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Q&A: Paul Brandt on the CCMA Awards, His New Record and His Inspiration

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As announced today (June 12), Paul Brandt is one of the four new names added to the CCMA Awards line up. Taking place on September 9, he joins the likes of Deric Ruttan, Miranda Lambert, Johnny Reid and Eric Church performing in Saskatoon - and it's all live on CBC.


We got the chance to speak with Paul about his new record, performing at the CCMAs, growing up in Alberta, what inspires his music and more. Check it out:


CBC Live: Give It Away was released in September, how are things working out?


Paul Brandt: You know, it went really well. We were actually on tour for forty dates supporting it across the country and it came as a real lift in the middle of that tour to get the nod from iTunes as Country Album of the Year. Since leaving the label in Nashville and starting my own label [Brand-T], every album that we've put out has won an Album of the Year award, it worked out perfectly to see that happen. The fans seem to really be getting in to it. It's been a lot of fun.


You've already won thirteen CCMA Awards, but I'm guessing the thrill doesn't ever dull?


PB: The thrill's always there. It's always very exciting to know that the people who are voting and the people in the industry are tipping their hats to what you're doing. It doesn't really ever get old. I find the longer that I'm in the music business the more and more I realise how important it is for me to do my music because it's what I'm inspired to do and not for any other reasons. It sure does feel nice when people notice what you're doing.


You'll be performing this year as well, does that make it even more special?


PB: Yeah, you know, CCMA week, for me anyway, is one of the most fun weeks of the year. It's a chance to get to see all the people that are in the industry that I haven't seen for a while. We're all out on the road in different places. For that brief moment everybody's under the same roof and it's just a great time to catch up, to see what everybody's up to. Not only musically, but in their personal lives. It has a sort of a down home feel to it so I'm really looking forward to it, it's going to be great to be out in Saskatchewan. It's been a while since we've been out there. It's a highlight of my year every single year.


Is there anyone you're looking forward to seeing in particular?


PB: It's just a lot of fun to get to see everybody. We'll have some catching up to do with the guys from High Valley. They were out on the road with us on this last tour. We had a lot of great times right across the country.They've got a new album that they've just launched and it'll be nice to see how things are going for them.


At the CCMA Awards there seems to be a of history of acts performing together. Is there anyone you'd like to perform with?


PB: I don't know... I'm just trying to think if we've ever done any performing with anybody. You know, we're on a new album right now and it's gonna be coming in fall of this year. We had a number of guest artists come and be a part of that project. Patty Loveless and John Anderson, Ricky Skaggs, the guys from High Valley were on it and a couple of gospel groups, The Whites and The Isaacs. A lot of people will know The Whites from the Grand Ole Opry. It really gave me a great opportunity to perform alongside some of my favourites in the industry. We also had Dan Tyminski from Union Station, Alison Krauss' band. It would be really cool if our performance was able to incorporate one or some of them in some way and maybe I'll work towards that. I don't really have anything completely locked down on what the performance will be. Yeah, collaborating is always a lot of fun especially when you get to do it on a stage like that.


It's a very quick turnaround from Give It Away to the new record, just a year?


PB: Yeah, that was part of the plan when we were recording. We wanted to finish up with the tour and then come with new music again right away. It's a celebration right now for us, just looking at the last fifteen, sixteen years of being in the music industry, all of those albums winning Album of the Year awards, and then also the release of our boxset [Now]. Without dwelling on the past, it was sort of a look back at the things that have happened to this point and an exciting look to the future. I was really inspired to get into the studio and do a lot of music. We actually recorded tracks - on both of these albums - in the same timeframe down in Nashville. I can't wait to share this new music with people. We'll probably be hitting the road here again in the fall to share this new music and it just seems like, now, more than ever, the music industry is not necessarily about project, to project, to project. It's just about doing music and getting it out there and letting people know about what you're doing, being out on the road, and performing the songs for people. It used to be that you had to set up an album, get everything perfect and then go and do it. More often than not, I find, now, it's just one continuous project and we're always out there doing the thing that we love to do the most.


Is there one aspect of the 'job' you love the most?


