September 26, 2017
Paul Brandt recently found out his debut song, the 1996 hit “My Heart Has a History,” has become the most played Canadian country song in history (the song was also the first by a male Canadian artist to reach the Billboard Top 10 country chart since 1974).
Prior to his remarkable music career, he was a nurse at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in his hometown of Calgary. He quickly shot to fame, but not an ounce of it has gone to his head.
“I went from playing in coffee shops and to friends, to being on stage in front of people every night, 180 shows per year,” said Brandt. “I had never lived at that pace or done anything like that before. And I loved it; it was wonderful.”
During his over 20-year career, Brandt has amassed a collection of number one hits, albums and awards, along with an adoring fan base that spans the ages. He’s incredibly respected for his talents in the country music industry, and for another good reason: He’s known for his support of fellow artists.
Paul Brandt joined Saskatchewan’s Hunter Brothers at the CCMA Legends Show, held in Saskatoon during PotashCorp Country Music Week. Photo credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.
The latest honour for Brandt came in Saskatoon during the PotashCorp Country Music Week. Brandt was given the CCMA Lifetime Achievement Award and inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
“It’s a sacred responsibility to be able to be behind the scenes making music, and to become your friend through music,” he said. “Thank you for letting me do that.”
Brandt had a packed schedule during Country Music Week, but he made time for a one-on-one interview over brunch at The Hollows in Saskatoon with the National Music Centre. There’s more than five, but here’s the top five reasons fans love Paul Brandt:
Paul Brandt giving his acceptance speech when he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in Saskatoon on September 9 during PotashCorp Country Music Week. Photo credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.
1) He loves his wife as much today as he did on their wedding day 20 years ago.
It was right around the time that Brandt’s hit “I Do” went number one, that he proposed to his then girlfriend, Elizabeth Peterson.
The couple got married in 1997, went on a honeymoon, and a month later, she hopped on the tour bus with Brandt and “11 smelly guys.”
“We started doing 180 shows a year. Not romantic, but exciting. It was fun,” he said. (If that’s not true love, we don’t know what is!)
At that time, Brandt was becoming a country music sensation, gaining recognition in the United States and abroad. His record label had branded him as a young, single hunk. In a meeting with his managers (who were not impressed at his change in relationship status), he told them he was going to marry Liz.
“They asked: ‘What’s more important—your life or your career?’” he remembered.
“This is what I wanted for my life,” he said.
Spending time with the couple is like slipping on a soft pair of jeans: they make you feel at home. They’re comfortable together, warm and funny, and both welcome you to share the joy they’ve found—both in each other and in the work they do together. The couple has embarked on a wide range of humanitarian projects during the past 20 years.
“We just knew that in our travels to the developing world, it had changed our lives to see the way the majority of the world lives,” said Brandt.
He always speaks highly of his blonde-haired beauty, recounting her many talents, including how her logical, math-inclined brain works.
“She’s amazing at drawing things out of people. People want to come and tell her their whole life story all the time. She’s taught me a lot…I’m very lucky. I married up big time.”
2) He’s always stayed true to his values.
Brandt’s departure from Warner/Reprise Records and creation of his own label, T-Brand Records in 2001, was remarkable. He and Warner weren’t coming to terms on creative, but the Canadian star, who had more than reached international success by that time, had a seven-record deal signed. He asked to be released and it took several months for the decision to come down. When it did, “I’d never felt more free and more terrified in my life,” he said.
The fear came because a big part of his identity was tied to being a signed artist.
“And now what am I?” he asked.
Brandt stayed true to himself throughout the process, despite nagging feelings of uncertainty. He believes that if you base your career on inauthenticity, it won’t last.
“There was a lot of self-doubt and a lot of wondering what am I going to do. I truly believe I was created to make music…and for some reason it works for me.”
Paul Brandt poses with a fan on the John Deere Green Carpet prior to the CCMA Awards in Saskatoon on September 10. Photo credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.
The band set out on a small town Canadian tour, playing new songs, and recorded it all. The fans’ response helped determine which songs would go on the new, live acoustic album, Small Towns and Big Dreams, released on his Brand-T Records label.
Brandt was coming off of selling a million records through his former label. Initially, Small Towns and Big Dreams sold 1,000 copies. He thought, “This is it, it’s over.”
He asked radio stations to play the live, acoustic songs he’d recorded (which rarely happens), and they did.
In 2002, he hosted the CCMA Awards. He was unsigned and radio was playing his live, acoustic music—things that just didn’t happen.
