It was a wet weekend at the Boots and Hearts Country Music Festival this weekend. I was dismantling my tent in the rain when I was offered up the opportunity to interview Canadian sensation, Paul Brandt.
Paul Brandt is the most awarded male Canadian country artist in history. Although his roots started far from stardom, today his fan base, music and philanthropic efforts reach small towns, across big cities and beyond international borders.
It was such an honour to interview such a true to heart charitable individual who hails from our country.
Life’s a Blog: How does a pediatric RN go country?
Brandt: I don’t know! I’m still trying to figure that out. It really took me by surprise. I was singing in talent competitions. The first was at a youth talent showdown at the Calgary Stampede. I ended up going to college after that. I thought to become a doctor. I got my diploma as an RN and starting working at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. These talent contests kept happening and I started winning. One day I ended up getting a job offer in ICU and I came home later that day and there was a message on my voicemail from Nashville. It was Paige Levy from A&R at Warner Records, who signed on Dwight Yoakham.
She said, “We really like your band and we’d really like to come and see you in Calgary.”, Brandt says in his best Nashville accent.
So I said, sure come on up! Then I called a friend and said “Dude you’ve really got to help me put a band together.” I hadn’t been playing with a band as I just been writing. So we came up with the band and signed a record deal that week.
It’s been a whirlwind. I remember talking to a guitar teacher and he asked me if I was ready for this? I don’t think you can truly be ready for it. We’ve travelled the world. We’ve played for royalty and head of countries. It’s incredible I don’t think you can truly be prepared.
The one thing I’ve learnt from this is that great adventures will always surprise you and you just have to jump in. It’s been 20 years.
Things came full circle recently when we played at the big grandstand show at the Calgary Stampede to celebrate their centennial. We played for over 200,000 people in 10 days. We lit off a million dollars of fireworks every night, it was a huge show, it had a stage that flew me out over the audience 68 feet in the air, and at the end I was suspended into a pickup truck with little mirrors attached that looked like a mirrorball, I was spinning around on this thing performing. It’s just incredible to see that in that time period it go from these talent shows to this huge production and all these things we’re doing now. In my wildest dreams, I would have never believed it.
I love your quote “Great adventures will always surprise you and you just have to jump in.” I realize your children are young but do you instill that thought process with your kids?
Brandt: I think the adventure thought process for sure. I think with Joe especially, he’s 4, and Lily is 2 now. Lily doesn’t really understand that concept yet. But with Joe, every kid has their fears and isn’t sure, and learning about confidence. We have some good talks about how adventures usually scare you a little bit. It’s definitely something we instil with him.
Is their any particular artist in Country Music who inspired you to pursue a career music?
Brandt: The Thursday night of the Stampede, Garth Brooks was playing at the Saddledome. We were over at the Grandstand. It was a really amazing feeling for me. I remember when I was in those talent contests I was singing Garth Brook’s cover tunes. My Mom made me one of those black & white shirts that looked like Garth. I watched “This is Garth Brooks Special” non-stop, just to copy every facial tick and be just like him. To know that this many years later, I was playing on the same night, in the same place and he’s just over there doing his thing. One of the dreams that I had was to have a huge production and fly over the audience just like Garth did and I was doing it! I was doing it the same time that he was performing!
I’ve met so many people along the way who have been great inspirations. I remember a moment where I won a contest to write a song and I won two tickets to see Patty Loveless perform. It was about four months later I was opening a show for her with the record deal. That night when I saw her perform, I was standing in line to get an autograph and I handed her a demo tape. My life just changed so quickly. She’s always been so kind and she’s actually just sang on the new album that’s coming out this Fall.
We also guest starred Ricky Skaggs, The Whites, Patty Loveless, The Issacs, High Valley, Dan Timinski from Alison Kraus’ band, John Anderson, all came and lent their voices to be part of this project. I remember when we were finishing the song “Leavin” and on a whim we called up Keith Urban’s people and asked if he would come and play. A couple weeks later he was in the studio performing on this thing. It’s funny because I’m sitting there watching him in awe. Keith has always been extremely nice to me, and when he was finishing up his part, he looked at me and asked if he did alright. I was like YES, you’re Keith Urban! Whatever you do is always alright.
It’s just cool how you get these inspirations from people you look up to and people that you work with along the way. It just keeps you going.
I laughed at Kevin Costner on Friday night when he said he was going into acting his parent’s tried to discourage him, then when he went into directing, his parent’s told him to stick with what’s working. He made a joke and said that he didn’t tell his parents that he’s now singing country music. Throughout your life, were your parent’s supportive with your dreams?
Brandt: They have been incredible. It was weird. When I was six years old, we went to a church that was very legalistic with no instruments allowed. It all a cappella singing. It was all old songs like Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art and it was a great way to learn about music but the idea of doing music never entered my mind. At 13, we started going to a new church that allowed instruments. I started picking up the guitar and playing. Until that time, I had this creative bant about me where I was loved to write poetry. I picked up the guitar and thought, Oh this is what this does. Then, I was making songs!
My parents were always extremely supportive. They always said do what you want to do for a living, as long as you use the abilities that you have to help people and honour God. We will always be behind you no matter what you do. That gave me a blank slate to do whatever.
My parents came to see me sing a cappella gospel music at our church to listening to me sing at bars in front of an audience. They were equally accepting.
This comes from my friend Charlotte, who is a HUGE fan. What would people not expect from you?
Brandt: I have no idea! I’m not sure. There’s nothing scandalous. I love the outdoors. I love fly fishing. Something a lot of people don’t know about me right now is that enjoy running. I ran two marathons. I get a lot solitude and thinking time with running. There’s nothing that about me that will make their head spin around.
I am amazed with the younger generation here at Boots and Hearts embracing musicians like Alabama last night. I notice that with my children they are more in touch with themselves than I was as a teen in the 80’s. Do you think Social Media plays a part in this?
Brandt: Musically, there are no barriers anymore. People in this generation are experiencing music in a ways that’s unique to any other generation. You know, the 60’s had the 60’s and so on. Through the decades, there were specific styles and genres of music. Now with iTunes, they have it all and they take it all in.
They also learn it in school!
Brandt: I think it’s great that they do. I have couple of cousins from the time they were in the single digits they were listening to 50’s, 60’s, 70’s. People are less genre specific. One of the comments we get all the time is I don’t like country music but I love what you do. That’s the biggest compliment that I can receive.
I love country and it will always be my musical North Star, but I love all different styles of music. Country is my platform and I want to use that platform that will make people’s lives better, raise awareness for the issues that are important to me, and change people’s lives. When I’m on stage every single night, it’s a thrill and exciting and I think most people would tell you that it’s enough. It’s not enough for me. Doing it night after night, it becomes a job. It’s not some amazing dream. I love performing but the dream for me is using the music to do things that are even bigger. To know that I’m actually doing something with the audience that supports a cause and changing the world is life changing.
Thank you very much Paul. I really appreciate the time you took to speak with me.