On Brantley Gilbert’s new album, Just as I Am, fans will hear a singer-songwriter balancing a career which has just taken off with a personal life that has never seemed worse.
In August 2013, his engagement to fellow country singer Jana Kramer came to an end. At the same time, the Georgia native was struggling with the sobriety he had maintained for two years.
Falling back on family and friends, Gilbert emerged with renewed optimism, but the transformation wasn’t easy. The songs on Just as I Am will reveal some of where Gilbert has been, and he promises more to come. The album will be released Tuesday (May 19).
During an interview at the CMT offices, Gilbert opens up about his decision to stop drinking, the faith that pulled him through a difficult time and his journey back to feeling like himself.
CMT: I wanted to ask you about “Bottoms Up.” Do you remember the day you, Brett James and Justin Weaver wrote that song?
Gilbert: I do. Justin actually did not make the trip down, but he and Brett had started it, and Brett brought it out. We were listening to some stuff, and I heard that. It was so catchy and dark, and I was like “Let me take a look at that.”
Dec. 18  was two years sober, and I’m writing drinking songs. It’s like, man, as much as I drank when I drank, I don’t need to drink under the table any more. I earned my stripes, and I can sing drinking songs for the rest of my life if I wanted to.
I’m not the life of the party, but the only time I feel awkward is when people that do drink … don’t drink around me. The benefits [to being sober] are when a single girl needs a ride home, I’m like, “Hey, I’ll be your huckleberry!” (laughs) And if you get in a fight, you have a little bit of an advantage. But I still like being around people who drink. I make it a habit. Some people don’t like being around people who drink.
I didn’t know you were trying to get sober. What led to that?
Too much of it! (laughs) It got to a point where a lot of things started happening and, with work, I was out of town more often. I found myself being pulled away from my family and the guy who I had always been.
Being in Nashville was not me, and I needed to go home and reset before I got in over my head. Really, I just wanted to maximize and enjoy the good things in my life. And when I drank, it was mostly just a cycle I was going through.
I know what you mean. You get into that cycle and eventually start missing things.
You just numb things out, and eventually you start numbing all the good things out. Most people can drink and have a good time, and it’s not like I don’t condone it — and I mean, who gives a shit what I think anyway? But like I said, it doesn’t bother me to be around people who drink. I love people who can handle it. Those environments are great to be around and especially shows. I mean, look what I do for a living.
Because you have been so open, is there any song on the album that reflects what you went through personally in the past year or so?
There is a song called “My Faith in You” that is really my main spiritual song on the record about my faith and people close to me and the ones who really stood behind me. They’re my brothers, and if I ever need anything in my life, they are there. I was fortunate enough to have a situation in my life where everything did shake out and hit rock bottom, and I did see who was standing there and really saw who had my back for real.
That’s what that song is really geared toward, and I wrote it when I was making that change in my life. The line that says, “This is where you will turn your back when it’s yours against the wall.” You just watch the world as it keeps on spinning like nothing’s wrong. …When it starts getting nitty gritty and everything ain’t all sunshine and roses anymore, it falls by the wayside.
Something like that could be the hardest thing and also a blessing in disguise.
Had to be the hardest thing and probably the best thing I ever did. No joke.
Did songwriting help you through that time?
I was intimidated by the situation. I don’t say this to sound big and bad, but not much can intimidate me. Stuff goes down, and it is what it is and I’m going to handle it. With that deal, I had no idea how to operate. I had not been in that situation for so long. And being on stage sober, I had no freaking clue what that was like.
Once I did finally get done with everything, I got on tour with Eric Church and went out and stepped onstage, and it was nerve-wracking. I was nervous about songwriting and performing and being in this business without that part of my life. I mean, that was my best friend for a long time. It was like a whole new deal, but, man, I have never been happier.