Interview: Paul Brandt

(Dec 2018) It’s every young musician’s dream. At the beginning of your career you get picked up by a lable in America and become an overnight success. The adult’s dream is to maintain that success throughout your life and do something worthy. Paul Brandt has done both. 13 CCMA nods, 7 Junos, countless nominations. His first release “My Heart Has a History” went #1 in Canada and he’s never looked back. Among his other successes are his family and children and his work as a humanitarian. Having helped raise awareness for numerous causes, he and his wife Liz are balancing the family, the show biz and a foundation aimed at eradicating Human Trafficking. We spoke by phone while he organized his life, before leaving on his next adventure…

Mb: Hey Paul. How are you doing?
Paul: I’m doing well!
Mb: You at home? Where are you?
Paul: Ya. I’ve got a little barn that I have my studio in, and I’m out here right now.
Mb: Let me guess. Based on the amount of material you have, I’ll guess you’re writing a song.
Paul: (laughs) Right now, no! We’re actually in the throws of planning for this tour. We’re about 43 days out now and it feels like Christmas is coming and Christmas is coming. It’s just busy, busy, busy!
Mb: I’m looking at your tour. That’s a lot of sleepless nights.
Paul: It’s going to be good! It’s a great group of folks. I’ve had a chance to work with Jess (Moskaluke) and the Hunter Brothers and High Valley, a few times in the past. High Valley and Jess, more than the Hunter Brothers, they’re a little bit newer to me, but a great group of people and I think we’re going to have a lot of fun out there.
Mb: So let’s get a bit of the back story. 1997, a young Paul Brandt becomes one of the biggest things going and… how did that feel?
Paul: Ya, it was moving so quick it was really kind of hard to take everything in. I remember being in Toronto shooting a music video, for a song called I Meant to do That when the word came in to me. It must have been about midnight or so, while we were shooting. I Do had just gone #1. It was moving so quickly it was hard to keep track of everything and really completely appreciate it, but it starts to sink in over the years. I remember that call and I think, that’s the thing that really stuck in my head. I was working at the Children’s Hospital in Calgary. I was an RN there, still mooching off my parents at home. I came home from work one day and Dad’s sitting on the couch and he has this completely distant look and he looks at me and is like “There’s a message on the phone.” I pick it up and it’s this southern accent, a lady named Page Levy from Warner Reprise Records and she’s like “I got your demo and I think you’re real good, and I want to come up and see you and your band play.” So I called her and said “Ya sure come on up!” Then I called a buddy of mine, right after, and said “Dude, you’ve got to help me put a band together!” (laughs) I was playing for friends in coffee shops and my basement and all of a sudden, Nashville’s calling and literally within a year I’m doing 180 shows a year and traveling in a bus all over the place. It changed everything for me, so ya those were some fast moving and very cool times.
Mb: Was your dad’s blank stare as if to say “You’ve already got a great career as an RN, oh no!”
Paul: I think in some ways, it was a bit of disbelief. They were always incredibly supportive and I always loved music, but I don’t think any of us really thought that this could happen. I was pursuing music, entering talent contests, but really, if I dug deep, I did it because I loved it. It wasn’t because I was trying to make it. I just loved it. I couldn’t stop it. It was an obsession and a habit. Then to get that call all of a sudden, the whole family, including myself, were like “Wait a minute, are you serious?” It was a very surprising and exciting moment for everybody.
Mb: And now you’re a super successful dude, married with a couple of kids… do they go on the road with you?
Paul: They did in the early days, but they’re 8 and 10 now. Both in hockey and busy with school and all that kind of stuff, and it’s hard. We don’t want to break their routine to take them out on the road, which makes it a little tougher. I mean, I don’t want to complain. I always joke with people that this is better than a real job, that’s for sure. I’m having a blast, but it’s tough to be away from family, especially at these ages. We pick and choose a little more now. We go out and do anywhere from 30 to 45 shows and we’ll go out every couple of years and little things here and there in between. Back in the day at 180 shows a year I’m not sure how people with kids do it. I think it would be really challenging. I remember the baby days when they came out with us and Liz was still singing with the band. Now, the last time I remember them being at a show I was playing at the Saddledome in Calgary. Great crowd, the place is going nuts and I’m playing Convoy and I look out in the audience and there’s this giant 10 foot inflatable rubber duck floating over the audience. I mean, it was just this giant rock and roll moment and I look over at my kids and I’m thinking “They’re going to think their dad is so cool right now!” and they’re both on their devices! (laughs) They didn’t even look up! It was like “Ya, whatever Dad.” I think it’s good they think what I’m doing is kind of just normal, just Dad’s job, you know?
