When Brad Paisley started playing potential songs from his forthcoming album Son of the Mountains for Universal Music Group Nashville president Cindy Mabe, she told him, “Make music that matters, that’s not disposable.”
Gentle ballad “Same Here” was in the first batch that he played her, and Paisley certainly took that message to heart. The song, which came out Friday (Feb. 24), celebrates our similarities no matter where we’re from or the language we speak and ends with the audio of a conversation between the country superstar and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The release date is not coincidental: Today marks a year since Russia invaded its neighbor.
UMGN sent the track to radio, but even Paisley, whose 12th No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart was last February’s “Freedom Was a Highway” with Jimmie Allen, doesn’t expect it to garner much play and he’s fine with that — even though, as he points out, “It’s a very country record,” with Jerry Douglas on dobro and Dan Tyminski on mandolin.
“The label [was] so great about it, realizing this isn’t going to be the feel-good hit of the year and this isn’t even going to be something that’s going to work long term at a radio station, it’s not going to research [well]. There’s a speech at the end of it, but this needs to exist in whatever form we can have it to present it,” Paisley says, adding there will not be a radio edit without Zelenskyy.
He says UMGN has been nothing but supportive. “It’s been a great team effort to sort of say, ‘Okay, I’ve got a new home. This is what I’m working on. The first thing is ready on this really important date and then we’ll start giving you these others as well, painting the picture I want to paint.’ And you can imagine how good that feels.”
Though Paisley’s move to UMGN’s EMI imprint from Sony Music Nashville was only announced earlier this week, the deal was actually done close to a year ago and Paisley has been hunkered down writing the new album for months. He wrote “Same Here” shortly after the invasion with Lee Thomas Miller and Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith.
The war “was really weighing on me,” Paisley says. “I have been in the gym the night it started and I remember working out watching the news and it was just the most surreal scene, all those taillights leaving Kiev. I’ve been touring Europe lately and it’s like looking at that, it’s like, ‘Holy cow, that looks like every city we play.’ It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever seen in my lifetime.”
Paisley had conversations about performing it on NBC’s all-star special Ukraine: Answering the Call, which ran July 3 and featured Paul McCartney, Billie Eilish, Sheryl Crow, Alicia Keys among others. He talked with MSNBC anchor Nicole Wallace, who spearheaded the benefit, about the song and she said she could get it to some Ukrainians. Paisley initially thought about a refrain of the title sung in Ukrainian several times at the end. “And then I thought, ‘Would President Zelenskyy like to have the last couple of minutes and have a discussion with me on the ways we’re the same?’”
Because of security reasons, Paisley declines to give more details about how the song actually got into Zelenskyy’s hands (“I feel like I’m in The Bourne Identity,” he says half in jest).
The Zoom date with Zelenskyy moved around a fair amount but was finally slated so they could record the conversation for the song and also talk about United24, a charitable program to rebuild and restore Ukrainian homes destroyed by the current war. All proceeds from the song will go to the charity, for which Paisley is an ambassador. “We’re hoping to build housing for 4,200 people,” he says. “Rebuild the things that were bombed out, which, as you’d imagine, is just changing daily.”
Paisley stresses that he did not give talking points to Zelenskky, who needed none, but the two discussed they ways we’re all the same, in terms of loving our families and our countries. “He could have done 25 minutes at the end of this song on the ways were the same, but we hand selected [parts of the] conversation that really felt so relevant. I’m very, very proud of what he said. He’s a really charismatic and earnest, sincere guy.”
After teaching Paisley how to say “same here” in Ukrainian, Zelenskky says in the song, “We speak different languages in our life. Yes, but I think we appreciate the same things – children, freedom, our flag, our soldiers, our people. The biggest treasure we have. And friends. And we’re proud of our army who defends our freedom and will defend our lives.” The president also many a few suggestions that Paisley incorporated into the last verse. Paisley hopes to include video clips of their conversation into the music video for “Same Here.”
Thursday (Feb. 23), Paisley posted a video to his Instagram account mentioning the new album and song. Many of the comments were supportive, but, unsurprisingly, a fair number of comments were critical of his support of Ukraine. Comments were disabled on his posts today— one promoting the song (which features cover artwork by his oldest son) and a subsequent post featuring a snippet of his appearance on Fox & Friends this morning.
His team turned off the comments on the posts today because “you want [the song] to stand alone. I don’t want to be a site for bots to have their day. I want that to be a pure spot to see what I’m saying,” he says. “We’ve had to do that a few times retro-actively where something starts to get hijacked and it’s like, ‘C’mon, that isn’t what my site exists for, my site exists to present what I’m doing.’”
But Paisley adds, “I welcome discussion over this. Everybody’s opinion matters. So that person that hates it, they’re just as valid as me. They can hate it. It’s okay. I’m good with that. ‘I hope you’ll listen to other things and If I’ve lost you, I’ve lost you.’”
Paisley says the song fits in perfectly with his new album, which is about “a kid from West Virginia, looking at the world today.” He won’t talk many specifics yet, but says another song on the album addresses the opioid crisis: West Virginia has been hit hardest of all the states with drug overdoses. There are other issue-oriented songs, but he adds, “As much as I’m dealing with topics that are timely, it goes down very smoothly. I don’t do it in a way that’s any different than George Jones would do it or different than Merle Haggard would do it.”
As far as other guests on the album, he’s keeping quiet, only to add, with a laugh, that Zelenskky is the only world president with a cameo on the set coming later this year.
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