Paul Brandt was six years old when he sang his first song.
Contrary to what one might think of a Canadian country music superstar, it was a gospel tune performed in a small church in Calgary, where his family was part of 75-person congregation.
He continued to sing gospel for years, and the songs about morality, conviction and inspiration paved the way for the Juno Award winning singer/songwriter's illustrious career, he said.
"It was all a cappella music. There were no instruments allowed in the church. It was all as basic as could be," Brandt said Wednesday.
Brandt has returned to those basics for the Just As I Am tour, which kicked off with a performance at the Calvary Community Church on Rogers Way Wednesday night.
The sold-out crowd of 800 people heard a collection of Christian music, many of which were songs Brandt grew up singing.
"I thought, in some ways, to go back to those roots and do it in churches across the country would be appropriate," he said.
The Daily News caught the end of Brandt's sound check Wednesday afternoon, which was attended by 16 fans who also enjoyed the evening show.
Brandt performed a selection of songs for the group, who listened quietly.
"You're so polite," he joked between songs.
One audience member told Brandt it was nice of him to come to Kamloops for such an intimate show.
"It's fun," he replied.
Afterward, Brandt told The Daily News he originally wanted to be a rock and roll star, but an uncle convinced him to enter a talent contest at the Calgary Stampede when he was 16.
He took part in the contest for three years and finally won by singing a selection of Garth Brooks songs.
"Country kind of stuck, and I'm glad. It really is my musical north star. It's kind of where I draw a lot of my inspiration from," he said. "But these are my roots."
The album the tour is in support of was born six years ago during a conversation between Brandt and Memphis session musician Gordon Mote.
Mote plays piano on Just As I Am and has accompanied Brandt on the tour.
Brandt always wanted to cut a gospel album, saying musical icons like Johnny Cash and Elvis did so.
"It became kind of not usual after awhile for people to do that anymore and I wanted to be one of those artists that did," he said.
Musically, Just As I Am has challenged Brandt to return to a simpler style of music. Playing country and pop songs in an arena setting is about being loud and energetic. Gospel has forced him to be quiet.
The songs Brandt performed for his fans found him seated on stool with just his voice, his guitar and a small band to back him up.
"It's kind of kicking my butt a bit. It's been good," he said.
All the proceeds from the Just As I Am tour go to the ministries of the churches he performs in. Brandt is also running a contest through his Build It Forward Foundation that will see an audience member take part in a humanitarian project in Haiti.
"It will be fun," he said.
Brandt's next stop is Abbotsford. The tour wraps up in St. Catherine's, Ont. on June 7.