Two days after his platinum-album party in Nashville and a day after his appearance on Today, Dierks Bentley calls CMT.com from the Access, a rock club in Bloomington, Ind., to talk about his new album, Modern Day Drifter, and his mind-numbing tour schedule.
Produced by Brett Beavers, Modern Day Drifter arrived in stores Tuesday (May 10). Bentley co-wrote eight of the 11 songs on the album recorded during an astonishingly brief 10-day period last September.
“Some people have the luxury of spending a lot of time making records,” he says. “We don’t. We spend more time on the road than anybody, really concentrating on the shows and making new fans.”
On the new album, Bentley’s love of traditional country music shows through in such tunes as “Gonna Get There Someday,” which echoes Vern Gosdin’s “Chiseled in Stone”; “Lot of Leavin’ Left to Do,” a thematic variation of Mac Davis’s “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me”; “Come a Little Closer,” an homage to Conway Twitty’s “I’d Love to Lay You Down”; and “Domestic, Light and Cold,” which has the same bounce and sense of abandon as Hank Thompson’s “On Tap, In the Can or In the Bottle.” Bentley’s songs don’t so much imitate these classics as capture their spirit.
“Come a Little Closer” is easily the most sensuous song on the album and replete with phrases designed to make women scream. Bentley co-wrote it with Beavers.
“We went home and tested it,” he reports. “He tested it on his wife, and I tested it on my girlfriend. And it got a good response. So we thought we might have something. That song, every night, gets a huge response, and it will probably be the next single.”
“Gonna Get There Someday” has a gentle buildup to a surprise ending. “What’s so cool about that song.” Bentley observes, “is that we wrote into that hook. We didn’t, like, start off with that [surprise ending] idea and write a song around it.”
On Bentley’s self-titled first album, the Del McCoury Band assisted him on “Train Travelin’,” one of his own compositions. This time around, he returned the favor by recording the McCoury standard, “A Good Man Like Me,” again with the bluegrass legend’s band supplying backup.
Few country artists — probably none — can match Bentley’s brutal concert schedule.
“I look at it, and I laugh because it’s so over the top,” he says. “There is absolutely no time off at all. The guys in my band refer to the gig as being a ‘deployment.’ I know that I [left] town May 5, and I come back June 20. That’s just our run. And I only come back for two days. Even on the days we actually have off, I’m flying to go do a radio thing here or there.” He’s not complaining, though. “It’s all me,” he admits. “I tell my booking agent how many dates I want to do a year.”
Of late, Bentley has been playing a lot of rock clubs.
“My thing is let’s just find a venue that suits the band best, and we’ll bring the country music fans to the venue — as opposed to playing a place we don’t feel right in,” he says. “At some of the more traditional honky-tonks, people are there just to dance and meet people of the opposite sex. The band sometimes becomes background music. I played for a lot of years on Lower Broadway [in Nashville] doing background music. [But now] I’m, like, ‘If you want to come to see us play, then I want you to do that. I want you to come up front and have the music be the focus.’ So I like to play the rock bars, where it’s just a big pit out front [with] no seating. Just come, stand up, get in the mix, get sweaty and buy shots of tequila for the band.”
Bentley believes it’s been the incessant touring that elevated his first album to platinum status. “I think I’ve met every single person who’s bought one of my records,” he says. “We haven’t done a lot of TV stuff. We’ve done a lot more grassroots kind of thing and built up a following just from playing bars like this.”
Despite his increasing popularity, Bentley says he doesn’t see himself as a star. And he doesn’t go for the star trappings. “The other day,” he says, by way of example, “I did the Today show [from Nashville] with Katie Couric. I got up early and went there myself. I don’t have tour managers and publicists following me around. I don’t have ‘people.’ I like being alone. I like doing stuff by myself. … I walked out there, did the [show], walked out to my truck and drove myself to the airport. I don’t really feel like a star. The only thing different for me is that I sold my house a year ago because we’re out here so much. So it’s just a little weird living on the bus all the time and always being in a different town.”
With no house to return to during his rare days off, Bentley camps out in hotels. “The last time I was in town,” he says, “I stayed at the Loews [Vanderbilt Plaza]. The time before that, I stayed at the Hermitage Hotel, which was nice. And the time before that, I stayed at the Marriott. It’s like I’m doing research and development for all the hotels in Nashville.”
On May 16, Bentley will do the Tonight show. He is also scheduled to play the CMA Music Festival on June 9. Later on that same evening, he will perform at his first official fan club party.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Bentley lives for music. A couple of hours after his platinum bash was over — when he might have been forgiven for surrounding himself with friends and basking in his own coolness — he instead slipped away to Nashville’s Station Inn bluegrass club to sit quietly and listen to folksingers Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. “They’re amazing,” he marvels, sounding every inch the fan.