By Kurt Wolff
Like many Silicon Valley companies, Google has a robust visiting speaker series. And a cool aspect of their series is that it includes an impressive roster of A-list musicians. Last week, country star and self-described “big tech nerd” Brad Paisley stopped by Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., before his show that night (Aug. 22) at the nearby Shoreline Amphitheatre.
During a half-hour chat on stage in front of a lucky group of Google employees, he talked about his music, life and career. Topics included his recent experience playing with the Rolling Stones, what it means to sing his hit songs night after night, shooting his “Southern Comfort Zone” video on the fly in multiple countries, why he’s such a prankster, and the ideas behind his latest single “I Can’t Change the World.”
He also talked about the value of using technology and social media, including YouTube (which Google owns), and how he balances a busy work life with family time (“you are your balance”). And claiming he wasn’t just saying so because that’s where he was at the time, he admitted that his favorite state to play is California.
The interview kicked off on the topic of the Rolling Stones (Paisley recently was a guest during one of their North American tour stops). Paisley said that having country artists guest with the Stones (Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Keith Urban also made appearances) made perfect sense, as the legendary group “actually has a very heavy country base” in their sound. “They were a great country band when they wanted to be on certain songs.”
And being a guitarist doesn’t hurt matters either, as it creates a natural “common language” between himself and other musicians. It also serves him well during his own live shows. “My sound man always accuses me of singing to get to the next solo,” Paisley explained. “Because truthfully, when you’ve sung a song a million times…there are only so many ways you can sing the verse, before people leave and think you’ve lost your mind. ‘He’s changing the melody too much.'”
Solos, he said, allows for “moments” of “free expression during every show. “At heart, my band and I are a bit of a jam band.”
Asked about why he thinks his popularity resonates so strongly with audiences around the world, has a quick answer: “It’s always songs.” As he went on to explain, “the minute you start to think it’s you and not the songs you’re singing, is the minute you’re about to pee in a bucket backstage in a kitchen — or get arrested speeding going through your subdivision — because you’re starting to think you’re larger than life. And truthfully it’s always about songs.”
“I’ve always been of the belief that any artist who sang the 22 chart-toppers I’ve had would be a star,” Paisley continued, “maybe bigger than me. I’m lucky that I found some that were wonderful, I’m lucky to have written a few that really worked. And it really comes down to that. When they say, ‘that’s my story that you’re singing,’ or ‘we used this at our wedding’…that’s how you get people to go see you play.”
As for social media and technology, a topic obviously close to the heart of his Google audience, he says that news avenues such as Twitter and YouTube present new sets of opportunities for musicians, as well as frustrations.
“It’s a constant challenge to try and get people’s attention,” Paisley said. For instance, he can put a huge amount of effort in a music video (such as his recent “Southern Comfort Zone”), “and then you’re upstaged by ‘David at the Dentist.‘”
At the same time, he said, “It’s an interesting time,” and musicians “have so many opportunities to get your music out there.” Social media tools, for instance, provide “great” ways to connect with audiences very immediately. “It’s a great way to connect the dots and make people feel a part of it. Because they just want to feel a part of something, I think, in this world.”
As for where his head’s at right now, he explained that he’s not really in a writing mode. “I’m not writing songs much right now, because you have to recharge. You have to live a little bit, and observe especially. So this is more of an absorption time for me.”
One thing he did admit to working on was an as-yet-unannounced project around his brand-new single, “I Can’t Change the World.”
“We have some really cool things we’re about to do,” he said. “I can’t announce it yet, but we’re working in a really large way [to] illustrate this new single.” It’s “bigger than a music video,” he teased, “and more of a strong case for what the point of the song is.” News on this project, he said, should begin trickling out in the coming weeks.