Dierks Bentley: 'I don't want to talk about fluff'
Singer/songwriter gets messy on new album 'Riser'
Bombed. Bombed…My whole career shifted when I pulled the plug on the country music machine for a little bit and did [2010’s bluegrass album] Up on the Ridge. That was me just saying, “I’ve got to walk away and get creative,” and then when I come back from that, that record didn’t do huge numbers and it wasn’t a big hit on the radio but my fans loved it.
That just kind of taught me that when I first got into this thing I was failing all the time but I was getting back up. Then you get a record deal and it’s like you can play it too safe and so the bluegrass record was me playing it as unsafe as possible and from there forward it’s like, “Yeah. Let’s just go for things whether they’re going to work or not,” and “Bourbon,” I honestly knew was going to be really hard. We said, “This is summertime and we’re going to go out there playing this song and it’s just so dark.”
But hey, we tried it and I hate that it didn’t work out for the songwriters that wrote it. I don’t feel like we retreated with “I Hold On.” I’ve been playing it all year long on the Miranda [Lambert] tour before the record was even finished and it’s probably the most important song to me on the record. It’s so personal. It’s about my truck. It’s about my dad. It’s about my guitar. It’s about my wife. It’s about our country. It’s crazy personal, so the fact that it’s a hit, that it works, it looks easy now. It’s a top 10 song. It’s doing great. But it was a big question mark whether even that that would work.
There’s no party anthem on here like “Sideways,” “5150” or “Am I The Only One.” Are you done with those kinds of songs?
Let’s say the finish line is on those types of songs…that party song. Let’s say there’s this place you want to get to. I just think this record is like, “Let’s find a different way to get there,” because I’ve gotten there the most direct route. I’ve gotten there like A to B. Okay. Let’s still get to B from A but let’s find a little different [way] like “Pretty Girls Drinking Tall Boys” The title makes you think it’s going to be one thing but it’s more just like kind of a stoner groove for lack of a better word but it still gets there. It still reaches that place. It just gets there in maybe a cooler way.
In the documentary, Miranda talks about how much she loves that song. Is she mad she didn’t get to record it?
Blake [Shelton] is friends with the guys I wrote that with, Jon Randall and Jessi Alexander. Jessi’s had a bunch of Blake hits and I heard Blake’s like, “If Dierks doesn’t make that single I’m going to make it so you’d better tell him to make that single.” I’ve been fighting for that song since it came out. I love it.
“Here On Earth” does something not a lot of country songs do, which is question your faith.
Questioning your beliefs. Questioning your faith.
It’s not only about not being able to understand losing your dad, but also a child after the Sandy Hook school shootings.
It’s one thing to lose your parents. That’s a natural progression. You can relate to anybody on that. It’s going to happen to everyone and it’s a real stinker. It’s awful, but that’s normal. Losing a child is not normal and that’s kind of where that song really came from…it’s like, “Okay so you’re a believer, but it’s easy to be in normal times. But what about extreme situations like that?” And it really tests your faith and the song has no resolution. All it’s saying is, “All I know for fact is the answers aren’t here in this world.”
You’re getting ready to do your first headline tour 10 years after your first album came out.
God, I’m so excited. We started trying to headline in 2006 and we were playing places that hold 20,000 people and we had a fan base of about 2,500 people at the time. So I’m playing these huge arenas and they’re draped and curtained and I would sing my heart out and die on that stage. I would kill every night. I tried to anyway. And the review the next day would be like, “Oh…Dierks Bentley…poor guy. He played Ohio like he was playing to a sold out arena. Unfortunately it was not that…” We did that for like three years, just could not get it through our heads, so I walked away from it…So instead of the obvious way to get there it was like, “Okay…We’re going back around this way and with the right records maybe we’ll get a chance to have lightning strike our kite one more time.” And it did. Here it is…2014 and we’re headlining amphitheaters and I’m so excited.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from opening for other people?
I think the biggest thing I learned would still be from Kenny Chesney. He was just so kind and gracious to all the opening acts and it passes down. He gave me a boat at the end of the tour and then when Miranda opened for me, I gave her a pistol. And then Miranda this year gave me an ATV. And that all kind of started with Kenny.
So that means your opening acts will get gifts.
I’m already geeking about this stuff. My tour doesn’t start until May and I’m already thinking about what music is going to be playing when the crowd walks in the venue? How can we make each show feel local? What songs can I do with the guys on the tour? What gifts am I going to give them when the tour starts?