by Roman Mitz for Open Spaces
Paul Brandt is the most awarded male Canadian country artist in history. His 1996 debut certified Gold album “Calm Before The Storm” went on to sell one million albums internationally, propelled by the #1 single and wedding classic “I Do”. His subsequent 11 career albums have spawned hit singles, multiple Album of the Year Awards, and gold, platinum, and multi-platinum releases. In 2017, on the eve of his induction into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame, Paul previewed his latest project with the single release of the song “The Journey”, a reflective number about the risks and rewards of embarking on an adventure. That song is the first track on his new EP, “The Journey YYC: Vol. 1”. Open Spaces first interviewed Paul about his debut album in 1996, a time when a megabyte was something you got from a black fly, and it seemed appropriate to ask him about a quote from that interview to see if it still applies. Asked whether he would think of incorporating pop into his traditional country brand, Paul said “While it’s exciting to hear country with a pop edge to it, I like to stay closer to what the middle of country is and used to be.”
“It’s funny,” Paul chuckles over the line from Calgary’s Mount Royal University, “A question I’ve fielded about the new single “All About Her” is whether it was a concerted effort on my part to sound more current. That’s never really been my approach. Take my album “My Heart Has A History”, for example. Back then it was edgy but now it’s considered very traditional. I think that tastes change throughout the years. My approach has always been to ask two basic questions before creating anything. The first is ‘Does it have a great story?’ and the second is ‘Does the world really need it?’ That’s sort of what informs the direction that these songs take.
“I think that country music, regardless of the genres that are infused into it and the collaborations that are done, has always been about great stories. I believe it’s important that we continue to make that the focus. We can have a lot of fun experimenting with different sounds, but the stories are what will keep it cohesive and continue to keep it successful.”
If storytelling is the key to a great country song, one need look no further on this EP than the epic saga that unfolds in “YYC BNA”. No, this is not short form texting, but rather the airport codes for Calgary and Nashville, two cities that play equally important roles in Paul’s life. The song sprang to life, however, not on a flight but on a road trip.
“I was kind of in a reflective mood and I get a lot of inspiration from nature,” he begins. “I decided to take a long road trip so I drove from Calgary down to Phoenix, and then a couple of months later I went back down and drove from Phoenix all the way up the Pacific Coast Highway. I was thinking a lot about life’s journey and the ups and downs of it all. One of the big musical peaks for me was the song ‘Alberta Bound’. I started thinking on that trip ‘What if I wrote that song in reverse and kind of flipped it around?’ I couldn’t have planned it; it was one of those things that just happened.
“I came up with this song idea called YYC BNA, which we’re putting out in two waves. There’s The Journey YYC and the other one later this year is The Journey BNA. I lived in Nashville for 10 years but for 21 years I’ve been making the trip back and forth between there and Calgary and my baggage tags always had those airport codes on them. There’s a line in the song that goes ‘Once you take that trip you ain’t coming back the same’. I think that became the muse for this project. I think the central themes for it are the ideas of perseverance, the mystery of the journey and the risk it takes to jump out and try it. I believe that on the best journeys
you set out to go in a certain direction and somehow you end up somewhere completely different. There’s been a lot of that in this career and hopefully it got reflected in these songs.”
Since Nashville continues to be the epicenter of country music, one wonders what prompted Paul’s migration back to the Great White North. While he’s enjoyed a very successful career, family always come first for him. He and his wife Liz have been married for 21 years and they are the proud parents of two daughters aged seven and nine. It turns out that it was family that brought him back home again.
“The music industry had changed quite a bit and that was a consideration,” he says. “We had left our record company and started our own label so there was some debate about whether I should move back or not. What kind of sealed the deal for us is that Liz’s father had Parkinson’s and wasn’t doing very well. His time was limited and we wanted to come back to help him and spend time with the family. It was the right decision and it was great to be able to spend time there during his last few years.”
Paul’s wife Liz also receives a shout-out on the EP in the form of the aforementioned first single All About Her. (She also appears with Paul in the video for the song) He’s not sure what she thinks about the number which is apparently par for the course.
“It’s funny but Liz and I could not be more opposite in a lot of ways. I’m all over the map. When we moved to Nashville she was going through the apartment and found my songs, which were written on scrap pieces of paper, in various cupboards, shelves and just everywhere. She has a degree in mathematics and is super logical, and very binary and methodical in the way she does things. There are times when I’ll come up with a song, for example “Small Town And Big Dreams”, and she’ll look at me in a very caring and analytical way and say, ‘Yeah, I don’t think that one has a chance’. Sometimes they become hits and sometimes she’s right and they don’t. A lot of times it’s a few years later before it all really soaks in. I think she appreciates All About Her and she’s just kind of waiting to see how it all goes.”
Paul has always used his celebrity to help raise awareness to causes that have meant the most to him. He has traveled extensively to developing countries around the world raising awareness for various humanitarian aid organizations. In fact, this is the reason he is back at his old alma mater where he earned a nursing diploma.
“When I’m not writing or on the road I’ve been working here with the branding and marketing students. They take my brand and all of my archives and try to come up with business or social enterprise projects that can be brought into the real world. Our most recent project is called ‘Not In My City’, an anti-Human Trafficking Campaign. It’s been getting a lot of national support and raised over a quarter of a million dollars in its first year.”
Paul also recently learned that he will be receiving an Honourary Degree from the University, which he can add to his other accolades, including the Hall of Fame Award, a Queen’s Jubilee Award and a Humanitarian Juno. The last 20 years have been a bit of a blur for him so it’s logical to end the EP with a song called ‘Slow Down’, a heartfelt number with a wonderful steel guitar lick.
“I co-wrote all of the songs on the EP except for that one which was co-written by Nichole Nordeman, one of my favourite performers in another genre, Contemporary Christian. Liz and I were taking off to Kelowna with the kids for a little summer getaway when she played me this song and I was blown away. It’s just such a beautiful song about the bitter sweetness of children growing up. You want them to stay where they are but you also want to see them come into their own. I think it’s a feeling most parents have and I had to include it in this project.”
Look for the companion EP, The Journey BNA, to drop toward the end of the summer. Paul will also be out on tour supporting the recordings with dates to be confirmed.
Multi-platium superstars Dallas Smith and Terri Clark have teamed up to deliver the electrifying duet “One Drink Ago”. Clark, who holds the honour of being the only female Canadian member of the legendary Grand Ole Opry, has invited Smith to join her April 10th on the iconic stage for a special performance of the track.
Also out with a new single, “Wild West Dreams”, is Tennessee singer-songwriter Jacob Powell. Powell, who has toured with Florida Georgia Line, Dustin Lynch and The Cadillac Three, should crack the Top 10 with this soulful single.
Sharon Ontario native Danielle Bourjeaurd’s debut EP, “Country Sorta Way”, is country with a distinct nod to pop and southern rock. The new single from the release is the infectious “Happy Hour”. Danielle, who is now based in Nashville, is currently writing songs for the film “What Would Dolly Do?” which is slated to go into production this spring and in which Danielle will also have a cameo role.
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