Dierks Bentley interview

A chat with Dierks Bentley

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The past few years, EMI Nashville recording artist Dierks Bentley has become one of the hottest stars in country music. With four Number One singles in 2006 alone, Bentley has joined the ranks of Tim McGraw, George Strait and Alan Jackson in country music stature, and he’s done it practically overnight. No stranger to hard work and touring, Bentley deserves all of that success and then some, and recently he took a few minutes to chat with us about that success and what is in store for 2007 and beyond.

Bullz-Eye: Did you get to check out our site?

Dierks Bentley: I did check it out. It’s very cool, man!

BE: Thanks!

DB: You guys get a lot of views and I’m glad to be a part of it, so thank you.

BE: Yeah cool! Did you get distracted by all the women on it?

DB: (laughs) Kind of reminds me a little of Maxim or something, which I think is cool.

BE: So, the last few years have seen you progress quite a bit as an artist, and you’re now recognized as one of the stars among George Strait and Tim McGraw. Did you ever think you’d come so far so fast?

DB: It hasn’t felt that fast to me. I moved to Nashville when I was 19, and I’m 31 now. So it kind of feels like it’s been a long trek, but I got a record deal in 2001 and since then I’ve been touring kind of nonstop. It feels like all the groundwork, all the homework I did playing bars and clubs back in Nashville has kind of paid off. We kind of came out of the gate knowing what we were trying to do and what we wanted to accomplish musically, and it’s all gone really well since then.

BE: And I noticed you have a grueling tour schedule that’s more typical of a rock band.

DB: Yeah, that’s kind of the approach we took. We definitely tour more then anyone else back in Nashville.

BE: Is that your choice or the label’s choice?

DB: It’s my choice. I’ve been waiting a long time to get out here and do this. We started the radio tour back in January of 2003 just kind of going and visiting radio stations, and taking the new song (to radio) and it started turning into a couple of gigs as the song went up the charts and all of a sudden a lot of gig offers came in. And I took every one of them. There’s a lot of stuff that comes with playing music for a living, but the part that I love is being onstage. The hour and a half is where I live. That’s why we’re out here playing so much. And that’s how we’re building up our fan base, our real core fan base, through touring and not through TV and not through…

BE: …through radio as much?

DB: Yeah, well country radio is huge. We’re just backing up the airplay we get with country radio through live shows and hanging out with the fans before the show and hanging out after the show. Just building it up, one town at a time.

BE: Unlike a lot of great country music singers, you write your own material. Do you think telling your own stories helps to convey the messages in your songs?

DB: For me it does. The guys who I really look up to, like George Strait, he doesn’t write his stuff. But I think people almost write songs for George. Everyone knows him so well, that it sounds like he wrote the stuff that he does when he’s singing. There’s a lot of stuff that comes out of Nashville where you can really tell the person that’s singing the song really is disconnected from the actual song itself. For me it’s just, you know, I try to be a songwriter first and foremost and I certainly know that when I’m onstage singing a song that I wrote, and there is an obvious connection. Our audience can probably feel a song better then they would if I was singing a song that I didn’t write just because of that.

"And so (my family) was always semi-supportive. They always wanted to know what Plan B was. I don't think they liked it when I told them that when you have a Plan B, Plan B turns into Plan A. So on purpose I was making sure I didn't have a Plan B."

BE: Okay.

DB: If that makes any sense. That’s the long way around it. I’m not sure what I said there, dude. It’s pretty early in the morning for me.

BE: (laughs) That’s cool. And I noticed you have a lot of the same co-writers on your stuff.

DB: Yeah.

BE: Does your label or management always trying to get you to co-write with guys like Craig Wiseman or Rivers Rutherford?

DB: I’d like to write with those guys myself, just because they’re friends of mine. I’ve been in Nashville for a long time and have known those guys for a long time. For me, there’s a long list of guys who I’d love to write with, starting with Jim Lauderdale and Buddy Miller and Tim O’Brien. A lot of the alt, indie, country, folk guys would be on my list before Rivers or Craig Wiseman just because I love what they do. But for me, the problem is I tour so much. Right before I called you, I was sitting here working on a song in the back lounge. When I do get time off, I’m probably going to take it to just to write with Brett (Beavers, Bentley’s producer and co-writer), just because he’s one of my best friends and we just connect. I kind of trust him with the song to steer it in the right direction. And we know each other and we like the same kind of music, so it’s just fun. We have a good time hanging out, so I kind of lean toward a core group of guys to write with. But hopefully one day there will come a time when I take some time off the road to get a chance to experiment and write with some of those guys. Rodney Crowell, Radney Foster, Marty Stewart – those are some guys I would really just love to spend some time with.

BE: I’m a publicist too and we’re doing tour press for Dualtone, so we work with Radney and Guy Clark.

