Editor's note: The CMT Insider interview with Dierks Bentley premieres Saturday (Jan. 31) at 1:30 p.m. ET/PT.
Dierks Bentley is one of country music's most relentless road warriors, so it's no surprise that he sees his new album, Feel That Fire, as an ideal traveling companion for his fans.
"I want the record to be like a show," Bentley says. "I want it to be like an experience. That's why that first song starts off with the motorcycle going through the gears. It's like I'm getting ready to take you on a little journey. That's the whole idea."
In this interview with CMT Insider, the singer-songwriter talks about his high hopes for the new album, how his daughter changed his perspective and why a wild night in New Orleans is part of the job description.
CMT: You've said this could be an album of the year nominee. A lot of people are afraid to say something like that. Why do you feel so strongly about this record?
Bentley: I always say the best applause you can get is when you walk from backstage up to your microphone at a concert. It's also nice to walk up to the mike at an awards show, and that applause is great, too, but the best is when your fans are cheering for you. That's the true deal. I don't really chase after awards or think about it a lot, but would I be disappointed if this album wasn't up for a CMA album of the year? Definitely. Because I feel like it's that kind of album. I feel like we stopped what we were doing for two years to make a record, and so much passion and time and blood, sweat and tears went into it. I would love to represent all the musicians, producers and songwriters I had a chance to work with, because I think it's the best thing we've done.
How did the song, "Beautiful World," come about?
People have asked me several times, "Did your daughter have any influence in this album?" Really, I was writing this record before she was born, but I was thinking about her because my wife was pregnant. "Beautiful World" is one of those songs that I wrote with Jim Beavers and Brett Beavers about your take on the way you see the world. You hear people sometimes say, "Man, I can't imagine bringing a child into this world. It's so bad." That's just such a negative outlook. You cannot live your life with that viewpoint of the world. Yes, there are a lot of things that are wrong, but it is a beautiful world, and you need to find the positive in it.
We wrote that song with that kind of pretext but it really needed a voice. Patty Griffin is iconic, and there's no other word to really describe her. She is iconic for a lot of people -- not only for me but for a lot of fans. Her voice is one of a kind, and she's such an important figure in the American music scene. ... She's just amazing. And so I asked her. My only question was whether she would do it. Was she going to sing with a country dude? But she knew I was a fan, and she said yes, and I was thrilled to have her on the record. I think that her voice adds some weight and gravity to the whole song, to kind of keep it rooted. It's not just fluffy -- "Oh, it's a beautiful world, everything's going to be great." No, there are a lot of problems, but the lyrics and her voice really help cement that sentiment.
How does the music on this record describe you as a songwriter?
One of the coolest things about making a record, if you're a songwriter and you love writing with other people, is you get a chance to call someone up like Rodney Crowell [and say] "Hey man, would you write a song with me?" Or Jim Lauderdale or Radney Foster or Rivers Rutherford. I had a chance to not only write songs, but you get a chance to be around these guys that have been doing it longer than you and better than you, not only in music but life. ... To be around guys that have some kids, these are the men that I really look up to and respect. I think that is necessary to become a better songwriter. It has to be. You can't write about stuff you don't know about. You have to live it. You have to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty. Live life to be a good songwriter. All the guys that I write with are like that. I definitely matured as a songwriter on this album, but being around guys like Rodney Crowell, you learn that you always are maturing, and you're always trying to get better as a songwriter.
One of the great things about doing what I do is that I still get to be the kid that wrote "What Was I Thinkin'." I'm still that guy every night on stage. We'll still go out after shows. We played New Orleans the other night. I took my entire crew and band down to the end of Bourbon Street. We started at one bar and worked our way all the way back up. ... I chalk it up to the experience. This is a life experience. I need to write songs. I still want to write songs like "What Was I Thinkin'." On this record there are songs like "Sideways," "Life on the Run" and "Here She Comes." Those are rowdy songs that I still want to listen to when I get in my truck. I get a chance to still do that stuff, but then I get a chance to sing songs like "Beautiful World" and "You Hold Me Together" and "Better Believer" and "Pray." That stuff is result of living life, getting those experiences and growing as a person.
Does your wife buy that excuse when you're in New Orleans?
I tried. You know, "Babe, I'm going to Bourbon Street tonight. I've been writing serious stuff, and I need to get out there and get a little crazy to get some material." (laughs)
It doesn't fly, does it?
The jury's still out. Depends on how this album does so. So, hopefully. ... Buy a lot of records so I can justify that argument. Thanks.
Terry Bumgarner is a producer for CMT Insider.