PB: I wish that I could pick just one thing that I love the most about being in music, there's a lot of different sides to the behind the scenes of what we do. If I had to pick a favourite it probably would be writing. I just really love... just that time of being, you know, contemplative. Really trying to figure out something that I can put into a song that's going to inspire somebody or maybe change the way they look at things or help them to escape in some way. I think that's probably my favourite. The place where it all comes together though is on stage. I love being on the road with the band. There's nothing like that feeling when you look out into the audience and you see somebody looking you in the eye and nodding their heads. You know they understand what you're trying to say in that song and they're singing along or they're wiping a tear away... I think that's the thing that keeps me coming back time and time again, just getting to be up there and inspire people. And hanging out, just to be a part of it, you know? It becomes sort of a mutual interaction. There's something really special about that.


You inspire a lot of people, but what inspires you?


PB: I don't know if it was Reba [McEntire] that coined the phrase or not, but I heard her say one time that "the best songwriters are people who are great observers of life." You never really know where a song or an inspiration might come from. You just have to kind of be expectantly aware and looking around you. These days, the places where inspiration are coming from are being a father, getting to see my kids grow and learn and just experience this great world... I think about trips that we've taken around the world to places like Ethiopia, Malawi and Cambodia this past couple of years, working on a television series we did called Build it Forward. We took families to Haiti and to Mexico to work on projects for less fortunate people there, and those kind of things really inspire me. We have a foundation that we work a lot with now. When I can be up on stage and know that portions of proceeds from everything we do go to making people's lives better around the world - that's really inspiring to me. I think even more than the music and the interaction with people - which is enough to get me coming back - it's really something that puts the wind in my sail. I'm looking at life right now, looking at things that are going on and I really can't imagine it getting any better. We're having a lot of fun.


Tell us more about the new record, will we hear more songs inspired by your travels?


PB: Actually, it's going to be a bit of a journey in to my past. When I was six years old I was going to a small church in Calgary, until I was probably about eleven or twelve, and there were about seventy-five people that went to this church. All the music was a capella and it was all old traditional hymns like Amazing Grace, How Great Thou Art and The Old Rugged Cross, songs like that. People who knew or grew up around the church will probably recognise some of those names. I've always wanted to do an album that gave people a bit of a glimpse in to that part of my life and where my love for music really came from. We went and recorded a bunch of those songs and we have these guest artists on as well. It's more of a bluegrass approach to my music and very traditional sounding from a country stand point. That was really fun for me 'cause I think the last three or four albums that we've done have been closer to the pop rock side of things. It's been a neat departure artistically and creatively for me musically and just from a personal and spiritual standpoint, it's an exciting thing for me to be able to put this most important part of my life into a recording that I get to share with people. It's going to be fun. We just got the mastering done last week so I'm itching to start sharing it with people.


Will you be playing some of those records at the CCMA Awards?


PB: I would imagine, yeah. I think that we'll probably be introducing some of that music at CCMA time. It'll be September, we'll be gearing up for a tour this fall as well. I can't wait to not only play some of the stuff that people were really responding to like Together Again and Give it Away and You and those songs that were on the Give it Away album, but to introduce them to some of this new music that we've just recorded as well.


Am I right in thinking that you've spent pretty much your whole life in Alberta?


PB: Yeah, I grew up in Alberta. I was here until I was twenty-three and then I moved to Nashville for nine years. We're still heading back and forth between here and Nashville quite a bit. We don't have a place there right now but we were thinking about maybe getting a place again and spending a bit more time there. We just love Alberta and really want this to be where our roots are now that we've started our family. Joe's four and Lily is eighteen months old... we kind of feel like we want to share that part of our lives with them too. My place is kind of in the foothills of the mountains, just looking out towards the Rockies. Our families are all here, you know? It's really, for us, the best place in the world after all the travelling that we've done. I used to think that I wanted to live in Alberta just because I was homesick, but I've really had the opportunity to see that it's one of the best places that you can live and we love it a lot. We've been here for the last five years, I've spent the majority of my life here.



You can follow Paul Brandt on Twitter, and be sure to follow us here at CBC Live, CBC Music and the Canadian Country Music Association.


The CCMA Awards will be broadcast live on CBC on September 9 from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.


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