Stagecoach 2012: Brad Paisley talks Tupac image, new album
Brad Paisley, the headliner for Sunday’s closing night of the 2012 edition of the Stagecoach Country Music Festival in Indio, Calif., has always been an unrepentant techno-geek, so he followed with fascination the worldwide media generated the previous two weekends by the "appearance" of Tupac Shakur during Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg’s reunion performance at this year’s Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
The thing is, Paisley beat them to the punch by two years, having pulled off a duet with a virtual partner at the 2010 Stagecoach Festival, where he surprised and confounded audiences with the materialization onstage of Alison Krauss, his collaborator on 2004’s “Whiskey Lullaby,” which generated multiple Academy of Country Music and Country Music Assn. awards.
“We did that Alison thing for a while, and it was as good as we could get it at the time,” Paisley said aboard his tour bus parked near Stagecoach’s Mane Stage, where a capacity crowd of 55,000 was waiting for him to go on after Sheryl Crow finished her penultimate set. “We’ve since then come up with some more tricks. It was interesting when I heard about the Tupac thing. The thing that was so interesting about that, the thing that was so shocking, of course, is that it was someone who was deceased. It’s insane. You go, ‘Whoa!’ But wait till you see what we’re doing tonight.”
He was teasing the recurring presence of Carrie Underwood on his current Virtual Reality Tour. After Paisley launched into the opening of their hit duet “Remind Me,” audience members gasped and then cheered when a spotlight went on and there appeared the “American Idol” grad, harmonizing her lines and seeming to trade glances with her singing partner.
But it was an illusion -- like the Shakur "appearance," a realistic-looking video projection, not a true hologram. It's something Paisley touched on before that number, when he told fans: “We call this the ‘Virtual Reality Tour’ because reality is what country music is about. But it can sometimes also take you away from reality. So between the beer and our show, you’re well on your way.”
A Paisley spokeswoman, however, noted Monday that Underwood herself has occasionally shown up and sung the song live with him, so, “We like to keep the audience guessing whether it’s real Carrie or virtual Carrie.”
Paisley has always taken a deep interest in both the musical and the technological facets of his concert tours, and this one’s no exception. He created the animation for a wacky segment midway through the show for the blazing instrumental “Warp Speed.” It began with a filmed (not "holographic") appearance by William Shatner as “Star Trek” Capt. James T. Kirk, and then launched into an animated segment combining elements of that show, “Star Wars,” the old Asteroids video game and other space nerd ephemera.
Despite being a techno-geek, Paisley is rejecting a lot of the recording technology that’s become part of the woodwork in Nashville as he makes his next album, tentatively due at the end of this year.
“I’m sort of fed up with the normal method of making records in Nashville. You go into one of these perfectly tuned studios, with perfect gear, where they also then re-tune the studio again once you’re set up, nine times out of 10, one of two or three different players on each instrument that go through the rotating door, and then it’s mixed by a couple of the same people. We’ve thrown all that out, every bit of it.”
Instead, he’s built a studio in the guest house of his farm in Franklin, Tenn., a few miles outside Nashville, and is putting the album together, so far using only members of his band.
“I’ve got a sign above the door that says, ‘This moment in time, these rooms, this place on earth has never been recorded before.’ Until now,” he said. “The other thing we’re doing is I’m not letting this thing get overedited. I mean, if there’s something grotesque that would feel a little better if you move one thing, I’ll let them do it. But it’s got to feel like my band."
To a degree, that is in sync with a longtime gripe that Paisley’s mentor, Bakersfield sound master Buck Owens, used to voice regularly. “In Nashville, they use the same studios and the same session players and the same equipment, and that’s why all the records coming out of there sound the same.”
Said Paisley: “I don’t know if they all sound the same, but they all have similar thought processes and I wanted to depart from that.”
He said he’s continuing to experiment with his songwriting, which has often yielded tunes with greater depth than much of what’s heard in mainstream country music. One example is the civil rights theme he wove into “Welcome to the Future” a couple of years ago, and the subtle celebration of racial and cultural diversity in his more recent single “Camouflage.”
“Writing-wise, I’m really going out there,” he said. “I like taking some chances, especially in a calculated sense when I feel like this is important for me to say -- if it’s in my heart, if it’s what I feel.”
Photo: Brad Paisley performs a duet with the projected image of Carrie Underwood during his headlining set Sunday at the 2012 Stagecoach Country Music Festival. Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images for Stagecoach.