''Wheelhouse'' (out April 9), includes some of his boldest — and funniest — work so far. Paisley, 40, talks to us about his new material, and delves into the history of a few of his biggest hits.


”This may be the reason I got married. I was dating Kim [his now wife, actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley of ABC’s Nashville]. She had cussed a few times around me, which I wasn’t quite used to, having primarily dated Southern belles. And that’s how I came up with the opening line: ‘I’ll never forget the first time that I heard/that pretty mouth say that dirty word.’ I remember I had the idea of the arm asleep first — I think we all relate to the early stage of a relationship where a girl falls asleep on your arm watching TV, and you don’t wanna move because you don’t wanna wake her up. But in marriage, you just let her head fall to the floor and just pull your arm out. [Laughs] I’m kidding!”


”It’s an angelic, ghostly bluegrass ballad, really a tragedy, and I think when I get to heaven, if the angels don’t sound like [duet partner] Alison Krauss, we have been cheated. What’s interesting is it was never expected to be a single. And it’s a good example of how I was slowly able to expand my comfort zone, like getting away with ‘I’m Gonna Miss Her’ and ‘Celebrity’ — songs that were just not what you would have expected from the guy that did Who Needs Pictures.”

”TICKS” (2007)

”We were like, ‘How far can we be pushing buttons in a tongue-in-cheek but very country and very funky way?’ It’s all about having fun and the country culture of courting: ‘I’d like to walk you through a field of wildflowers, and then I’d like to check you for ticks.’ I want to make sure you’re good there — I don’t want you getting Lyme disease! It’s very romantic.”

? ”ONLINE” (2007)

”I remember thinking, ‘Well, the Internet is sort of new, and people are getting away with complete false identities everywhere you look…. It isn’t going to be this way forever, but this’ll be fun to put out right now.’ Boy, was I wrong. I think it’s way more relevant today. [Famously hoodwinked football player] Manti Te’o is a good example; it could literally be called in parentheses ‘(The Ballad of Manti Te’o)’ now.”

? ”REMIND ME”(2011)

”I couldn’t wait to play this for people. I just said, ‘Hey, check this out.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, it’s a good melody, I like what you’re saying,’ and then boom! There’s Carrie Underwood. It’s such an unexpected way to do a duet, where she finishes your sentences, when it’s supposed to be that you two have grown apart. I’m really, really proud of that, and I know Carrie is too. She and I have talked many times about how we are probably going to look back on our careers as that being one of those moments that will be hard to beat.”


”I think that we’re going through an adolescence in America when it comes to race. You know, it’s like we’re almost grown up. I just think art has a responsibility to lead the way, and I don’t know the answers, but I feel like asking the question is the first step and we [the song is a duet with LL Cool J] are asking the question in a big way. How do I show my Southern pride? What is offensive to you? And his summation is really ‘Let’s let bygones be bygones,’ and ‘If you don’t judge my do-rag, I won’t judge your red flag.’ We don’t solve anything, but it’s two guys very honestly having a conversation.”