A year ago, country star Brad Paisley watched the news on television as Russian troops invaded Ukraine and, like many people around the world, he felt helpless at the images of people fleeing their homes.
“The world felt like it was in a new place that it hadn’t been in decades," the three-time Grammy winner recalls.
On Friday, the one-year anniversary of the war's start, Paisley is releasing a new song called “Same Here," featuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaking proudly about his country and people.
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The song is Paisley's first from his new record, “Son of the Mountains,” to be released later this year on Universal Music Group Nashville.
The West Virginia native wrote the song with Lee Thomas Miller (co-writer on Paisley hits “The World” and “Perfect Storm”) and Dawes frontman Taylor Goldsmith. It's a three-part narrative that reflects on universal similarities, despite distance and language.
While it doesn't mention Ukraine specifically, the song ends with Paisley and Zelenskyy in conversation, recorded during a video call. Zelenskyy talks about Ukrainians' desire for freedom, adding “There is no distance between our two countries in such values.”
“There’s just no differences," Paisley told The Associated Press. “You can put us in different places with different flags and different languages, but we have so many similarities.”
Paisley is one of several celebrity ambassadors for Ukraine's United24 crowdfunding effort, and has donated his time for other fundraising efforts to assist Ukrainians. But even he thought it would be a long shot to have the direct involvement of Zelenskyy, who has traveled the world advocating for Ukraine's military and recovery efforts.
“I think he understands that art is how you reach the most people, especially in the heart," Paisley said of Zelenskyy, who was an actor and comedian before becoming president.
"He can give as many speeches as he can give, but it's a lot easier to hear something with a melody maybe.”
Zelenskyy didn't just sign off on the song; he also suggested some changes to it, Paisley said.
Paisley's royalties for the song will be donated to United24 to help build housing for thousands of displaced Ukrainians whose homes were destroyed in the war, he said. Using his platform to advocate for causes important to him has always been part of his career, whether it was opening a free grocery store in Nashville with his wife, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, or fighting hunger by donating 1 million meals during the pandemic.
“I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t sort of swing for the fence with things like this," Paisley said. “For me, I’m happiest dealing with stuff as a songwriter that’s very true and very, very passionate. And sometimes I don’t know if you’d call it risky, but it’s more like it’s bigger than me.”
Paisley brings his passion on stage during live shows. He's been changing the lyrics to his hit song “American Saturday Night,” for instance, to replace a reference to the U.S.S.R. to “There's a Ukrainian flag hanging up behind the bar."
The new record will be his debut on UMG since moving from Sony's Arista label, and he said “Same Here” reflects the kinds of big universal themes on it.
“We do deal with stuff going on in the world," Paisley said. "How do you sing about things that are truly big — a big deal right now — that also don’t feel like maybe they’re the type of thing that you would be singing about typically? And yeah, on this album I have kind of really dug deep and tried to say something.”
Paisley, who has visited U.S. troops in Afghanistan, said he's been invited to visit Ukraine, which he'd like to do. In the meantime, he hopes the song's message will bolster the country now facing down year two of the war.
“That’s where it gets really rewarding... feeling like maybe the heart of this helps paint the picture they want to paint," Paisley said.