With the annual awards show celebrating its landmark 50th anniversary broadcast on Nov. 2, Brad Paisley, 44, reveals what he and cohost Carrie Underwood have planned—and how Nashville will honor its towering musical legacy. (Plus, he dishes on his still, as-yet-untitled 11th LP.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This is your ninth year cohosting the CMA Awards. What keeps you coming back each year?
BRAD PAISLEY: This is an itch that I like to scratch. I do stand-up nights — I host a comedy night every year in Nashville at the Wild West festival — and I write parodies for that, too. I went to [Jimmy Kimmel Live!] a few months ago and did a song called “Sit by Your Man.” We rewrote [Tammy Wynette’s] “Stand by Your Man” to [protest] the North Carolina bathroom laws. There’s not a big line between my music and this.
Stand-up like humor has a long history in country music. That must lend itself well to hosting duties.
[Country artists] are supposed to be on the same level as our fans. You don’t see that in other genres. And you shouldn’t! I don’t want to see my pop stars doing some of the things we do! [Laughs]
It’s a milestone year for the CMAs. How will the ceremony honor that?
I’ve never seen a show more hand-tailored to reverence than what we are doing this year. Everything is meant to pay homage to [country music’s] history. And we’ve brought a lot of these acts back. There are people in this show that haven’t been part of an awards show for 20 years.
And there will be tributes to late greats like Merle Haggard?
Oh, yeah, you’ll see. We lost Merle [this year], but there are tributes to everybody. There’s some George Jones in here, some Patsy Cline, some Conway [Twitty].
Are you and Carrie Underwood crazily involved with the planning?
We’re always thinking about this. In fact, when I just sent her a text a few minutes ago, I noticed one she sent a little while back about something in the news, like, “So-and-so said what?! Fantastic!” A few weeks ago we sat down to go over some stuff, and five minutes in, we were laughing about something we’re going to do.
Do you have fond memories of watching the awards growing up?
I remember Ricky Skaggs winning Entertainer of the Year when I was maybe 10—I remember him saying, “To all those kids out there who want to learn an instrument, don’t be discouraged,” and me sitting there nodding, like, “Yeah, I know, Ricky!”
You’re also working on your 11th studio album. How’s that going?
I have one or two more [songs] that I want to get done in the next couple weeks. This album has some very heavy stuff. We deal with veterans, we deal with death, and we deal with divorce.
The album includes a duet with Demi Lovato. What was it like working with her?
We both work real hard to get it right. She must have sung this 30 times. But what’s crazy is that I don’t think there’s a limit to her range. It’s like shooting hoops with LeBron.
You also recently released your new single, “Today,” which is about how one 24-hour period can change your life.
And I learned to play piano for it! Because you needed that part, that’s such a haunting little thing. I practiced at night after [my family] would all go to bed. The song is several years old, but I realized that I needed to live a little more before I released this.
The CMA Awards air Wednesday, Nov. 2 on ABC at 8 p.m. EST.