Produced with longtime collaborator Luke Wooten (Dierks Bentley, "Nashville"), "Moonshine" sees Paisley adapting the modern technology of EDM and dubstep to the classic country formula. "When you hear a banjo through stutter edit, it's the coolest thing you ever heard," Paisley said. "I have a song that's a basic love song, it's got a great groove, and I cut this guitar part that gets distorted when I turn the nob up. I would say to Luke, 'Oh, that should've been done 20 years ago, but they couldn't.' The rulebook's gone, or was there ever one? They try, but I don't play by it."
The first fruits of Paisley's more electronic-leaning sound can be found on lead single "River Bank," which rose to No. 23 on Hot Country Songs the week ending May 17. The feel-good party anthem finds Paisley singing about a group of friends who scratch off lottery tickets to afford a six-pack of beer so they can party at the titular locale with an inner tube and a trailer hitch. The song was inspired by Paisley's humble beginnings growing up in rural West Virginia, across from the Ohio River, a context some may have forgotten when accusing him of pandering to his audience.
"If you were to hold me to a standard of, 'What are you doing, singing about a scratch-off ticket at your level of success?' then my music's gonna be ridiculous," he says.
Paisley appeared to still be smarting from the criticism he took over 2013's "Accidental Racist" with LL Cool J, which is still so omnipresent he never had to mention the song by name during his interview with Billboard. "I was putting myself in the position of a lot of my fans are in, which is, 'Did I just accidentally offend someone?' Why would we have to defend something when you have really good intentions? OK, if you hate it, you hate it. If you love, you love it. Nobody knew that those were characters."
The fallout from "Accidental Racist", Paisley explained, seems to have landed him somewhere in the middle of the controversy spectrum of the racially charged remarks from recently fired Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and actress Julianne Hough's ill-advised Halloween costume in blackface as "Orange Is The New Black"'s Crazy Eyes.
"We're living in a world where you just turn on the news, and someone like Sterling deserves to be vilified for what he said. Then there's Julianne Hough, who on John Oliver's new HBO show Sunday he said, 'You learned two new things, which is, 'One, you don't do it, and two, that she has no friends that would tell her not to do it.' I remember seeing that and thinking, 'That's accidental in every way.' And you go through this thing with [my] record, it is what it is and I had a really good time with it. But boy did I learn about myself and humanity and life -- everything I didn't know I wanted to learn."
Still, Paisley is eager to road test new music on tour this summer, as well as "Good Morning America"'s summer concert series on August 29 -- even if he ends up reverting to his original, half-joke title for the album, "Observations of a Bumpkin From A Stump." "I live in a holler in Tennessee, and it's sort of like if you're sitting on your stump with your iPhone like, 'He said what? Let's just go eat. Can we go fishing today?' I wanted to remove that thing that it doesn't have to all be innovative. It was more, what's my perspective now, and let's just have fun."