Mb: Now they think anything is doable.
Paul: Totally. I think it’s a good thing for them. I mean, Liz is more of a practical, pragmatic, binary type person. Her degree is in mathematics and I’m this sensitive songwriter, and the dreamer-side, which I think is an important one for kids to have… I think for everyone to have. The kids see this and think “Ya anything is possible.”
Mb: To be a nurse, you must have a big heart, and it’s reflected in your lyrics and music and videos. You decide to give back, beyond your music. Tell me about Not in My City.
Paul: Ya, Liz and I started a foundation, it’s now called the Buckspring Foundation, probably 8 years ago now. The idea was, we had a lot of different organizations that wanted to work with us and became really great partners utilizing the platform we had to raise money and awareness of causes that they were passionate about. All of a sudden we went “Wait a minute! We have a lot of causes that we’re really passionate about too, and that we’d like to get our hands a little bit dirty and behind the scenes on.” So, we started our own foundation. One of the issues that really deeply impacted us in our international travels was the issue of human trafficking. We were exposed to it, probably 14 years ago now, in Southeast Asia for the first time. It just totally rocked our world. Most goodwill people don’t even allow the idea to enter their heads that, there are people who are literally being sold in the world, whether it’s for labour or sex trafficking, and we saw it first hand. We saw children who were being trafficked for the purposes of sex and the organization we were visiting while we were there, had enough… They were poorly resourced. They only had enough money to pay the rate that someone would pay to take these children and abuse them. So they would pay that rate for the day to take them out and let them just be kids in a safe place. They would let them play with toys and give them an escape for that day. But at the end of the day they had to take them back. That just killed us to think “Wait a minute, this is happening every single day!?” So we started to work with organizations internationally to figure out ways that we could help raise funds and some awareness, but then I came back to Canada and started meeting people who were fighting this fight and realized it was one of the fastest growing crimes in Canada. The youngest victim I’ve met was 7 years old the first time she was trafficked right here. Over 90% of human trafficking victims in Canada are Canadian. They don’t come from somewhere else. They are our kids. So me and Liz really wanted to get behind something and effect change and educate people and help them to understand that there’s something they can do about this dark issue. They don’t just have to accept it. So we started Not In My City in co-operatioon with Mount Royal University. The partnerships have been growing and it’s been mind boggling. In about 18 months, we’ve raised about $700,000. We’ve partnered with the city of Calgary, the Calgary Police Service, Calgary International Airport and now just starting a partnership with the Edmonton International Airport. And, some big announcements coming soon with our corporate sponsors as well. It’s great to know there are other people out there with huge hearts that want to change this and stand up for kids. It’s been a very exciting part of my career to be part of this. When we value the most vulnerable people in our society, it fixes a whole bunch of different issues that we see every single day.
Mb: And where’s the fine-line between educating people and entertaining them? At your shows, where’s that moment for you?
Paul: Totally, and you can’t be too heavy. Every good song, every good conversation like every good story, it’s got an arc and you can have those moments when you’re going to wipe a tear away, or you’re going to get angry about something, but you’ve got to infuse it with everyday life. Life’s not all horrible. There’s some amazing things, even in this world where we’re constantly bombarded with negative messages. There’s some amazing people and things going on around the world. Great victories on the side of good that are happening and I think you have to try and balance all of those things. As tragic it is that people are being trafficked, there are people who have been set free from that and are now helping other people get out. That’s amazing. That’s wonderful and that’s the stuff we want to see more of.

Paul Brandt appears Friday February 15, 7pm
at the Peterborough Memorial Centre #NOTINMYCITY