Brantley Gilbert revealed himself to fans as a bad boy with a sensitive side with hits like "Country Must Be Country Wide" and "You Don't Know Her Like I Do." For his upcoming third album, Just as I Am, the Georgia native sees no reason to change course.
Its lead single "Bottoms Up" reached No. 1 on Billboard's country songs chart and is still rising in the Top 10 on the country airplay. The album will be released May 19.
"Bottoms Up" is another in a long string of tunes he's written or co-written. Songwriting is something Gilbert believes he must do.
"I think I will always, pretty sure, have a hand in it," he said during a visit to CMT's office in Nashville. "There is just a bond and connection there that I have with the pen and paper."
During the interview, he also talked about the encouragement he's received from songwriters Rhett Akins, Ben Hayslip and Dallas Davidson, three Georgia natives who call themselves the Peach Pickers.
CMT: Just as I Am is a provocative album title. What's the significance behind it?
Gilbert: All my records have spiritual titles. I'm a hellraiser, I'm a bad boy, whatever they want to call me, but I am a believer first, and that's always been my safe place. I don't get to go to church as often as I would like to, but the relationship stands where it stands -- priorities.
This will be your third album. What was your top goal going in to work on it?
Just trying to cover the next chapter in my life. It's got some things with some deeper meanings and some songs that can help people through certain situations -- and even some that helped me. It's just putting it all out there and seeing what we get from everybody because there are no rules to this record.
Do you think your overall game plan changed at all?
You know, my goal in the music business was to sell out the Georgia Theater [in Athens, Ga.] -- about 900 people and 20 minutes from my hometown. ... I find myself making new goals every day. The goal of this new record was to be who I am. I won't sing or write anything I haven't been through. They're all true stories and my babies.
You are always so honest with your fans. Is that why having a hand in all the songs on your record is important to you?
Don't get me wrong, this is no disrespect to those who don't write their own songs because I have been in that situation where I hear an amazing song and think "Oh, dawg, that's my story," but having a hand in it makes it mine and my story.
There have been songs that people have started, and we come in on the end. And that's one way of doing things, but it's always been easier to live the true story. If you live by lies, you have to remember them. You can't lie to nobody but the police.
You wrote "Small Town Throwdown" with the Peach Pickers. What's it like working successful songwriters like them?
When I came to this town, I had a publishing deal with Warner Chappell, and they matched me up with several folks. I met a lot of cool people, but when I wrote with [the Peach Pickers], they were like "Man, what are y'all up to tonight?" And that made me feel like I had some buddies in town -- Georgia boys.
I was a fan of Rhett. And when I met him I was, like, "He's just an awesome dude." Him, Ben Hayslip and Dallas, you sit down with those boys, and it's mostly a hang session, and then a song falls out of it. [Akins' son] Thomas Rhett is actually on the cut with me on the record. It's me and Thomas and Justin Moore.
Is it kind of a typical Friday night party song?
Pretty much, yeah. We wrote it about the same kind of story as "My Kind of Party." The day we get tired of Daisy Dukes, pasture parties and stuff is the day we are headed towards techno, and it's time for me to step away.
This will your second headlining tour this spring. How is it to think about that?
It's wild. We came up the old school way in little biker bars playing for 10-20 people and making gas money to get home half the time, selling cars -- that's a story for another day -- but just trying to stay out on the road. ... I like to say I'm proud of the fact I'm the same dude that was playing those bars.
The worst part about my job right now is that when we used to play in bars, we used to hang with the people and tell stories. I don't get to hang as much and have as many conversations now.
Your tour also features Thomas Rhett and Eric Paslay. You're all prolific writers, so are you looking forward to late-night songwriting with those guys?
I am looking forward to it and loving it! I have known Thomas for a long time, and I don't know how we managed to dodge each other this long, but we have already talked about getting the three of us together and hammering down. I'm bringing a lot of writers on the road, so there's going to be a lot of writing going on this tour.