Brad Paisley, ‘Wheelhouse’ Puts Singer in Producer’s Chair
Brad Paisley has long been known for his impressive skills as a singer, songwriter and blazingly talented guitarist, but with the April 9 release of his new album, Wheelhouse, Brad adds another title to his resume: producer.
"I felt like I needed to break out of a comfort zone," Brad tells The Boot of his decision to produce himself for the first time. "There's an incredible comfort zone with [producer] Frank Rogers for me, especially since the first record where we had tremendous success. I just learned to rely on him. I knew when he made a decision it was going to be probably the best decision for the record."
Frank and Brad have been friends since college and Frank has produced every one of Brad's previous albums, but this time Brad opted to go it alone and trust his own instincts.
"The reason I didn't produce myself all those years is I really felt like I needed somebody to be objective," says Brad, casually clad in jeans, black fleece shirt and a baseball cap. "Then I started to explore how to do something differently and lot of ideas came to mind."
In recording his eighth studio album, he says he toyed with the idea of enlisting a rock producer to put a different spin on his country sound.
"I thought about asking Butch Vig, who produces the Foo Fighters and Garbage, to produce me and see what that would sound like," Brad says, adding that he also considered enlisting a talented engineer and turning over the production reins.
"One of my favorite engineers is the guy who mixes the Killers and the Foo Fighters, which is Alan Moulder. He produces some things and I thought, 'I wonder what his take would be on my sound?' but then I realized I'm just basically switching from the genius Frank Rogers to another genius who maybe doesn't know much about country music and what we get in the end, I might be really unhappy with because it may not be what we need for our format. It may be really creative, but it may not fit."
So Brad decided to produce himself and record at the yellow farmhouse on his property. He had been using the house as a songwriter's retreat, but turned it into a full-blown studio to record Wheelhouse. Inspired by the way Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl converted his garage into a studio to record the band's Wasting Light album, Brad renovated the farmhouse, calling in a contractor to make necessary changes.
"I was originally going to throw drums in the basement and cut things if I could get a fairly good drum sound," he says, "and then I brought in a contractor and said, 'Hey, could you give me some sound deadening in this basement?' and then I said, 'But what would be great is ideally, one of these days, I would love to have a drum room, so if we came off the back of the house at an angle like this and built it right here, we could just pipe the cables down here and put a video monitor ... I said, 'How quick could you put walls on that?' We ended up with a really great drum room and I didn't have to cut anything anywhere else because it sounded so unique right off the bat. It was really just a tight drum sound."
Brad recorded the album with his band, the Drama Kings, and the only outside musician to play on the album was pianist Gordon Mote, who contributed his talents to "Tin Can on a String."
"I've always loved Gordon," Brad explains. "I called him and said, 'I really need what you do on this song,' which was a rare exception for an album that's entirely my band with no additional musicians playing other than Hunter Hayes [who plays guitar on 'Outstanding in Our Field']. It's not an album full of studio musicians. Gordon came in and played that piano and he said, 'Can I come back and cut some things for my record here? That piano sounds unique. It's really got a thing.' I said, 'Yeah come back. It would be great just to have you on the farm.'"
Though he loved producing Wheelhouse, Brad admits it's one of the hardest things he's ever done. Midway through the project, he tried to talk Frank into lending a hand. "Halfway through it, it got really hard to get things done and I was like, 'Why don't you just do half of it? Do the other half,' and he said 'No, you're on the right track.' It was like him pushing me out of the nest a little bit."
It's obvious Brad took the leap and has soared. Wheelhouse has already spawned the chart-topping hit, "Southern Comfort Zone" and the second single, "Beat This Summer," is currently burning up the chart.
Needless to say, Brad is pleased with the results. "I've said that from day one, every song is supposed to be not quite exactly what you would expect it to be," he relates, "and in that sense, I'm very happy."
Wheelhouse will hit store shelves and online retailers on Tuesday, April 9. Come back for more of The Boot's exclusive interview with the country superstar next week!