At the recent iHeartRadio festival in Las Vegas, Brad Paisley debuted his new single, "Southern Comfort Zone." Before playing the song he admitted some nerves to Rolling Stone.
"It's about leaving your comfort zone, which couldn't be more appropriate tonight," he said, referring to playing the new song while on a bill with Aerosmith, Deadmau5, Linkin Park, Mary J. Blige and more. "Probably not the smartest thing I've ever done to try it."
Perhaps it was a bit of a dare to throw a new single into a 30-minute set for an arena audience that may or may not have been there to see him, but it was definitely the right decision in preparation for Paisley's new album, due in April 2013.
"That's been my mode lately as we record this new album – talking about leaving my comfort zone," he said. "My goal when I set out to do this record was to completely be on a ledge and challenge myself that way."
In doing that, he's found his way to some unexpected sounds and songs. "There's one that's a ballad – it's called 'Tin Can on a String,'" he said. "One thing we did which was really interesting is we used a recorded human heart beat as a small little loop underneath in a section where it's this sort of dark spot. And those are the types of things that we're doing."
The heart motif returns again. "There's another song where somebody dies in the song. Believe it or not it's a funny song, and we use a heart monitor," he said. "We have a heart monitor actually being a rhythm track in the second verse. That sound, that beat that's so telltale, when you're on edge."
After nine albums, most recently 2011's This Is Country Music – which debuted at number two on the pop charts, right behind Lady Gaga's Born This Way – Paisley has found a tried-and-true way of recording.
"We've done the Nashville method – book the studio, get the great players – my band plays a lot of my records, but then fix them in the digital editing room and make sure that everything's perfect before it gets out there."
This time, though, he wanted a different recording process. "I have an old farmhouse on my property, built a drum room, and two and a half weeks later, after buying a bunch of neat preamps and everything else, we were cutting stuff," he said. "I'm not editing this to death. We're barely editing, in fact."
Ultimately he hopes to make a record that surprises both himself and his fans. "My goal is that, every time, your head does what my dog's head does when he's heard a word he's never heard before," he said. "We should do that with every song, whether that's lyrically or production or subject matter. You like it, but it's like, 'I didn't see that coming.' And I think there's plenty of room in country music for that."