"I am Nashville." That's Dierks Bentley's explanation for the secret of his success. And what a success story he is.
The Grammy-nominated, multi-platinum selling star is back with his fourth album, 'Feel That Fire,' a red-hot collection of songs that reflect Bentley's commitment to the traditional, fused with mindfulness of the mainstream -- a combination so prevalent in today's Nashville music scene.
The Boot sat down for an exclusive one-on-one with Bentley after his AOL Music Sessions performance. We talked to the Nashvillian about the new project, his "mind-blowing" new role and the old standards that make him a fan favorite.
What makes this album stand out from your first three?
It's a hybrid of all the records I've made. The last record, 'Long Trip Alone,' is more serious. But this one combines that type of music with a lot more fun stuff. And I couldn't be more proud of it.
Congratulations on 'Feel That Fire' -- the fastest rising single of your career. What's the story behind it?
'Feel That Fire' is a song I wrote with a couple buddies back in Nashville -- the Warren Brothers and Brett Beavers. That song makes me think of my wife, Cassidy. She likes black nail polish, so that's how it got started. It's been fun to watch it climb the charts and fun to see the reaction it's getting from our fans.
There's a line in your new song, 'Sideways': "Take that redneck stuff outside." What redneck stuff are you guilty of doing?
[Laughs] I do it all! I'm the same guy that moved to Nashville when I was 19 years old. I still drive the same truck that has about 200,000 miles on it. And if you saw the inside of my truck, there'd be no question that I have a little bit of redneck in me. It's a disaster. It's got a door handle that requires no key to enter. So yeah, I'm guilty of doing all sorts of stupid things.
'Beautiful World' is a more serious song with a heartfelt message. You performed it at the Nobel Peace Prize concert -- was that a coincidence or did you write the song for that event?
'Beautiful World' I wrote, oddly enough, with the same guy that I wrote 'Sideways' with. [Laughs] We write some diverse songs. It's definitely new ground for me. Usually I write songs about hanging out with my boys, having fun drinking beers and raising hell. But 'Beautiful World' is more of a topical song. What the world is, is however you perceive it to be. If you want it to be a beautiful place, you've got to think about it that way and then go out there and make it so. We wrote that song and just really knew it was special. We had Patty Griffin come in and sing on it. Then I got invited to play the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony concert, and it was a no-brainer to do that song because it's something that really brings people together.
You've included at least one bluegrass song on every album. Is that going to be a staple of every future album?
I wouldn't have a career without bluegrass music. There's a bar in Nashville called the Station Inn -- that's where I got my start. So it really has a special place in my heart. This year, my friend Ronnie McCoury of the Del McCoury Band, wrote a song called 'Last Call for Alcohol.' I've been wanting to record it for years, and I finally got a chance to do it. Fans can always expect some bluegrass music on our records.
You've managed to do what a lot of artists cannot -- stay true to traditional country music while keeping it cool and current. How do you find that balance?
One word: authentic. A lot of artists come to Nashville. I feel like I am Nashville. I've been there for 14 years. I know all of the Opry members. I've worked at the Hall of Fame. I know the songwriters. I hang out with musicians. I feel like I represent the town well. So when people get into my music, there's a quality of being authentic that you can't scheme up or plan. It's just from living in that city. I live and breathe everything that Nashville is -- from the modern to the traditional. That has really resonated with our fans, and they know that my music is real.
2008 saw a lot of rock and pop artists crossing over to country. Is there one that's impressed you with a mix of modern and traditional?
I'd say Darius Rucker. I'm definitely impressed by his music, and his voice is amazing. We're going out on the road together [on] the Paisley tour.
Speaking of the Paisley Party Tour, are you ready for the pranks Brad is inevitably going to play on all of his opening acts?
There's nothing you can throw at us that we can't take. And we've had our own pranks out on the road. We had a lot of fun at Miranda Lambert's expense. We had a big bucket of ping pong balls and throughout the whole first song, we let them fall down on her head while she was trying to sing. They got us back by using dental floss and criss-crossing the entire inside of our bus. So there was no way to even possibly get through this matrix of dental floss. But we're ready for whatever Brad wants to bring. I'm not worried about it.
Will your baby daughter Evie go on the road with you?
My daughter has been so amazing. She's three months now and not something you can really talk about in an interview. It's mind-blowing. But I don't think she will come on the road with us. We really focus on the gig and the fans ... and when it is time to go home, hurry back and enjoy everything that comes with that, too.
What's surprised you the most about fatherhood?
I've had so many friends say, "Man, it'll change your life." And I'm like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's not going to change my life." It really does change your life! It's not like settling down; it's like starting over again. Your whole world explodes and you see everything completely different. Everything's more meaningful, more colorful. It's like you get a chance to do everything over again. She's just a real joy. With Cass and Evie and our two dogs, it's like you have your own tribe. I just love that feeling of starting our own traditions ... It's really hard to put in words, but it's amazing. I highly recommend it! [Laughs]
Back to you, what would you say is the biggest risk you've taken with your career?
We've always made choices, throughout my career, based upon just music. We've never had game plans; like this is the two-year plan to win this award ... I just want to tour, tour, tour. It's probably not the smartest way of doing it, but I have no regrets. What we do on the road is real. When I'm onstage, I'm totally lost in whatever song I'm singing. It's the little things -- even after six years now, [like] sitting up in the front seat [of the tour bus] looking out the window. Or hanging out with the fans before the show. I love all of it. So the biggest risk we've taken is really believing in ourselves and not trying to be too smart with the business side. Let the music lead the way.
What's more important to you, sales or critical acclaim?
Album sales: no. Critical acclaim: no. But ticket sales -- that's important to me. I love playing shows -- not just arenas, but anywhere. I've had so many opportunities to expand my business but I've stayed true to myself, and what I like to do is write songs and go out on the road and sing them. I look at it like a guy [who] writes a book -- every book needs to be different, needs to be its own piece of work. And with music, it doesn't have to be like that. I want each record to have its own special place on someone's shelf. I want to look back at my body of work and be proud of it. Hopefully that translates into commercial success. But ultimately I just want to connect to my fans and keep playing live shows.
You do spend a lot of time with your fans. Do you have any funny gifts fans have given you?
Yes! Someone sent a big thing of fudge, which was a really nice gesture, but my wife called me and said George, our smallest dog, had gotten into the fudge. I didn't know any better and I was like, "Well, that's OK. Good for him! I am sure he enjoyed it." Well, I guess fudge is really bad for dogs -- it can actually kill them. So I had to post a little thing on the website about no fudge anymore. Really, the coolest thing that fans can bring me is just pictures of themselves, of my show, or a card. I don't need any gifts. Their applause is all the gift I need.