The Sharp Knives of Dierks Bentley's "Say You Do"

Singer Talks About Ginsu Power of Nashville Songwriters

Dierks Bentley didn't write his new single, And I think I know why.

The guys behind the song -- Joseph Hill, Shane McAnally, Matt Ramsey and Trevor Rose -- just have sharper knives than he does.

The last time Bentley was in Chicago, we talked about all the songs he's written in the past 11 years that he's been in the major-label business. But how he has less and less time to do so these days.

"I've been so busy that I just don't collect ideas like I used to," he told me. Not quite true, though, because he co-wrote half the tracks on his latest album Riser -- including his last No. 1 "Drunk on a Plane" -- and half the tracks on the album before that one, Home.

"Being out here on the road, I call myself a songwriter. And I am a songwriter. But my expertise is being onstage in front of people. This is what I've spent 10 years doing," Bentley said.

The hardcore songwriters, though, are the one who have spent their years with a notebook and a pen in their hands.

"These guys back in Nashville? I mean, their knives are so, so sharp," Bentley said. "I thought I was pretty good, and then you're around these guys, and their knives are like the Ginsu knives. Their skills are just sharp like that."

And he would know. Bentley has seen those knives in action plenty of times. Sometimes, he explained, when they're writing a song, one of Bentley's co-writers will say something really genius. Like when his frequent collaborator Jim Beavers came up with the line, "But once you're out you ain't coming back/The velvet rope ain't got no slack" when they were writing "Sideways."

"Who comes up with that? Two lines can paint such a picture," he said in awe of that lyric.

And in the new tune -- a ballad that pleads with an ex to pretend she still cares, to bend the truth, to have a heart and to lead him on -- the lines go way beyond panting a picture. They tell a story about a desperate broken heart, stating, "Even if you don't, couldn't you say you do?"

Bentley and I also talked about how this new song was a little bit like his old hit, "Settle for a Slowdown."

He said, "You don't really want her to come back, but you also don't want her to rush out the door so quickly. You want her to hurt just a little bit."

When Bentley is doing the writing, he knows the songwriting sessions can be a fragile thing. You have to be careful with the ideas you bring to the table.

"Once you put the idea out there, if it doesn't go anywhere or if it doesn't work, it's ruined. You can't rewrite it with someone else," he said. "The song's over."

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