The Dirt Drifters want to make more than a good first impression with country fans. They want to make some new blood brothers and sisters.
Their debut album, This Is My Blood, arrived on Tuesday (Sept. 13), and they’re celebrating by giving away 30,000 copies. (Call it the infomercial approach: “Act now, and they’ll throw in a juicer!” Just kidding.) With 10 songs written or co-written by the band and a guest vocal by Willie Nelson, the album benefits from a working-man’s approach to songwriting and touches on dead-end jobs, family life, a changing world and, of course, cold beer.
After four years of touring with artists like Chris Young, Hank Williams Jr., Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dierks Bentley and Eric Church, the Dirt Drifters have put in the time to zero in on their sound — a mix of gritty, homemade swagger and thoughtful ballads that deliver just enough polish to shine. The band celebrated the release with a crowded Nashville concert this week at Nashville’s 3rd & Lindsley club.
With “Something Better” now on CMT.com and the follow-up, “Always a Reason,” in the works, the jovial band — singer Matt Fleener, his brother and guitarist-vocalist Ryan Fleener, lead guitarist Jeff Middleton, bassist Jeremy Little and drummer Nick Diamond — stopped by CMT to fill us in on the album, what it was like to work with Nelson and why some blue-collar songs only look at life through rose-colored glasses.
CMT: You gave the album a really bold title, This Is My Blood. Why did you decide to do that?
Ryan Fleener: We named it that way because this project is years in the making, and it’s the best of the best that we can do at this moment. So when we sat around and said, “What do we name this?” there wasn’t a question. This Is My Blood.
Jeff Middleton: But it’s also This Is My Blood in another way. We’ve been slogging it out in the trenches for four years with each other. There are two real brothers in the band, but also we all look at each other as part of each other’s families. It’s one big commune.
Diamond: But I think the biggest part is we fought to play on the record and write our own songs.
You mean you fought with the label?
Diamond: Well, I mean we had to prove to them that we could do it. That’s part of the reason that it’s taken us so long to get out. We didn’t want to just sing whatever, get Joe Blow to play on it and put it out as fast as possible. It was a big thing for us to play on the record and write. I mean, we wrote 10 of the 11 songs. We had to prove it to ourselves and everybody else.
I’ve heard you’re giving this thing away. Is that true?
Ryan Fleener: Yeah, we’re starting a campaign called the “Give Blood” campaign. We’re actually giving away 30,000 copies of This Is My Blood. It’s got two CDs in it, so you rip it in half, keep one for yourself and give one to a friend — that’s why it’s called “Give Blood.” We’re gonna give them away at shows, and we’re not gonna ask for anything. Not even your email address. So it’s like, “Please live with this and give it to a friend.” We’ve burned it for you! (laughs)
What was it like to work with Willie Nelson on “I’ll Shut Up Now”?
Ryan Fleener: It was quick. Willie had been in Hawaii, and he took a red-eye to Nashville, so he had been up for 36 hours straight. And they were cutting a song. We actually walked in the studio, and it was Willie, Kris Kristofferson and Randy Travis in there. So we’re just like, “Ahhh,” like little kids.
Diamond: Like, why are we here!? (laughs)
Ryan Fleener: And Willie was very gracious.
Matt Fleener: He’s just cool, man. You meet him, and he’s like somebody you’ve known for a long time.
Ryan Fleener: We took one photo afterwards and, dude, everyone was smiling ear to ear.
Matt Fleener: My face hurt from smiling so much.
Ryan Fleener: We look like idiots. That picture’s not coming out. (laughs) When you get to stand in a room with a living legend, and he’s singing your song, I mean, words can’t describe what that feeling’s like. I mean everybody that’s part of our team, when Willie was singing it, we were all just giggling.
Little: Afterwards, we just went to the bar and had a beer. Nobody even really said anything.
Middleton: We just kind of sat around a table and looked at each other.
Little: Like, “Still not OK with talking about this yet. Still too intense.” (laughs)
“Name on My Shirt” may be one of the most touching blue-collar songs I’ve ever heard, but it approaches the subject from a different angle. Why did you want to tell the story of someone who rebelled against that lifestyle at first?
Matt Fleener: I feel like we can all champion that, but at the same time, I believe if you’ve been in that world and you’ve lived in that world, that you do rebel against it. It’s not all roses, you know. You’re on the poor side of town, and you hate it. That’s the truth. Go find somebody on the poor side of town that doesn’t want to get out. So that’s the nature of growing up. You see your dad in blue Dickies and you see another dad in khakis and a white shirt. At 8 or 9 years old, that’s something you don’t really understand, but as you get older, you know what’s going on. That’s the deal, and then you reach a point in your life where that’s something to be proud of.
Diamond: I think every guy at some point or another during their teen years goes through a point when you’re pretty sure that your dad is a dumbass.
Matt Fleener: And then you move out and get those first bills, and you’re like, “He knew everything!” (laughs)
Diamond: Yeah, and you wake up one morning and you call up your old man and you’re like, “I love you and I respect you. Good God, all the sacrifices you made just so we could have what we did.” That’s what it’s all about.