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Brad Paisley is surrounded by 'Water': Q&A with country star whose H20 Tour was nearly swept away by the Nashville flood

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Image Credit: Ethan Miller/ACMA2010/Getty ImagesCountry superstar Brad Paisley was supposed to start gearing up rehearsals for his H20 Tour today in Nashville. Instead, he’s scrambling to replace instruments, amplifiers, and components, and clean what survived after the 100-year flood in Music City washed out the storage and rehearsal facility where he kept his gear.

We got Paisley on the phone late last week to check in on the status of what we’re pretty sure he should start calling “The Gold Doubloons Tour” or something now, and discovered he’s pretty chipper, even in the face of the worst case scenario. And although we are by no means the most important phone call he received last week — o hai, President Obama —  we decided to go ahead and post this anyway.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How are you?

BRAD PAISLEY: I’m hanging in there. I’m all right. We were scheduled to start rehearsals Monday here, and obviously that’s pushed back. We were going to be in the [Bridgestone] arena, which ended up underwater. The top three places where we could set up our gear and rehearse and do it right were the arena, and the Municipal Auditorium, and somewhere else I’m trying to remember — and they all had water. It’s crazy. But they’re loading in today in another building. We’ve got about two-thirds of our gear. We can rent more of what we need. We’ll make it to the first gig. I don’t know if it’ll look exactly like I wanted it to, but it’ll be a show. We lost a lot of stuff over the weekend. My entire guitar rig that I take on the road — they’re all in the SoundCheck [storage] locker. We have yet to get in there but pretty much we know they’re done. [NOTE: Paisley has since posted photos of the swamped gear on his Twitter page.]

What’s SoundCheck, for those who don’t know?

It’s a rehearsal and storage facility for gear. But they also have rehearsal spaces, and there’s businesses in there — a casemaker, and a microphone company, and some other stuff. Everything that you see me play on a given night, other than my old ’60s Tele[caster] guitar — I’m talking effects rack, wireless unit, microphones, amps, speaker cabinet — everything was in there. So it’s all pretty much gone. This week, my guitar tech is spending money like a broker on the stock exchange floor, calling manufacturers. It’s an amazing amount of work.

You’re maybe the best person to explain the special relationship between an artist and his instrument, or his gear. It’s like a part of your body, right?

Yeah, it is. A couple of those guitars had been with me a long time. A few of them are really old. A lot of them were custom built for me. Those Teles that I play with the paisley finish — I’ve been playing some of those for as long as I can remember. And as we rehearse, I find myself thinking… I always play a certain old guitar on, like, “Catch All the Fish.” I’ve always used this one guitar, because it feels right on that. And I keep finding myself going, “Now, when we play this…” and then it’s like, “Ack! Not gonna be that guitar on that.” But my most special relationship is with that old ’68 Tele, because it was on my first record. That’s the one that’s me. It’s like a good horse or something. That one, thank goodness, was at home. And I can play that all night if I have to. But we have to switch guitars — when you’re outdoors, they go out of tune. We work very hard to get it to sound right every night. And over the years I’ve tweaked things. There’s amplifiers that were custom built for me that had components that are really rare in them, and they’re gone. I feel like I’m starting over from scratch, back to the days when I’d show up at a gig in my first year as an opening act with a song barely on the charts, with an electric guitar, an amplifier, a couple of pedals, and some cords to plug in. But it’s okay. We’re fine. Luckily, we’re at the point where we can afford to buy some new things, even before insurance comes in. I’m one of a bunch of musicians that have lost stuff, but they are just musical instruments. We can get other instruments and do what we do.

The homestead is okay?

Yeah, we’re all right. There was a river going by my house all of a sudden. We don’t have any rivers out here. We’re up on a hill, thankfully. We lost trees. We have a pond that I’m in the middle of building that wasn’t ready to fill yet, but the dam was almost done. It was going to be four acres. It was dry as a bone on Friday night. By Saturday night, which was only halfway through the storm, it was full. It filled up a four acre pond. And then by Sunday it had been running over the entire night. In our garage, we had four inches of water, but it wasn’t any big deal.

So when you called your tour “H20,” this was not the water you had in mind.

No, that’s for sure. The ironic thing is we started filming the making of this tour a couple of months ago, and my video guy, Scott Scovill, has been calling the documentary “Under Water.” That was named like two months ago. He’s been filming throughout this entire process. He filmed the other day going back into his business, which was almost wiped out down there next to SoundCheck — computer hard drives of people’s shows and video stuff just floating. It’s sort of weird.

What should people expect to see from the H20 Tour, assuming you get it all dried out and on the road at the end of the month?

What we’ve done is create this summertime theme, essentially the combination of a water park and a concert. If you come early, I’ve got three of the best new acts out opening on a stage called the Waterworld Stage: Easton Corbin and Josh Thompson and Steel Magnolia. It’s out in a plaza area with fun stuff like a fishing simulator and a dunk tank. We’re also tied in with Hope Through Healing Hands, which is a charity I’m working with to help places that don’t have clean drinking water. And then on the mainstage, Justin Moore and Darius Rucker are there with me, and then at the end of the night, we all get back together and play.

Were you planning a fundraising thing anyway, and the fact that you had a song called “Water” just tied Hope Through Healing Hands in really nicely?

Actually, we got started with that charity because I’m friends with [Former US] Senator [Bill] Frist here, and he’s on the board. When he heard about this tour, he said, “You have a really good opportunity to raise awareness with an entire demographic of people who maybe don’t ever think about that.” I think one of the best ways you can promote who we really ought to be in this country is to do something like build a well in a barren region, and put a little note on it. You know, “From your friends in the United States of America.” And it’s actually one of the least expensive problems that we have. I think the figure I heard is that for $10 or $20 billion, you could fix a lot of this drinking water problem. Which is peanuts compared to the numbers they throw out today for stuff. So it was actually Senator Frist’s idea. It’s very exciting for me.

Can you tell me anything about the stage setup or special exciting stunts you’ll be doing? Will you be falling backwards into a baptismal font a la the ACMs?

Well, I can tell you what it would have been. [laughs] Most of what we have will be okay. The stage set is aluminum. I sent a tweet out the other day that said, “By the way, for all you folks coming to see us on the H20 Tour, know that what you’re looking at has been underwater.” That’s street cred right there. We’re the real thing. [laughs] But the stage has got kind of a splash look to it. A lot of video. Some footage that was shot the same day as the “Water” video, us doing goofy things in the water. And then there’s a separate stage that goes out towards the front of house or the lawn that looks like a big above-ground pool, so I’m gonna go out and do a set out there in the middle.

And just to be sure: Your dunk tank did survive the flood?

[laughs] The dunk tanks should be fine. I think those were pretty much made for this.

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