By Annie Reuter
Dierks Bentley is not comfortable on camera. When his publicist came to him with the suggestion to make a film documenting his recording process, he needed some convincing. But ultimately he decided to do it for his fans.
“My job as a songwriter is to capture my life and transfer it onto an album,” he said from the stage last night (Feb. 24) during the New York City premiere of Dierks Bentley: Riser. “The more personal you get, the more country fans can relate to it.”
“The film was really uncomfortable, but in a good way,” Bentley admitted to Radio.com during an interview after the screening. He explained that while he had “final say” as to what showed up on screen, it was also important to “respect [the] art” of the filmmakers and keep some uncomfortable moments intact.
“It’s a new medium for me,” he said of the film, and “it’s hard for me to watch without alcohol.” His fans, though, “will love it,” he said. “I wouldn’t have any of this without them, so that’s what I tell myself as I’m watching it. That’s how I make it through.”
Dierks Bentley: Riser is an intimate look at Bentley’s life over the past two years, from the 2012 death of his dad — a man he calls his “biggest influence and hero” — to the birth of his son late last year. Cameras followed Bentley around in his studio and at his home during this time; this was coupled with personal iPhone footage Bentley shot himself, documenting such topics as the hours leading up to his son’s birth and a typical day in his life.
Set to the backdrop of the songs on his new album Riser (released today, Feb. 25), the film tells the story behind many of the songs. Bentley’s current single “I Hold On,” for instance, was the first song he wrote after his father’s death. As he looked at his old pickup truck that he and his dad had driven to Nashville years ago, he was thinking of how he holds onto things that have meaning to him.
Another track, the very personal “Damn These Dreams,” almost didn’t make it onto the album for that very reason — Bentley thought it was too personal.
“I fell in love with country music at an early age,” he said at one point from the stage. “I really fell in love with it when I was 17 because I got introduced to Hank Williams, Jr. and songs about beer and naked women set to rock & roll guitars. ‘This is country? Cool, I’m in!’ That was the way I got into country. You move to Nashville and get a gig playing music. For me it worked out. Lightning struck twice, and I met my wife and had this family, and then these two dreams coming together causes a lot of tension. The song is so personal I didn’t know if it would make the record. I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and said they can connect to it. Anybody that travels for work can relate to that, those two competing forces of nature.”
Bentley also opened up about the album’s lead single, “Bourbon In Kentucky” — which was released last summer — during a Q&A following the screening. He explained how that song helped change the course of the record.
The song, he said, “totally died” as a radio single. “It was too heavy. It was a little dark. We knew we were taking the chance, and it didn’t work.”
And while, as he explained, that reaction “pushed everything back” regarding the album launch (Riser was originally scheduled for release last fall), ultimately “that ended up being a great thing. I ended up being able to inject that summertime, who I really am. I love to have a good time. The record was missing that. So much of that got injected into the record with songs ‘Drunk On a Plane,’ ‘Sounds of Summer,’ ‘Pretty Girls Drinking Tall Boys.'”
During the Q&A, Bentley once again admitted his discomfort in having cameras follow him and his family around. He stressed, though, that they chose to allow it because it was something his fans would want to see.
“Every album, I have to give the fans a little more,” he said. “I know my hardcore fans are going to love this. I had that in mind the whole time.”