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Paul Brandt: A Q&A with a Calgarian Country Superstar

By Allison Onyett

Read the original article from Where Calgary’s November/December 2011 issue!

Photograph courtesy Paul Brandt

A household name to country music fans (especially Albertans), singer/songwriter Paul Brandt is the most awarded Canadian male country artist in history. Born in Calgary in 1972, his career began when he won the Calgary Stampede Talent Search in 1992 while he was simultaneously training to become a registered nurse. When the call came from Nashville, Brandt put his nursing career aside and took a leap of faith—never anticipating his career would flourish with hits like “My Heart Has a History,” “I Do,” and local favourite, “Alberta Bound.”

Today, the man under the black cowboy hat is not just a triple-platinum recording artist, but an entrepreneur, with his own record label Brand-T, and a philanthropist whose efforts have crossed borders working with organizations like World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse. Brandt’s own foundation, The Priceless Gift of Hope, aims to put a stop to human trafficking in Cambodia, among other projects.

Despite Brandt’s hectic schedule promoting his new album Give It Away, he took a few minutes to tell us about the email that started his new show Build it Forward on CMT Canada, why he calls Calgary home, and his favourite pair of cowboy boots.

Getting Started

WC: When did you first start playing the guitar?

PB: I had a false start; my dad had a guitar lying around the house when I was a kid. I was only five or six years old and I would sit and strum the guitar, making up songs about my dog—and I didn’t even have a dog! I officially started learning how to play when I was 13 years old. The first song I learned was “Four Strong Winds” by Ian Tyson.

WC: How did you come to the decision to leave nursing and pursue a music career?

PB: I wanted to be in a helping profession and thought that I’d become a doctor some day, but my grades weren’t quite there, and I couldn’t afford medical school. I decided I would get my nursing degree and work my way into med school. I was working at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and had just gotten a job in the ICU when I got a call from a record company and they asked if I would be willing to come to Nashville and start recording some music. I didn’t anticipate it would last for more than a month and then I could come back to nursing. Here I am about 15 years later. Life took a funny turn.

WC: You’re known for your black cowboy hat. Is this something you’ve always worn?

PB: I started wearing a hat at the beginning, when I sang at the Calgary Stampede. I wasn’t trying to be a cowboy, I was just shy on stage and was looking for something to hide behind. When I signed the record deal, the person who was in charge of my image said, “Are you sure you want to wear the hat in this picture? Once you put it on, you can never take it off again.” Now people expect it and it’s become a part of my life. I did a show early in my career where I didn’t wear it and actually received hate mail.

WC: Where do you get your cowboy boots?

PB: I’ve had a few pairs over the years, but I treasure the pair from Alberta Boot Company that I reference in the song “Alberta Bound.” They’ve got a star and the province of Alberta in them, so I like those ones a lot.

Photograph courtesy of Paul Brandt

His Music

WC: How is your new album Give It Away different from your past albums?

PB: It is probably the most introspective album I’ve done. After having kids, you’re experiencing life with different colours on the palette, and that came into these songs.

The Tour

WC: What can fans expect from your concert on Dec 10, at the Jubilee?

PB: It’s going to be close to Christmas so we may whip out a Christmas tune or two. We’re going to be playing some new songs off of the Now box set and the new album, Give It Away. We’ll also be playing the songs that people have to come to love.

WC: Will anyone be performing with you?

PB: Yeah, [the band] High Valley from La Crete, Alberta. I was a producer and co-wrote a couple of songs on their most recent album. They’re a great act, really entertaining and a lot of fun.

Building it Forward

WC: How did Build it Forward come to be?

PB: I was watching an extreme home building show with my wife Liz one night, and I said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could use music to build homes for people?” We talked about it, and then that was it.

I got to Nashville the next day to work on some new music, and when I opened my email there was a message from one of the vice presidents of CMT in Canada. All the email said was, “Hey Paul, do you want to do a show where you build houses for people?” It was just out of the blue. I called him right away and we started talking about it.

Within six months we raised $1.4 million towards the initiative. People were pounding down the doors to be a part of it and give back. It ended up turning into a seven-episode series for CMT Canada. It was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever been a part of.

On Calgary

WC: You lived in Nashville for nine years, what made you return to Calgary?

PB: From the beginning of my career, our five-year plan was to start things in Nashville and then head back to Calgary. It turned into nine years, but we had this pull towards Alberta because our families were here. I used to think I loved Alberta because I’m from here, but realized after travelling the world, that there’s no better place you can live.

WC: What is your favourite place to eat in Calgary?

PB: I’ve got a lot of favourites, but I love Bonterra. They have great food and they’ve never let me down.

WC: What is it about Calgary fans that stands out?

PB: Calgary fans have been there from the very beginning. They’re supportive and excited, and it shows. I take that relationship seriously. Calgary fans feel a lot more like family than anything else to me.

WC: What five words would you use to describe Calgary?

PB: Vibrant, relevant, exciting, experiential, and beautiful.

Paul Brandt plays at the Jubilee Auditorium December 10. For tickets call Ticketmaster, 1-855-985-5000. Read the full original article from Where Calgary’s November/December 2011 issue!

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