With his instantly recognizable rich baritone, Paul Brandt has enjoyed a string of hit records and awards since his debut album, Calm Before the Storm, was released in 1996. On October 16, Paul released his 11th studio album, Just As I Am, a collection of well-loved gospel songs done with a bluegrass twist. "I cut my teeth on these songs," Paul told us in the December issue of Canadian Living. "These songs influenced and affected my life in a positive way and [this album] is something I want to be a part of my legacy, artistically and for my family." The Calgary native's new 10-track collection includes songs such as Jesus Loves Me, Amazing Grace and I'll Fly Away, favourites that Paul will be able to share with his kids, Joseph, 4, and Lily, 2. Paul and his wife, Liz, celebrated their 15th anniversary earlier this year. We recently chatted with the eight-time Juno Award winner about his early music memories, what inspires him and holiday traditions old and new. [caption id="attachment_13743" align="aligncenter" width="300"] On his new album, Paul is joined by special guests such as Patty Loveless, Ricky Skaggs and High Valley.[/caption] Tell us about your new album. “It’s called ‘Just As I Am.’ It’s been a dream of mine to do an album of the songs I grew up with and introduced me to music. The songs are either traditional older traditional gospel hymns or songs that I’m covering, such as Kris Kristofferson’s 'Why Me'." Can you talk a bit about why a particular song on the album is meaningful to you? “There’s one called ‘ It Is Well with My Soul’ that has always been a favourite of mine. It was written by a British businessman who was living in Chicago and lost everything during the Great Chicago Fire. As he was trying to get his life back together he sent his four daughters and wife back to London. On their trip over they were shipwrecked and he lost his daughters. His wife sent a telegram that said “saved alone” and he knew that she had at least made it back to England. The song he wrote as he crossed the area where the shipwreck happened is a song that has become a source of strength and encouragement for people around the world.” [caption id="attachment_13733" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Photo by Todd Korol[/caption] What are some of your earliest musical memories? “We were quite sheltered – we weren’t allowed to listen to secular music on the radio and didn’t even have a television until I was about 13 years old. But I always had this love for music. I loved to sing. I loved words. I remember writing poetry at a very early age. When I was probably eight or nine years old I found it really fun to read dictionaries and thesauruses, go into books like Barlett’s Quotable Quotes and read about word origins and phrases. "I was six when my parents started going to a small church in Calgary. We stopped going to that church around the time I turned 13…and there was lot more tolerated in our house all of a sudden. I had picked up a guitar in a general music class at school. The first song I learned was Ian Tyson’s ‘Four Strong Winds’. I played it for my mom and she was beside herself. She was so excited to see that I had some sort of musical ability that she got me lessons right away. That was the first time the music and the poetry came together.” Where do you find inspiration as a songwriter? “Writing is a very introspective time for me and quite private. I’ll schedule time to just be completely focused on writing. It can be anything from my new experiences as a father to trips that we’ve taken to developing countries, my own personal successes or struggles. Sometimes you'll just hear a phrase that sticks in your ear and come up with a song from it. “I have to know what I think about something before I see if I can write it in a way that connects with people. I think music is partly escapist, it’s about helping people rise above difficulty and enjoy life. I love that part of it. I also believe music is a great tool to send ideas and to share your your views on different topics. I think every artist in one way or another is doing that. They’re letting people see a glimpse into their take on the world. I find that I need to have that time.” [caption id="attachment_13745" align="aligncenter" width="255"] Photo by Todd Korol[/caption] Are there any Christmas traditions in the Brandt home? “My grandfather was a grumpy man, but he was also a real child at heart, and Christmas was important to him. He’d wait for us to dig to the bottom of our stockings for the mandarin orange my grandmother left. He’d want us to hurry up and eat it so we could open presents. Little things like that have become traditions.” What about new traditions? “Last Christmas a new tradition came to be for us. We’ve always been hockey fans, but I was asked to write a song for the World Junior Hockey Championships [which were held in Calgary and Edmonton]. It's called ‘I Was There’ and it ended up raising funds for kids who are financially disadvantaged and wouldn’t have an opportunity to get into hockey. It was a song that celebrated the moments that most hockey families go through.” [HTML1] What’s coming up for you in 2013? “We’re planning on supporting the album with a national tour. The album has a more traditional sound to it than anything I’ve ever done and it’s requiring that we really tweak our live show and try new things. Whenever you get out on a limb like that it’s always a bit nerve-wracking, but I’m excited about sharing this music and exploring a bit of a new sound." What is your favourite Paul Brandt song? (Mine is "I'm Gonna Fly.") Is there a song from your childhood that still means a lot to you? And since it's never too early to talk about Christmas (OK, maybe that's not true), do you have a holiday tradition – old or new – that you look forward to every year?