He won Album of the Year at those awards and Small Towns and Big Dreams went on to sell very well. Since then, every album Brandt has released on Brand-T has won a CCMA Album of the Year award. And the rest, as they say, is history, as Brandt has continued to rack up the awards and accolades.
A few weeks ago, he signed on with Warner Music Canada to release “The Journey.” He says the label has always been supportive.
“Now, working with Warner, there’s more of this 50/50 mutual respect in the relationship, which is amazing because now I have a team of people who know my history and they believe in what we do.”
3) He loves cooking AND he’s the nicest guy.
Brandt loves cooking, calling it his stress release. He’s a big supporter of local food producers and independent restaurants in Calgary
“I want to learn more about [cooking] and get better at it so I’m not always necessarily following a recipe,” he said.
When Brandt wrote “I Do,” he had no idea it would become such a hit. A friend he worked with at the hospital asked him to sing at her wedding. He wrote it in 15 minutes the night before she got married.
After the song became a number one hit and the record went gold (it had sold 500,000 copies in the US and one million internationally), Brandt made a plaque with the big gold record. He included the coffee-stained piece of paper on which he had scribbled the song lyrics. He gave it to the couple as a finalization of their wedding present.
4) He’s a humanitarian and uses his public platform to affect social change.
Buckspring Foundation was founded to raise money and awareness to help people, locally and globally, in practical ways. Activities are done in ways informed by Christianity; in a loving and accepting spirit.
The “respectfully disruptive” foundation looks for opportunities to meet practical, physical, emotional and psychosocial needs. Brandt said Buckspring provides a forum for deep conversation and discussion about issues in which many people can relate.
“My music is about family, those simple things—the community—all of those things that seem uncomplicated,”he explained. “Buckspring seems complicated at first but it’s about the things that make us human and allow us to connect—it’s not really that complicated.”
Paul and Liz Brandt during the CCMA Awards in Saskatoon on September 10. Photo credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.
Brandt, Liz and their two children (Joseph and Lily) live on the Buckspring Ranch, a place that was New York’s industrious Vanderbilt family’s summer home over a century ago. The property, which includes a 1900s-era red and white barn, is surrounded by rolling hills and was a gathering place for the Vanderbilts and their friends.
Brandt said the name for the foundation is purposely tied to the name of his home.
“I want to take the history of this place and the history of Paul Brandt and the independent era—all the maker things that are a part of our brand—and use it to create forums for the discussion of absolute truth,” he said.
5) He stands up for children.
The Buckspring Foundation launched the Not In My City campaign on July 6 to raise awareness for human trafficking and sexual exploitation issues in Alberta.
Trafficking has been documented by police at large entertainment and sporting events in Calgary, showing the events are targeted specifically by traffickers.
“Kids as young as nine years old are being sold. There’s actually a price you can pay for a human being in Alberta,” said Brandt. “We need to do something about it and stand up and say ‘no.’”
Not In My City is multi-faceted. Mount Royal University’s marketing students work on the awareness campaign, which targets large entertainment events and engages Calgarians to take a stand against human trafficking.
Calgary designer Paul Hardy built on concepts created by the MRU students to create a beautiful yellow rose image for the Not In My City scarves and bandannas.
Brandt recounted speaking at a Not In My City event this summer:
“It was about the most diverse audience I’ve ever seen, from a religious lifestyle, political standpoint, and they were all galvanized around this truth that the sexual exploitation of women and children is wrong,” said Brandt. “And it allowed our relationship to gel and for us to respect each other because we agreed on that one truth.”
Paul Brandt introduces the Not In My City campaign, which raises awareness for human trafficking issues and engages people to take a stand against the sexual exploitation of children in Calgary.
“The truth is that there are children who are being exploited and we need to do something about it. You can disagree about that or not, but let’s have a conversation about it,” said Brandt. “Be respectfully disruptive. Disruption is great, but if we lose the respect in it, change will never happen.”
Brandt is also helping fundraise for a new mental health facility at his former workplace, the Alberta Children’s Hospital. Liz spoke about the necessity for such a centre in Calgary for youth.
“In ten years since the Children’s Hospital has been open, the mental health needs have increased by 300 per cent, which is not proportionate to the city’s growth,” she said. “And it’s happening all over the developed world.”
“With knowledge comes responsibility,” added Brandt. “And we all have different capacities to affect change. We all have the same responsibility.”
— Jenn Sharp
Jenn Sharp is a freelance journalist. Find her on Twitter.