He’s had 22 No. 1s, owns 14 CMA trophies and has firmly established himself as one half of the best CMA Awards hosting team ever. But Brad Paisley doesn’t expect that his career will be the stuff of country legends – and that’s just fine with him.
“I don’t feel like I have a legacy. I don’t think I’m influencing younger artists – they’re not trying to be me,” Paisley tells PEOPLE. “But I don’t say that in bitterness. I say that with realism.”
In fact, the singer says, he’s happy to forge a solitary path. “I’m not pigeonholed,” he says. “This format has let me be a balladeer and it has let me be an up-tempo fun rocker as well. And a jokester. And I’m really honored that they don’t make me conform. I like being some sort of new artist each time.”
At 42, Paisley says he’s learning as much from the genre’s new generation as they might pick up from him. “I think if you ignore the generation after yours you will be obsolete very quickly. The artists who stick around for a while are the ones who go, ‘Oh, that’s cool, never thought of that. Ought to do that.’ ”
On songs like “River Bank” and "Crushin’ It" from the singer’s recent Moonshine in the Trunk album, he tried to reflect the country zeitgeist – with a twist.
“There’s a lot of stuff on the radio about, you know, put your tan legs on the dashboard and we’ll roll around in the truck and go party,” he says. “This album was my idea of doing music that fits in this landscape but doesn’t pander to that because one of my frustrations with radio now is lyrics. It’s like, ‘Guys, come on!’ – and specifically, yes, guys, cause there are no girls! We can say something too. There are phrases that are totally cliché that we as songwriters owe it to ourselves to not use again.”
He continues: “I’m not saying the songs are bad, I’m just saying that we as writers can do better. And when we come around to a little more diversity lyrically on the radio, we can go back and say the word ‘tailgate’ again and not have people cringe. It’s everything in moderation.”
He points to newcomers Maddie and Tae and their hit “Girl in a Country Song,” a cheeky answer to bro-country cliché, as an example of the “adventurousness” of the younger country set.
“They are actually having fun about that very thing we’re talking about,” he says. “When I heard somebody had written a song about that, I thought it wouldn’t be any good and it’s great. They have an amazing ability to find a niche in a town where there was no niche for a female duo.”