Dierks Bentley Talks About Life on the Bus

With Greatest Hits in Stores, a New Album Is Planned for February

It’s only fitting that Dierks Bentley included five live tracks on his new album, Greatest Hits/Every Mile a Memory 2003-2008. After all, he’s a road warrior — with upcoming gigs at Lollapalooza and Sturgis Bike Week, as well as some European country music festivals. Here, he talks about recording every live show, sleeping in a bunk like the rest of the band and firing on all cylinders for his next album.

CMT: Do you record most of your live shows?

Bentley: We record every live show for me and the band to listen to. We just make a floor tape, and our bass player Robbie is pretty militant about it. We’ll be off the stage for, like, 10 minutes, sometimes even five minutes, and he’s already in the back lounge listening to the show. And I’m thinking, “Dude, we just walked offstage.” So we listen, we really listen to it about every night, just to hear subtle things and make sure we’re playing tight and how things sound.

As far as recording live shows for our fans, we’re starting to do more of that. Especially on the Greatest Hits album, we’ve got a live song from Austin City Limits, we’ve got one from the Big State Festival, we’ve got one from the Fillmore and there’s one from Bonnaroo. I’m getting more interested in being able to make that accessible to our fans because I know as a fan when I go to a live show, I’m not keeping track of the set list or songs. I’m just having a great time. So when it’s over, I’m like, “Oh, I can’t even remember what the start of the show was.” I wish I had a copy of the show to listen to and bring all of those memories right back up.

What was the first big lesson you learned the hard way since you got your start?

I guess one lesson you learn continually, over and over again in this business, is that you’re only as good as your last single, and you never really make it. People always ask, “Did you make it yet?” or “When did you make it?” I don’t feel like I ever made it. Sometimes you’re right on top of a No. 1 song or a great show or whatever, but there’s always more to be done. There’s always somebody nipping at your heels. I don’t think you ever make it, but the good news is when you never make it, you’re always trying to make it, so you’re always working harder toward that next goal or that next horizon.

Sometimes traveling is tough. I’m trying to find something to complain about because I really have nothing to complain about. I like everything about it. I say traveling because I always hear people talking about the traveling being tough, so I just say, “Oh, the traveling is tough.” You do ride the bus a lot, but I’m on a bus with four other guys — me and the band. I mean, it’s a blast. We’re playing video games, playing songs, we’re writing songs, we’re just hanging out listening to music, so it’s actually fun for me to be traveling. I’ll look to see if I can find something that’s tough, but it’s pretty, pretty easy. Well, it’s not easy, but it’s pretty fun.

You’ve never been tempted to get a bus just for yourself?

I’ve got a bunk just like everyone else. I don’t have the back lounge taken over like most folks do. It’s just me and the band on one bus, and we all have our own bunks, and then the back lounge is open for people to make phone calls. We call that the phone booth back there. You’ve gotta sneak off and call your girl, so you’ve gotta have someplace like that. For me, when you’re on the road, everyone’s equal. It’s like a ship. Everyone’s got a job to do — from the guy driving the bus to the guy selling T-shirts to the guy singing the songs. Everyone’s out there trying to do a job and do it the best they can and stay sane while they’re doing it. So I try to just be one of the guys when I’m on the road.

You have a lot of long-term goals, but which one is on the top of the list right now?

I’ve got a record coming out next February that I’m really excited about, and I’ve been working on it longer than any other album. So preparing for the release of that album and putting a tour to wrap around it and make sure everything is lined up just right and firing on all cylinders. I think the album in February will be the next big thing to focus on, and, of course, there’s the tour and making it reach out to more people.

In the meantime, I’m taking one show at a time and making sure every show we play is the best it can be. Not that we ever haven’t done that. I always feel like maybe some people are giving it as much as we do, but no one gives it more. I leave the stage every night with every inch of me left out there for the crowd. But times are tight, with gas prices and the economy. I want to make sure people come out to our show — every show, whether it’s one of our headlining shows or a festival or a fair date, anything — and have a great hour and a-half or two hours of hang time and get the most for their money and for their time, more importantly. It’s tough out there, and we want to make sure everyone’s having fun when they come to our shows.

Craig Shelburne has been writing for CMT.com since 2002. He is also a producer for CMT Edge, Concrete Country and Live @ CMT.