DB: That whole label is great. Great label and great guys and they have great artists on that label. Radney’s great and I’d love to get a chance to write with him sometime. He’s incredible.

BE: I noticed you come from a non-musical family. How did they feel initially about your move to Nashville?

DB: You know, kind of skeptical about it. They knew that the dream burns like it did for me, the passion or whatever…and it was all I could think about. There’s no other way to come to Nashville. All I thought about was country music, and I wanted to get a chance to sing and play and be a part of it. And so they were always semi-supportive. They always wanted to know what Plan B was. I don’t think they liked it when I told them that when you have a Plan B, Plan B turns into Plan A. So on purpose I was making sure I didn’t have a Plan B.

BE: Good for you.

DB: Thanks, man!

BE: Long Trip Alone is considered to show your maturation process as a person and as an artist. Was it a conscious effort when you wrote the material or did it just happen that way?

DB: I think it just kind of happened that way. I think in my mind there is always a push ahead with the live show and push ahead to take it somewhere new. I’m not content just to put out an album that sounds like the record before. I was trying to move forward in that direction and I think with this record some stuff came out, you know, in songwriting. I’ve been on t he road for the last four years straight. So when you sit on the front seat of a bus that long, you really think about a lot of heavy things at times. And a song like “Long Trip Alone” is more of a prayer than a song to me. Some stuff came out that is kind of bigger sounding and with bigger messages. We’ve kept it in line with some songs that are definitely honky-tonk, beer joint stompers. But there’s definitely some big songs on this record.

BE: “Every Mile a Memory” was the first single, right?

DB: Yes.

BE: And it hit Number One a couple of weeks ago?

DB: It did. It went Number One about three or four weeks ago.

BE: And is that your first Number One?

DB: Actually I had three Number Ones this year.

BE: Oh, okay!

DB: Only singer in Nashville to have three Number Ones in one year. But the fourth one I had overall, so yeah, I guess it’s been a pretty big year.

BE: That’s awesome.

DB: Somebody just sent me an e-mail yesterday saying that I was the only one to have four Number Ones this year, so that’s pretty cool.

BE: That’s awesome. And you recently got married?

DB: Yeah, I got married almost a year ago.

BE: So what’s the longest stretch of time you’ve been away from your wife while touring?

DB: Longest stretch I’ve been away? Two or three weeks I guess.

BE: Has it been hard?

DB: Yeah, it’s tough. We’d like to keep it more in the everyday range with seeing each other, but there are times, like right now, when I’m on a west coast run, that makes it difficult. We try to keep it no more than four days at the most but it’s hard sometimes to do that.

BE: I guess it’s not like the days when Bon Jovi would go out on tour for a year and a half straight.

DB: Oh, yeah. I guarantee Bon Jovi, maybe back in their day, did that. But I’ve got a record that’s pretty good. We did 25 shows in 25 days. And actually the girl who put together our tour, her husband holds the Guinness Book of World Records for gigs. They did 352 gigs one year. We tour a lot. There were times when I opened up for George Strait, we’d go play a show with George in front of 25,000 people, and when our set was done we’d go play a frat house for three hours, just for the hell of it. As far as Nashville goes, there is no one that tours as hard as us. We’ve been gone literally for four years straight. We’ve had breaks here and there but nothing more than two or three days off at a time.

BE: Cool.

DB: When I made this last record, I took ten days off, and that was it. I did all the work on the road, all the production. Everything was done out here. And I went back to Nashville and got in the studio and already had it mapped out and had my fingers crossed for a little magic, a little luck.

BE: Yeah, it came out great, dude, by the way. I love the record.

DB: Thanks, man. I think there is something to the chaos of making a record that way. You don’t have time to over-think it. You plan it all out here and then you get in the studio and you’re confident enough in the prep work you’ve done to allow the players and musicians to be creative and let them go somewhere with it. But you know where the foundation is if you have to go back to it.

BE: So what is the songwriting process like for you? Do you do the lyrics or music first?

DB: For me, I’d have to say that lyrics come in the form of a melody. But when I play guitar, I’m not playing chords and stuff that give me melodic ideas. I pretty much hear the words with the melody and try to put them down in the basic form. A lot of times I’ll avoid the guitar altogether and sing into a tape recorder so I don’t mess up the melody by playing a big G-chord on it when that’s the only chord I can play.

BE: Right.

DB: So I try to stay away from that. So yeah, probably the words come first.

BE: Okay. And we’re doing a feature…all the writers for Bull-Eye are doing our top albums for the year. Can you give me your top three for 2006?

DB: Any genre?

BE: Yeah.

DB: The Killers. That record is great. George Strait’s new album and Alan Jackson’s new one are both great as well.

