In May, country star Brad Paisley teamed up with pop powerhouse Demi Lovato for “Without a Fight,” a sultry platter of twang that functions as the strongest showcase for Lovato’s chops since her 2015 single “Stone Cold.”
That’s actually the song that brought them together: Paisley accompanied Lovato at April’s iHeartRadio Music Awards, and it went so well they booked a studio date. In a few short months, he’s gotten to know Lovato pretty well, and it turns out he’s been buddies with her bestie Nick Jonas since Jonas was a teenager, so we put in a call to the man to get his take on Billboard‘s latest cover stars. Paisley gave us the insight we were looking for, a couple yarns we couldn’t have predicted, and, as a bonus, a story about his awesomely geeky kids.
You guys recorded “Without a Fight” in person. Any stories from the studio?
Well, Demi brought this little dog named Batman, which, as a huge comic book nerd, I was like, “That’s the coolest name for this 4- to 8-pound Yorkie mix.” But I was so thankful she wanted to be a part of this record, that after we recorded it and were getting ready to do a video, I did a painting for her. I’d seen these paintings where it’s a kid standing with a towel tied around his neck, but his shadow is Superman. I was gonna do this for my kids, but I painted her dog, and against the wall is Batman.
That’s incredible. Demi must have made an impression on you.
It’s been amazing to get to know her. She has a work ethic, and such a great outlook on her career, that I did not expect. I’ve thought for years that as a singer, she has something really special — her voice has such character beyond her years. Maybe it’s because she’s already lived a lifetime in her 23 years. She’s been through it. I feel like I look up to her that way, because it’s like, “You’ve done a lot of things I haven’t.”
Her life is a series of country songs.
It really is. Knowing a bit about her history, I didn’t expect her to be as grounded as she is, and maybe it’s because she’s had adversity. But it’s a really impressive thing to meet somebody who’s been a star since they were young, who really understands what’s important in life: the people you love and doing good things. It seems to me, she’s one of the people who most personifies trying to make a difference with her fame and her music. For most of us, myself included, that often takes a backseat to trying to get ahead or trying to keep the train rolling. She doesn’t think that way.
When did you first meet Demi?
We met at the iHeartRadio Awards because somebody had the bright idea to pair us up. They had it all set for me to play guitar with her, but it was like my people talked to her people, so I didn’t know her. Then I’m there at the awards, and there’s some pop act onstage. I don’t even know who it was, but it’s the day before the show, and they’re fully decked out, they have choreographers out in the audience, and it looked like Toddlers in Tiaras, like, “Smile here. Look there. Jazz hands here.” When they’re done, this person starts walking through the hall and there were probably 50 people in that entourage — the bag handler, the person that holds the puppy dog. It was the strangest thing, and I’m like, “What world have I gotten myself into here?”
So they bring me up onstage, and I’m setting up my own amplifier, plugging in my guitar, and I’m thinking, “I am just a third-class citizen at this place,” and wondering what Demi’s gonna be like. Is she gonna come out in full-blown black leather, you know? I don’t even realize there’s a girl standing next to me in a flannel shirt and sweatpants. I look over and she’s like, “Hi, I’m Demi! You have no idea how big a fan I am.” And I’m like, “Oh! Hey!” I hug her and the next thing you know, we’re totally friends. We did a couple of takes and it was just great. You could tell it was gonna stop the show — I mean, you’ve heard her do “Stone Cold.” She turns to me halfway through the second verse and goes, “We gotta do something else, dude.” That’s when I told her, “I just cut something that needs to be a couple.” The song has a ’60s blues-rock vibe, so I wanted that “Gimme Shelter” female vocal, and nobody does that like Demi.
And you’ve known Nick for a while now, right?
Oh yeah! The Jonas Brothers and I go way back. We’ve done interviews together, and I’ve sat in with them. You know, when I first met them, I thought, “OK, they’re too good to be true. They’re definitely serial killers and they don’t realize it yet.” It’s not true! They’re not serial killers! [Laughs] They’re all good people. Nick is a great musician, and he’s really on his way. He and Demi both are great examples of child stars coming of age, becoming really legit, respected musicians. As we all know, not everybody makes that transition. If you want your music to ever matter, sometimes it’s best to not become famous as a child, but they’re doing it. It’s really impressive.
Have you hung out with Nick recently?
Nick was in the studio that day when we did “Without a Fight.” One thing we did … you know when he played the ACM Awards, he had that guitar problem [where he messed up his solo]? We have to put this out, because it’s hysterical. We sat down and did a goof-around lesson where he was teaching me, “OK, here’s how to do that if you want to learn.” How he handled that was amazing, because I’ve been there too. Mine wasn’t on TV, thank God, but he’s such a great guitar player. He’s really got a finesse and he’s just improving all the time. He really has such great focus in terms of wanting to make good music. I don’t get the sense he’s like, “How do I become more famous?” I think he’s more about, “How do I become the artist I want to be?”
Your boys are, what, 7 and 9? Do they listen to pop?
[Laughs] I’m not sure if I’m raising them correctly or completely wrong. You know what they listen to more than anything? Film scores. They love like Star Wars and Indiana Jones — John Williams stuff — and The Dark Knight, Hans Zimmer. My oldest is so obsessive about that stuff, it’s all he wants to listen to in the car. What’s really funny about that is we’ll be going down the road, like driving to Whole Foods, and it sounds like it is high stakes. After, he’ll be like, “Put on Demi!” and we’ll listen to her, but then it’s, “Let’s do The Flash!” We have friends who have a boat in Marina del Rey, and we went out in the harbor, and he’s like, “Can you play Jaws?” It freaked the captain out so much that he came running. We had to turn it off.