Brad Paisley Talks Telecasters, Recording, George Harrison and Playing the UK

Most touring musicians would object to doing a phoner at 8 a.m. And if they couldn’t get out of talking to a journalist at such an ungodly hour, they certainly wouldn’t be chipper. To those and plenty of other generalizations about superstar entertainers, Brad Paisley is the exception. He couldn’t possibly have gotten much sleep between his arena encore and post-show VIP greeting the night before and a pre-sunrise wake-up call due to his kids being on the road with him. Even so, he turned on the talkative charm for MusicRadar and had no shortage of keen (and cute) things to say about his favorite Beatle, his faith in his road band and how his wallpapered axe gained cool quotient. Paisley’s been a bona fide country headliner for the past decade, drawing sell-out crowds with some of the most forward-thinking honky-tonk tunes on the planet, the high-tech wit and flash of his live production and his dashingly tuneful Tele solos. He’s wrapping up a US tour promoting last year’s quirkily ambitious set Wheelhouse, which hit the road under the Beat This Summer moniker and was redubbed the Beat This Winter Tour when temperatures plunged, and is heading to the UK. As soon as Paisley gets back to the studio he built on his pastoral acreage in Franklin, Tennessee, he’ll resume the artful mixture of work and play that will lead to a new album. You’re about to return to London, this time to headline the second edition of the Country To Country festival. What’s helped you make inroads in the UK? “I’ll tell you what helps over there – what I’ve found and what I think other artists need to understand – is that there is a hunger to hear us over there that I didn’t realize existed until I took the chance a few years ago. “See, I went over in 2000 – or maybe it was ’99 – and opened shows for Reba [McEntire] on a festival she was doing there. She was headlining a festival, and then under her were Jo Dee Messina and Ricky Skaggs and me. I was on my first single. And it was a travel nightmare. I was green, and my team was green. It’s like, ‘Oh, this flight’ll do.’ You’re getting in too late and you didn’t have enough acclimation time. I remember going, ‘I ain’t ever doin’ this again.’ I even told my manager, ‘What am I doing over here? Nobody knows who I am in America yet.’ You know what I mean? And I didn’t go back. I was gone a long time. “And then about four years ago now, we got a great invitation to go over. I started watching Top Gear and the British Office. I haven’t watched Downton Abbey yet, but all I hear is how great that’s supposed to be. And I believe it, because it’s an interesting culture. I relate, I guess, maybe because I’m Scottish. “So I went over. And I was cautious. My promoter, Brian O’Connolly, said, ‘It’s gonna be a reality check for you. It’s gonna be humbling. You’re gonna have fun, but we’re gonna put you on sale at a place that’s gonna hold two thousand people. It’s gonna be half full. And the next time you come back, that one will be full. And the next time you come back, three or four thousand. You have to commit.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, that’s cool.’ "What I didn’t realize is that I’d waited long enough and I’d gained enough following, and maybe the CMA Awards hosting and all that helped. Somehow, when they put that one on sale, it sold out – boom – right away. They put another one on sale. Sold out. They didn’t have any more available dates, or we could’ve sold out four of those. So we played those and had the best time ever." “[When I] played London again, they were gonna bump me up to, like, a mid-size venue. They did all this research – I don’t know how we do that sort of thing – and they came back and said, ‘You should play the 02 [Arena].’ And I was like, ‘What?!’ We put that on sale, and it did great… That’s been maybe two years ago. And now we’re going back again.   “This should be encouraging to any country artist that wants to go. It’s not like I have something all that special that they relate to over there or something. I tell ya, as a guy in a white cowboy hat, I’m exotic to them. I am the furthest thing from exotic in this land of the free and home of the brave. I am absolutely the poster child of ‘not exotic.’ And in England, I am an exotic delicacy.”   On the flipside, you just played a commemoration of the British Invasion of American popular music. You and Pharrell Williams performed Here Comes the Sun on a televised tribute to The Beatles coming to America. George Harrison was a very different style of guitar player than you are. Was there ever a time when you geeked out over The Beatles, and his playing specifically?   “Yeah. I was a later discoverer of them, because I came from a really country-influenced background. My mom and dad really liked The Beatles, I seem to remember. But I was raised on Buck Owens and George Jones.”   Well, Buck Owens could be a route to The Beatles.   “That actually is probably what got me headed in that direction – realizing their love of him. Once you discover The Beatles as a musician or a kid or a music fan, you dive in and it’s a phase you go through. You go through all of the various stages of The Beatles themselves.   “I had so many experiences the other night at that that I’ll never forget. I’ve gotten to know Ringo actually pretty well. I already knew him before I committed to this special, but I’d never met Paul till the other night."