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Brad Paisley Strikes a New Chord

PARADE Published: March 24, 2013
The country star tells all about his provocative new album, his family life on a Nashville farm, and why he struggles with being a workaholic. Watch behind-the-scenes video from Paisley's cover photo shoot and read his PARADE cover story below.

Plus, check out Brad's favorite spots in Nashville and enter for a chance to win a cowboy hat signed by Brad

Brad Paisley needs his morning jolt. He waits patiently in line at the Frothy Monkey, his favorite caffeinated haunt, housed in an old parsonage near his farm in Franklin, Tenn. Though the Monkey is teeming, Paisley doesn’t attract much fanfare. Dressed in tight black jeans, a black sweatshirt, and motorcycle boots, he’s missing his trademark white Stetson, which tacks a good six inches onto his height. Greeting the baristas by name, he smiles and orders his regular cappuccino.

He sips it carefully, seeming to savor every drop. “There’s something about getting the foam and the cream just right,” Paisley says. “That’s a real art.” He became a coffee devotee during a soul-expanding 2001 trip to Italy, the idea of his then girlfriend (now wife), actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley. “She really pushed me to go somewhere where they don’t speak English, where the food is amazing and you’re completely out of your element,” he says later, guiding his black Chevy Tahoe through Franklin, 20 minutes south of Nashville. “That’s kind of the thing that started me on the path to making this album. I was the last person to say ‘open your mind’ back then. But not anymore.”

The album Paisley is referring to is Wheelhouse, due April 9. It’s his eighth studio effort and a pinnacle in his career, a work he’s laid the foundation for over the past 14 years. Paisley, 40, occupies a rarefied position: He’s a country superstar who writes wry songs about picking up girls (the 2007 smash “Ticks”) but also thoughtful, observant lyrics that tackle heady topics. On Wheelhouse, he makes his boldest statements yet, with a few tracks that could raise the eyebrows of fans who prefer their country music without controversy.

“There’s a warmth to people in Nashville,” says Paisley (above, at the Frothy Monkey). “It’s a great place to live.”
“Accidental Racist” finds the song’s character acknowledging the repercussions of slavery, with Paisley’s good friend LL Cool J providing a guest rap that pleads for acceptance and racial harmony. “Brad’s not afraid to express himself,” says LL Cool J. “What other country artist, or any artist right now, talks about slavery?” Paisley tackles religion in “Those Crazy Christians,” written from the viewpoint of a nonbeliever. Born and raised a Southern Baptist in West Virginia, Paisley is still a churchgoer (and an appreciator of traditions like Lent, for which he gave up bread this year), but he likes looking at topics from different angles. “This is what I would consider a gospel song, the most important one I’ve ever done—a lot more important to me than ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus,’ ” he says. “I wrote it shortly after my cousin-in-law passed away in 2011. He was young, and he fought against a debilitating disease. There weren’t five minutes of intensive care that there weren’t at least two church members at the hospital, around the clock, and I remember thinking, what makes people take shifts for somebody they haven’t known very long? Well, it’s belief. To play the part of the skeptic in that song is a much more powerful argument to me—in favor of [belief] as well as looking at some of the things that are baffling. My most devout friends love it and so do my agnostic ones, but for very different reasons.”

Paisley says he isn’t too worried if the edgier material on Wheelhouse doesn’t click with all his fans. “Maybe I’m naive, but I give them a lot of credit for having been with me a long time and knowing me really well. So it’s not like with one album I’m a whole new guy. I’ve had a great career, and if I don’t have one after this …”—he chuckles—“… then so be it.”

He turns his suv into the parking lot of artisan Guitars, his go-to shop in Franklin. A temple to the guitar gods, it has hundreds of gorgeous acoustic models, some priced well into the five figures, glistening in the semi-humid, climate-controlled air. Paisley is here to get a new Martin acoustic, and right after the clerk hands it to him, he starts picking with lightning speed. Revered by many as one of the best guitarists in music today, he’s been collecting the instruments since receiving his first one, a Sears Danelectro Silvertone, from his grandfather when he was 8. When Paisley’s in town, he’ll stop by Artisan a couple times a week just to hang, try out some new gear, and needle the staff.

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