BE: How about top three movies?

DB:Borat.” That was great. I think his TV show is almost funnier, but the movie was great. Oh, gosh. What else have I seen this year? I mean we live on a bus, we watch a lot of movies. I watch “Tombstone,” like, once a week. I would have loved to have seen “Tenacious D in 'The Pick of Destiny'” if I had the chance, but I haven’t yet.

BE: What about touring plans for 2007?

DB: Right now, the name of this tour is the Locked and Loaded tour. And we’re headed to Vegas on December 8, then taking a week off to go Hawaii. We’re going to watch U2 play with Pearl Jam in Hawaii, which will be awesome.

BE: Oh, cool!

DB: Yeah. Pearl Jam’s last record was a good one, too. We’re going to go watch them play and then we go up to Canada (on) January 5 to tour some more. It’s a good time to go to Canada, by the way.

BE: Yeah! (laughs) It’s going to be a little chilly.

DB: (laughs) Yeah, the Locked and Loaded Canada tour, that goes on till the end of January. Then we go straight from that to the tour I call the High Times and Hangovers tour. This is our third year of doing it. We go play nothing but the smallest bars, nothing over 800 seats.

BE: That’s cool!

DB: We’re out with a band called Crossed Canadian Ragweed on that tour, a bunch of guys from Texas that are good friends of mine. And then as soon as that tour ends, we go back out on the spring portion of that Locked and Loaded tour and that ends in May. And in May I’m going to take two weeks off to work on a record. Then at the end of May we’ll go back to doing a lot of summer stuff, fairs and festivals, and then start a new headlining tour again in the fall.

BE: That sounds good!

DB: Yeah, we’re busy!

BE: Do you have any funny stories from the road at all?

DB: Man, something happens everyday that’s either gross or weird. Yesterday the bass player for Miranda Lambert was walking up the stairs and they’re attached to the stage and the stairs gave way. Man, he sliced his pinky open so bad! It hurts just to think about it! But, man, just crazy stuff you see people doing every night. I mean obviously you get stuff, girls toss stuff up on the stage, certain clothing items which is, you know, all part of the job.

BE: (laughs) Right.

DB: It’s a high-risk job, you know, having to watch stuff flying at you.

BE: Sure. Oh that reminds me. Are you able to go out in Nashville at all or do mobbed if you go out anywhere?

On a jilted fan who was denied a kiss: "She got really mad. She had been drinking. And halfway though the show, I looked over, and there she is, about one section up on the left, standing up, giving me the bird with both fingers. Everyone around her is just going crazy."DB: No. I’m so low-key. I don’t have tour managers and people hanging all around me. When we go out it is very low-key and just easy. Nashville is such a great town, too. No one mobs me. But the weirdest thing that’s happened recently was when there was a woman that came through our meet-and-greet line one time, and she got really mad at me for some reason. She wanted me to kiss her or something. I was like, “You can’t do that.” She got really mad. She had been drinking. And halfway though the show, I looked over, and there she is, about one section up on the left, standing up, giving me the bird with both fingers. Everyone around her is just going crazy. (laughs) So I jumped offstage, during the middle of a song, jumped offstage and ran up to her and was laughing so hard. It was almost, like, complimentary; because you always have people screaming and shouting, but I’ve never had someone just flick me off with so much anger. It kind of worked out well because the song I was singing at the time was a kiss-off song called “So So Long.” And I got the crowed really involved in it, and as soon as I was done singing, the whole place was booing her. Security had to escort her out. It was pretty wild.

BE: How did she react to that?

DB: Oh, man. She was angry. Drunk and angry, you know.

BE: That’s hilarious.

DB: And we played last night in Idaho, and it was the record for the fastest someone started a fight and got kicked out. They love to fight up in Montana and Idaho. But within the first verse of the first song, three security guards were wrestling this huge guy to the ground and kicking him out. After that song, I had to tell the crowd, “You’ll always have a place in our hearts because I’ll remember this place as the fastest anyone has ever gotten kicked out of one of our shows.”

BE: That’s great.

DB: It’s something every night.

BE: What kind of hobbies do you have outside of music?

DB: I have a Harley Davidson. I love riding motorcycles, and just being on the lake. When I have a day off and I can be out on the water somewhere, that’s my hobby.

BE: What is your favorite place to eat on the road?

DB: Probably some good Mexican food. Local stuff is the best.

BE: And where have you had the best Mexican?

DB: Well I’m from Arizona, so I have Mexican every time I go back home. This little place called Los Olivos is probably still my favorite Mexican food.

BE: Well, that’s about all I got. You have anything else you want to plug?

DB: You know, we’ve got a live DVD coming out February 6, a show we did at the Fillmore in Denver. And that’s something we’re working really hard on right now. I think that’s about it.