Country Star Dierks Bentley Talks About His New Album, Home, And His Songwriting
Singer/songwriter Dierks Bentley can fit in just about anywhere. His musical versatility has taken him to bluegrass festivals, Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, honky-tonks and songwriter’s nights with major tunesmiths of Music Row. But for this country superstar there’s no place like home.
Home is the new CD that takes the crooner back into the heart of mainstream country after a brief detour to explore his bluegrass and roots side on the Grammy-nominated album Up on the Ridge.
“This record feels fresh,” Bentley said of his sixth studio project.“It doesn’t feel like a continuation of any other project or series of recordings.”
His previous five albums have sold over five million copies, earned 10 Grammy nominations, have produced seven chart-toppers (What Was I Thinkin'," "Come A Little Closer," "Settle For A Slowdown," "Every Mile A Memory," "Free and Easy (Down The Road I Go)," "Feel That Fire," "Sideways") and 12 Top 10 hits.
"My home is in Nashville with my family, my home is on the road with our fans and my home is definitely in country music," Bentley said. "This album is more than a year's worth of writing, recording and testing out material on the road in front of our hard core fans. The end result is an album that runs through all the types of country songs and sounds I enjoy singing and playing."
That includes the lead-off rowdy single, "Am I The Only One," that topped Billboard's country charts last September and the title cut, "Home," which already was in top ten turf on the chart before the February 7 release of his new CD.
"One of the best parts of being a traveling musician is getting to meet people from all over the country and hear about what's happening in their lives and their towns…the struggles and the joys," says Bentley. "They're the inspiration for this song," Bentley says of "Home." The lyrics speak to the challenges we've had as a country, but hopefully the song leaves you feeling inspired and optimistic."
Bentley, who penned the heartfelt salute to America with Dan Wilson and Brett Beavers, performed the anthem in November at the White House before President Obama in a concert that aired on PBS.
"It's just one of those songs that kind of fell out of the sky," Bentley explained."The initial melody was there pretty quickly, and the idea, the places I call home, really quickly, within an hour. When you're writing one of these kind of songs, you're really taking on a big challenge. It's a really big theme, big anthem really. That kind of makes it scary to finish the rest of the song because you feel like, 'okay. we're going to write that kind of song. It's got to be really great. This is a tough song to finish the right way that isn't polarizing, isn't chest-beating, [but] is relatable to everybody."
Four days before Bentley and his co-writers began working on the song, U.S. Representative Gabby Giffords and her supporters were gunned down in Tucson, Ariz., the singer's home state. While he says that tragedy didn't inspire the song, it weighed heavily on his heart when he picked up the guitar.
"That invokes so many different feelings of anger and questions of why," Bentley said. "And also, of course, the healing process. It all kind of came together in this song."
"I want people to hear the song and have it affect them, so that when we come to do a show we can really jell over the common ideas that we share, the common love of this nation."
Starting Out As A Songwriter
Like many performers, Bentley cut his teeth playing in the clubs for pittance, but that experience provided him with a wealth of experience.
"As a songwriter, you have to learn all the old songs," Bentley said. "And you’re studying those songs, just when you’re playing for tips and stuff. You’re also inadvertently learning the craft of proper structure for a verse and chorus, and the time-honored tradition of country music. There’s not only a good hook, but a good knife-stab in there somewhere that twists the whole story around at the end. A lot of times, I’d write all those lyrics down so I wouldn’t forget them, and in doing that, you can see how a proper song looks, and fits on paper. There’s a lot to learn by learning the old standards"
Bentley would spend many an evening at writer's nights in Nashville at top notch writing venues like Bluebird Cafe', Douglas Corner or The Broken Spoke. He was intimidated and humbled.
"You’d learn that you’re not as good as you thought you were the week before," Bentley remembers. "You go out there and think , ‘Wow, I’ve still got a ways to go'. I had a goal to play the Bluebird Café by the time I turned 23, and I spent a lot of time before that, not in the smaller places, but in the places that didn’t intimidate me as much, just listening. You get to the point where you think, 'I’ve got a couple that can compete with what they’re doing there'. There are always some people there who are terrible, and they’re trying to get stuff figured out. That’s the thing---we’re all trying to get better. There are some folks where you know you’re definitely better than them, and then sometimes, you’re like, 'There’s Tony Lane ("I Need You"/Tim McGraw & Faith Hill, "Run"/George Strait, and "Roll With It"/Easton Corbin). What is he doing down here? He’s always down here'. You learn from those guys and build your confidence up."
He discovered that the prestigious writing spots weren't sacred but an opportune spot to hone his craft.
"I guess the most important thing about those places is learning that it’s not so sacred," Bentley said. "You write your first songs, type them up and put them in a clear protective sleeve, and it’s a finished work, and you don’t touch it. But once you talk to more songwriters, you learn that’s it’s just a song, and you should write one a day. You should pay it for anyone, and you should take any critiques. You’re not Picasso. You’re just one of many who have to come to this town as a songwriter.”
In the beginning, Dierks went through phases of writing alone and then working with friends with writing deals. These days, though, he refuses to complete a song by himself.
"Now, I write stuff on my own, but I never try to finish it for two reasons. A) It is better to have 50% of a song than 100% of nothing, and B) I think it’s fun. The whole process should be enjoyable."
Bill Conger is a freelance writer for various publications including Bluegrass Unlimited, GACTV.com, Bluegrass Music Profiles, Autograph and ParentLife. . He can be reached at email@example.com.