three Country Music Association Awards nominations, mixes it up like usual.
"Celebrity" was the first single and a big hit for the West Virginian off the bat.
The song comes off as being quite humorous, and a video featuring Little Jimmy Dickens did not hurt either.
But there is a lot of meat on this hoof as Paisley's lyrics indicate:
"Someday I'm gonna be famous, do I have talent, well no
These days you don't really need it thanks to reality shows
Can't wait to date a supermodel, can't wait to sue my dad
Can't wait to wreck a Ferrari on my way to rehab
'Cause when you're a celebrity
It's adios reality
You can act just like a fool
People think you're cool
Just 'cause you're on TV"
Paisley says the idea for the song initially came from driving around Nashville. He saw a bumper sticker that said "celebrity in training."
"I said to myself 'I wonder what reality show they're auditioning for.' The concept for the song evolved especially because of celebrity in general. I didn't even have it dealing with reality shows at first. I think it started with second half of the first verse first. I was writing the song based on that. And the concept of the ridiculous things that celebrities do and how I'd like to be a celebrity because you pretty much get away with anything. You can get married for a month. There's nothing strange about that."
"I wanted to write something that was a tongue in cheek, but not look corny. Mostly what I wanted was to make the concept something fun. It needed to be fun. It didn't need to be the way Joan Baez would have sung about celebrity. It needed to be almost that Joe Walsh approach to it, that sort of funny (approach). It's fun to sing about celebrity problems because a lot of their problems are the kind of things all of us would love to have, myself included even though I'm a semi celebrity."
Despite the negative view depicted in the song of over-the-top mucky mucks, Paisley says he finds these types of people interesting. He has apparently observed more than he used to since he married actress Kimberly Williams and spends a chunk of time in Los Angeles as well as Nashville.
"I'm not offended by it, by people acting the way they do in a song. I find it fascinating, exciting, and I'm really glad they exist. It's lot more fun to have a world (with) weirdness. I don't want to eradicate that kind of behavior. We need more of it. More of it. Come on. We make them that way."
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."
The album closes with the traditional gospel song "Farther Along."
On Paisley's last album, he recorded "The Old Rugged Cross."
"It's extremely important to me," says Paisley of religion. "Not to say I'm pious by any means. I was raised to go to church on Sunday. I try to make church now and then, but it's hard. It's important to me. I have a family that has based its faith in one place...I have a great wife who feels the same way I do. I have parents who are healthy. Religion is what (gets) me through a lot of stuff. It also helps in a career where superficiality becomes way more important then it ought to be."
"To someone who lives a normal life, they could care less where my song is on the charts. Sometimes in this business, that can become as important as anything. A little bit of faith helps when you don't have a number one record," he says jokingly.
Country has been part of Paisley's life since his upbringing in Glen Dale, West Virginia, near Wheeling.
Paisley was first introduced to country by his late grandfather Warren Jarvis. "He played a little pretty well. He was a connoisseur. He had Buck Owens albums and the Floyd Cramer albums. Anything that's advertised late on a Saturday night. Roy Clark. You name it. Anne Murray. I don't know if he liked Anne Murray. My parents liked Anne Murray."
Paisley managed to get gigs at the Wheeling Jamboree, where performances were held Saturday nights. "I wrote a song when I was 12. It was a Christmas song, 'Born on Christmas Day.' The program director heard me at a rotary club luncheon and asked me to come and play. That was a great break for me. I think I played every couple of weeks, and if I didn't play, I'd go and watch."
Paisley started college at West Liberty State in West Virginia, but transferred to Belmont in Nashville where he was a music business major. That's also where he met Frank Rogers.
He was fortunate enough to get a writing job one week after he graduated. He also was interested in developing his own career, focusing on Arista because he liked the artists they had like Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn.
Paisley did eventually sign with Arista and did things a bit differently. Usually an artist will be grouped with an experienced producer. Rogers had never produced an album.
"There was no reason why on earth they could not have paired him up with somebody else," says Paisley. " He proved himself very quickly where they didn't pair him up. (The label) said, 'produce him."
Arista's fine with that. It's not an issue."
"Some labels are run by producers and definitely feel an obligation to be involved in every project," he says. "They were very open to new people. It's really important to me. I wanted my records to sounds a little bit different and be done a little different."
It probably didn't hurt that Paisley had success out of the box with "Who Needs Pictures," the title track of his debut with a slip piano sound.
He hit the top next time around with the touching "He Didn't Have to Be," about the relationship of a kid with his stepfather. The success continued with "Me Neither" and "We Danced," another number one.
"Part II" came out in 2001 with more hits like "Two People Fell in Love" and "Wrapped Around."
Not to mention the humorous "I'm Gonna Miss Her," where the guy picks fishing over his girl.
He engaged in high profile tours like the Neon Circus show with Brooks & Dunn and developed a reputation as a fine guitarist as well.
While this all may be part and parcel of Paisley's life, it wasn't for his wife, an actress in the television show "According to Jim" with Jim Belushi.
"A lot of people out there that aren't in the rural areas and don't know they would like country music, if they like The Eagles, the Beatles, they're going to dig what's on our radio waves these days."
His wife wasn't exactly a country aficionado. "Not at all," says Paisley. "She didn't know who anybody was. I'd taken her to really meet really important people. She's never understood who they were until later. She didn't know who George Jones was. It was like being born in a foreign country."
With the success that he has enjoyed, Paisley feels "Mud on the Tires" is an appropriate title.
"That reflected best my state at this point, where I'm at, how I'm feeling," Paisley says. "The song 'Mud on the Tires' and the concept for that came as looking for an overview of a lot of the songs on this record. There's a whole lot of stuff that's a little bit dirty. Realistic I guess is the word I'd use. Like anything, it's not pristine. It felt like 'Mud' really fit everything that I'm up to."
And with the maturing process, Paisley knows when to call it a day. The recording of "Make a Mistake" was the first time that they ran through the song in the studio.
"We knew we had it," says Paisley. "It felt like it should. It's a jazz thing, a swing thing. It didn't need to sound like we sat down and painstakingly (worked it out). We had to overdub certain things. It exists as it did for the most part."
"That's another thing you learn by the time you're on your third album. You learn how to accept stuff and not second guess. Is that good enough? Should I accept it? That'll do. Just all the time. Things with my vocals. Frank used to be a slave driver in the studio with me. Maybe I sing a little better. Maybe he's got a clearer idea of when I'm singing better."