Brantley Gilbert Gains a “Country Wide” Foothold

Performing Songwriter Discusses New Video, Hit Songs and Southern Roots

By the time Brantley Gilbert rolled into Nashville for an interview at CMT.com, he said he’d been sleeping on his tour bus for months. Although he does have a house in Jefferson, Ga., he says he just uses it to wash his clothes.

“I repack and I’m back out,” says Gilbert, who will release an album this year on the Valory Music Co. label.

“They keep me pretty busy, but I asked for it. When I was talking to [the label], I was like, ‘You tell me what you need and I’ll do it. I really ain’t got nothing else to do,’” he says with a laugh. “I don’t know what to do when I’m home. I’d just stare at the wall.”

During this easygoing conversation, Gilbert talks about his electrifying new video, his songwriting success and his firmly-planted Southern roots.

CMT: What do you remember most about filming the video for “Country Must Be Country Wide” ?

Gilbert: We did it at the abandoned state penitentiary here in Nashville. That’s where The Green Mile was filmed. It was really neat seeing all of those old cells. … Death row felt a little bit eerie. We saw the place where they had the electric chair. … They had a chair set up, but not the electric chair itself, and I sat in it for a minute. It felt weird.

Jason Aldean had a lot of success with songs you wrote, including “My Kinda Party” and “Dirt Road Anthem.” What did you think about his version of “Dirt Road Anthem”?

It was different. It was flattering. Hearing somebody with that stature sing a song that meant a lot to me. It was interesting.

By saying “different,” do you mean just different from your version?

Right. I mean, after you hear something and play something and sing something so many times, you get used to your way of doing things. When it changes just a little bit, it’s different. But it’s a good different.

Fans can get used to hearing the original version — and then there’s a new version. Can you assure your fans that you’re happy with Aldean’s version, too?

Yeah. The other day, Jason was talking to a good friend of mine … and said, “Yeah, man, I like Brantley. Our fans just think we should hate each other.” (laughs) That’s because he’s catching all the flak about “you stole Brantley’s songs” and I’m catching crap about “you’re selling all your songs.” And that’s not the case. He took them to a different level. And he had stature and the motivation to go ahead with it. I’m happy with it.

Are you living in Nashville?

Nah, man, they want me to, but I don’t want to. Georgia’s home. Always will be.

What is it about your town that makes you want to stay there?

My mom. I’m a mama’s boy at heart. My dog’s there, too. I like my dog a lot. But even as far as music goes, it’s like this town is Music City. There’s so much talent here and some great writers here, but I feel like part of what makes us different is having our roots somewhere else and getting away from everything. It kind of keeps you grounded.

So you’re traveling on a bus with your band?

There’s 14 of us on that thing. I’m tellin’ ya, it smells wonderful.

What are your long-term goals? What are you really looking to achieve?

I’ve always said, “I don’t know. Whatever the Good Lord’s got in store for me.” But I was looking around the bus the other day. My bass player’s got a wife and just had a kid. My tour manager has a wife and three kids. I’d like for everybody that’s been involved for a long time in that little group — in the band or in the crew — to be in a place financially to not worry about being taken care of. Be proud of what we did and not look back on it and go, “God, I remember those days with Brantley and they just sucked.” (laughs) I’d like for everybody to look back and be financially supported and not have to worry about anything.

Why is it important for you to look at this as a team effort?

Those are my brothers. I mean, we’re family, and they put up with a lot for me to be here, so I figure I owe it back to them.

How far back do you go?

About six years. And it always hasn’t been a bus. We went through the F-150s and “we’ll meet you there tomorrow” and everybody’s driving their own car. The grass roots stuff was there, too. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We learned a lot.

Some songwriters in Nashville get a song cut and suddenly get a record deal, and then they’re out playing big shows. You can see it in their eyes, like “What happened?”

It’s kind of like when a lot of kids turn 16 and their parents give them a car. Then they get it all trashed. Then you have people who actually saved the money and worked for it and pay for their own truck — and they take care of it. I feel like that’s the way we are. We know how to appreciate stuff because we worked hard to get it.