Brantley Gilbert didn't plan to get married, have kids or make it to 30 years old.
He wanted to be a biker.
At 37 years old, he's a married father of two with a booming country music career and a new album, "So Help Me God," complete with a Blake Shelton and Vince Gill collaboration.
To get there, he needed to kick his alcohol dependence.
"I'm a guy that says if I say I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it or die trying," Gilbert told Today's Country Radio with Kelleigh Bannen on Apple Music Country. "And with alcohol, it got to a point with it where I knew it was something I needed to change and cut back on, and I said, 'You know what? This has a little more control over me than I like, and I just need to get it out of my life,' and couldn't do it."
Knowing he couldn't make the change alone frustrated Gilbert. He felt his need for help was humiliating and embarrassing "for about a split second," he said.
"The thought was, 'Dude, get it out of your life,'" he said. "I wasn't valuing or prioritizing the things in life that I was raised to value and prioritize. This chapter of my life, I didn't plan on making it to 30, to be completely honest. I didn't ever think I'd be married or have kids. Like, I wanted to be a biker."
He decided he needed to get clean while celebrating the success of his No. 1 "[Country Must Be] Country Wide." He and his band and crew had a party while on tour, and he realized their party for the career milestone didn't look much different than any other night – because they were living in a constant haze.
"It was like, 'Man, we're supposed to be celebrating something that an overwhelming majority of people that try to do something with music will never accomplish experience,'" he said. "And we're not really celebrating. We're doing the same shit we do every night, and it kind of got lost in… Just to getting wrapped into every day and every night being a party. I went back on in the back of the bus and called my... And that was literally a moment where I was like, 'Hey man, let's find some time, and I need to do whatever it takes to get this junk out of my life.' That's kind of where that started."
The album's title track revisits that time in Gilbert's life, which he calls "an uncomfortable place" because recovery wasn't fun. But there's more to "So Help Me God" than that.
"Although it is talking about drinking, it kind of has a multi-meaning," Gilbert told Bannen. "To me, it's anything in life. How many times have I been in a situation where I've been either too proud, too stubborn to accept help, whether it be from God or from a friend or from anybody. I'm supposed to be a rock, man. I'm supposed to be able to handle anything on my own, this, that, and the other. And it's kind of like that saying a lot of people say, 'God won't put you through anything you can't handle.' And I just feel like it's so far from the truth. He will on a regular basis. That's when you're supposed to surrender a little bit."
Gilbert said he's terrible at surrendering. But he made the choice not to surrender to addiction and surrender to getting addiction out of his life.
"That song was kind of about accepting that and being all right asking for help and more or less just realizing that you don't have to take on big stuff alone," he said. "There are people that we have in our lives that will give anything for us to reach out."
"Heaven By Then," the collaboration with Shelton and Gill, came from an equally organic place. Every year, Gilbert, HARDY, Brock Berryhill, Will Wedley, Randy Montana and Hunter Phelps take a writing trip to Texas. Gilbert avoids alcohol, but every night they go out and do something different. One night they ended up at a quaint karaoke bar that Gilbert jokes was held up by cardboard and toothpicks. They got home at 3 a.m., and some of the guys had been drinking. They were all hanging out, and HARDY picked up his guitar.
"That's one dude if he picks up a guitar, it's like… everybody just starts paying attention," Gilbert said. "I don't remember how many writers were on the song. It was everybody that was outside on the porch when it started. Taylor Phillips was talking about something, and he said, 'Shoot, man, I hope I'm in heaven by then.' And HARDY slammed his fist on the table and stood up, and he said, 'Damn it, Taylor.' He said, 'Why would you say that in a room full of 10 writers?'"
Gilbert invited Shelton to be on the song because he's one of his "bucket list artists" because he was kind to Gilbert when others weren't.
"I looked a little different, acted a little different than a lot of these cats up here," Gilbert said. "And it never bothered him a bit. He's just always treated me the same and been kind to me, and I've always appreciated that. And I feel like he's... He kind of slid under the radar on how talented he is, how knowledgeable about music he is… And how much he cares about music. And that's always spoke volumes to me. I just got a lot of respect for him, man."
Gill came bout when Gilbert's co-producer Brock Berryhill identified a high harmony part that needed to be covered on the song.
"You just know when you hear that part, it's like, 'Dude, if Vince Gill did this, it would be unreal,'" Gilbert said. "I mean, what are the chances of getting two legends, in my opinion, on the same song? And he signed off on it and did it, and it came back, and it sounded like... It was just a pinch-yourself moment. I'll never be able to tell those guys, but even for a songwriter, it's hard to find words to thank somebody for that."