For a native Canadian who's established himself as a country-blues force, it's odd to think that Doug Paisley's roots are actually planted in the sandy foundations of reggae.
Growing up in Toronto, which housed a large Caribbean population throughout the '90s, Paisley, with a rhythm guitar in hand, developed his musical tastes alongside Rastafarians. But, as he claims, reggae and country carry more similarities than one would think. There's simplicity to both styles of music, Paisley says. Those narrow boundaries require a discipline to play within the established lines. The musicians must support each other. It's a trait that's followed Paisley as he's worked through a résumé of tribute songs, bare-bones bluegrass and, finally, a country romp that takes as many cues from Kingston as it does the Rockies.
It helps that Paisley has actually been to Jamaica, too. Traveling to Kingston in 2010 and 2012, he gained firsthand exposure to the almost spiritual approach that defined his earliest musical memories.
"People are just playing music and dancing everywhere," he says. "I think going to a place like Jamaica reminds you that music can have a big place in people's lives. It's kind of like their oxygen, in a way."
You can feel that energy in Paisley's latest album, Strong Feelings. Ditching the solo act that defined his first outings, 2008's Doug Paisley and 2010's Constant Companion, Paisley recruited an entire team of musicians for his latest go-around. With a roster boasting Mary Margaret O'Hara, the Cairo Gang's Emmett Kelly, Leslie Feist and others, Strong Feelings is Paisley's ode to the restlessness of Jamaica's music-saturated streets.
That's not to say Paisley's music is some gimmicky hybrid. He's still a country musician at his core, with the flannel shirts and semi-groomed, rusty-red mustache to prove it. If reggae is the Jiminy Cricket on his shoulder, then country icons George Jones and Glen Campbell are his Mr. Miyagi, filling his head with the twangs and unpretentious rhythms needed to make it as a folk artist.
Paisley considers himself a constant student of music, which isn't surprising. He first cut his teeth as part of a Stanley Brothers tribute act, paying homage to a popular bluegrass duo from the time of sock hops and first-generation Buicks. But covering the Stanleys was more than just imitation for Paisley. He could feel their buzzing banjo picks. He could connect to their howling swoons.
"I think that, once I felt that connection to a song, it became more than just learning a song," Paisley says. "I wanted to experience that feeling more and more. And that's why I started writing—for that connection."
Paisley's lyrics follow no certain script. To him, the words must be in service of the music. He finds that by exploring broad but powerful feelings of love and loss, discovery and nostalgia, he doesn't feel beholden to any particular subject matter.
"I've never just taken one thing that happened to me or one idea, and stuck with that for a whole song," Paisley says. "There's a lot at play."
And that's really what Strong Feelings is all about. It's a culmination of his fiercest memories, emotions and experiences. From "Radio Girl," which recounts the love affair he had with every new musician he discovered in his childhood record shop, to "Our Love," featuring a group melody that honors his reggae upbringing with a restricted uniformity. With a guitar and keyboard as his constant companions, he wants to show that country music doesn't always have to be in direct service to albums of the past.
"That's one of my principles: not trying to sound like any of the stuff I like, and trying to put different things in so it doesn't sound derived," he says.
This might explain why Paisley credits his latest voyage to Kingston as one of his largest influences. There's nothing like a little Rasta vigor to pull a country album out of the slow-rolling tumbleweeds.
"Jamaica helped me make the album," he says. "My trip helped me tap into some of that energy. It's half of why I liked music in the first place.â
SEE IT: Doug Paisley plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Josh Rouse, on Thursday, June 12. 9 pm. $18 advance, $20 day of show. 21+.