- Publisher: City Light News
- Editor: Peter McManus
For Paul Brandt the greatest compliment anyone can give is not that he’s the most awarded male country artist in Canadian history, but that he “loved Jesus and did his best to serve Him.” Brandt’s latest release “Just As I Am” is a gospel album for which he received three GMA Covenant Awards in 2013.
You were raised in a Christian home. When did your faith become your own?
My faith became the most real to me when I got a record deal and moved away from home for the first time. I was in Nashville doing 190 shows within a year of signing that deal. People were interested in what I thought and what I believed, and when they asked me those questions there were usually five or six cameras in my face. I thought I’d better make a decision. Am I going to take this relationship seriously? That’s when my faith became more real to me.
Do you find country music is a bit more accepting of expressions of faith than other genres?
The Ryman Auditorium [in Nashville] used to be a church, it’s the mother church of country music – it started there.
The songs behind country music, the messages of the gospel, moral ideas of right and wrong are formative to country music, so I think there is some acceptance. I’m noticing today that fewer people are leaning on those roots. I don’t think every song has to be a Christian song, or a song has to talk about Jesus necessarily, but when you remove morality in general from country music there’s no tension in it.
I think there’s some acceptance because the roots are in gospel music and Christianity, but it depends on the day whether it’ll be fully accepted or not.
What’s the one lesson you want to make sure you teach your kids?
This idea that God is first in everything that you do is one I really want to pass on to my kids. My parents said we don’t care what you choose to do with your career as long as you’re honouring God with it. That opened so many possibilities for me growing up, and I really want that legacy for my kids.
Did your faith play a role in your decision to move back to Canada and start your own independent record label?
The decision to come back to Canada was influenced by a lot of different factors. We were in Nashville for nine years. I wasn’t seeing eye-to-eye on creative issues with my label. They said it doesn’t matter if you agree with the morality of this song, you’re an actor go sell it. That’s what we paid for.
They’d literally ask me in board meetings what’s more important, your wife or your career? What’s more important your faith or your career? And for me it wasn’t career… I said I’ll honour the contract and make another 6 or 7 albums, but I think it’ll be better if you just let me go.
We started our own label because we felt God had really given us Canada. We hold on loosely to that dream.
Your success defies current wisdom. Canadian artists usually have to go to the bigger American market to make a living, but the opposite has been true for you.
It’s been a really amazing story and is an important part of my spiritual journey. We put out Small Towns and Big Dreams [on our own label]. It was a live acoustic record of unrecorded music. Radio never plays that – it just never happens, and they did.
I got asked to host the 2002 Canadian Country Music Awards, that year it was broadcast to 17 million in the US, Canada and Australia, especially as an unsigned artist they just never do that and they did.
I had come off of selling 1million records and had only sold 1000 records [on my own label]. I played “Small Towns and Big Dreams” and came off stage thinking I’m toast. There’s no way I can make a living doing this. Then they announced I had won Album of the Year. I went up to receive the award and God said, “Paul, you just need to get out of the way.”
There’s so many things that shouldn’t happen, but they continue to go that way in my career. I’d be silly to try and take credit.
You travel a lot with charities and humanitarian work. Is there one part of the world that’s grabbed your heart more than any other?
It’s really hard to pick, but I’ll never forget my first Malawi trip. It was the peak of the AIDS epidemic. It was horrible. Kids 5 to8 years old taking care of babies because their parents were gone. Those kids had AIDS.
We met this lady and she was the first woman who looked us in the eye, she had dignity. She explained through a translator that she was a kitchen technician. She was teaching the women how to cook and clean and take care of themselves. Boiling water to make it safe to drink was the most exciting thing she could imagine. She’d been empowered. I remember catching Liz’s eye and we just started crying.
What’s next for Paul Brandt?
I think must drive my wife batty because business people want to plan three years in advance and I find it hard to keep my desk clean. For me it’s about following what God’s put in my heart. I’m not sure where it’ll take us but it’ll be a lot of fun.
For gospel music fans, this new project was a dream come true for me. Gordon Mote (of the Gaither Homecoming fame) produced it. Putting this project together was a lot of fun and they’ll probably hear their favourites.
This interview also appeared in The Christian Herald.