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Brad Paisley: I'm not Mr. Perfect

By Denise Quan, CNN
Brad Paisley is nominated for seven CMA awards -- including Entertainer of the Year.
Brad Paisley is nominated for seven CMA awards -- including Entertainer of the Year.
  • Brad Paisley is up for seven Country Music Association awards this year
  • Down-to-earth Paisley is just happy to be recognized
  • Lately, he's had more mainstream recognition, including cover of People magazine
  • Who would the country star love to play with? Eric Clapton

Universal City, California (CNN) -- Country music superstar Brad Paisley has graced the cover of People magazine twice this fall -- first on the magazine's regular edition, then on a special country issue.

But perhaps the most telling sign his popularity has transcended genre is that Justin Timberlake sends him samples from his William Rast designer jeans line.

"He actually called me to thank me for wearing them the other day, which was crazy," says the 36-year-old musician.

Paisley heads into Wednesday's 43rd Annual CMA Awards with a leading seven nominations. He'll defend his post as Male Vocalist of the Year, which he's had a lock on since 2007. With any luck, he'll pick up his first trophy as Entertainer of the Year, a category in which he's been nominated five times.

Video: Brad Paisley is down to earth

He'll also perform on the live telecast and trade quips with Carrie Underwood as they co-host for the second straight year.

We recently caught up with singer-songwriter-guitarist in his dressing room at "The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien." The show is taped at Universal Studios, and trams filled with tourists do drive-bys past the soundstage every few minutes.

Paisley, who's used to tailoring his workout routine to fit his location on the road, had just returned from a run through the backlot, where he jogged past the fake shark from the movie "Jaws." He said no one recognized him, but then he wasn't doing sprints in his trademark white Stetson.

CNN: Why do you wear the cowboy hat? It's not like you're hiding a bald spot under there.

Brad Paisley: It's about the image, and it's about the lifestyle and what I want to sing about. It's not like someone's going to mistake me when they turn on "Conan O'Brien" tonight, you know what I mean? It's not like, "Wonder what kind of music he sings." Instantly, when you turn it on, you know.

CNN: Your celebrity these days seems to have transcended country music. You're on cover of the mainstream People magazine with your family (actress Kimberly Williams-Paisley and their two young children).

Paisley: You know, it's bittersweet sometimes when some of that privacy goes out the window. We don't do that much. We probably won't ever do that again with our kids. But my fans deserve to see Jasper at least once (his youngest son was born April 17), and it's a great way to get a fantastic photo shoot with your family for Christmas cards for free.

CNN: What's different about success, now that you have it?

Paisley: It's so much more in every way. The highs are higher, and the lows are maybe a little darker than you can imagine, although I haven't had the kinds of lows that, you know -- everybody saw "Walk the Line." I haven't done that. (Chuckles)

You're just not prepared for some of the negatives that go with it, some of the criticisms that you hear, some of the ways that you are so vulnerable when you do this -- especially if you make music that matters to you. It's similar to rejection of anything you get in your life.

CNN: People seem to think you're Mr. Perfect. Does that bug you sometimes?

Paisley: I'm not. Absolutely not. You can see that on Twitter -- first of all, the misspellings! My sense of humor gets me in trouble more than anything.

CNN: You've talked about being misunderstood.

Paisley: There's people who were offended by "Ticks," which is as harmless as can be. ("Ticks" was his tongue-in-cheek song about being in the woods with a girl and asking permission to examine her for pesky mites.) It was one of those fun, summertime "go out in the woods and offer to perform a service for someone" things. But everything can be taken the wrong way. But if you can let the stuff roll off your back, you'll live a lot longer and be happier for it.

CNN: You've got seven nominations heading into the CMAs. That's more than anyone else this year.

Paisley: It's nice to be nominated. To be going into this in such a way with a chance to win one or two would be great.

CNN: And you're hosting for the second year with Carrie Underwood.

Paisley: I'm anxious to host again this year at this thing because it takes that competition away a little bit. There's a comfort that comes with having hosted once and not gotten booed off the stage. She and I are going into this with a lot more confidence, I think -- which is a good place to be, and probably the reason we'll do something really stupid this year. (Laughs)

CNN: Who haven't you collaborated with that you'd like to?

Paisley: It's Eric Clapton. I've never even met him. If I say it enough, maybe he'll go, "All right, fine, shut up! I'll do it!"

CNN: What do you want to do that you haven't quite accomplished yet?

Paisley: I hope I still have people's ears as long as I have things to say. There's a time that comes when you don't have their ear anymore. Eventually, that's coming, where they're going to be tired of me. A large fraction of people are probably saying, "Yeah I know, buddy. I'm already there right now." But that's coming, and I just hope that I can stretch this out for a long time. I'm 10 years into this, and I feel like people are just discovering me in a large way right now.