Interview: Dierks Bentley Describes the ‘Crazy’ Emotions Behind New Album ‘Riser’
By Annie Reuter
“Every album I make I try to make a snapshot of where I am at that point in my life,” Dierks Bentley told Radio.com about his new album Riser. “That’s the goal, to be able to capture that and put it on a record. And it’s really no different on this record– same process. It’s just that life is a lot fuller.”
Bentley spoke with Radio.com in New York just after the Monday night (Feb. 24) premiere of Dierks Bentley: Riser, the film that documents the making of the album. Among other things he opened up about some of Riser‘s most personal songs, one of which received praise from U2‘s Bono. He also described how he lightened things up when the album became too emotionally heavy.
Considering all Bentley has been through lately, when he’s says “fuller,” he’s not kidding. That’s because Bentley’s life over the past two years has been a roller-coaster ride of emotions, from the death of his father in 2012 and the birth of his first son late last year. Not to mention balancing family and his professional life as a touring musician.
“It’s crazy with touring and family and your dad passing away and at the same time your son is born,” he said. “As a songwriter, [you have to] keep that honesty and somehow put life into a three-minute-and-30-second song in different snippets throughout the whole album. That was the main challenge, and I feel like I was able to do that.”
Bentley channeled all of this into Riser, his latest studio album, which hit stores this week (Feb. 25). It’s easily his most personal release yet.
Interestingly, the song that’s perhaps the most personal on the album, “Damn These Dreams,” almost didn’t make the cut. Bentley explained that it wasn’t until he sent the song to his band that convinced him otherwise.
“Almost all of them wrote back and said, ‘That’s the best song of the whole deal. That song is so personal and you have to put it on the record.’ I’m so thankful we did. I’ve found the more personal that I write, the more universal the song tends to be for some reason. That song is strictly about me being on the road and being a musician and having a family. I had a lot of guys came up to me that travel for a living and said, ‘I sat down and played this song for my daughter who’s 14, and I had to travel a lot in her early years to explain what that push and pull is like.’ A song can really take a life of its own after you put it out there.”
Bono of U2 had a similar reaction to “Here On Earth,” a song Bentley wrote after his father’s death. Questioning the meaning of life and death, Bentley sings, “I read the words of the teacher but I still struggle with what it’s all worth.” While writing, he was thinking of his dad as well as school shootings where parents have to do the unthinkable: bury their children.
“No matter how much faith you have, for me there are questions that have to linger,” he said. “The song doesn’t have any resolution. It’s a person going through something horrific, looking for answers, praying, hoping that they would have that faith to lead them past this particular moment in your life. What do you do in a situation like that? What does your faith do?”
When Bentley sent the song to Bono, he loved it.
“He had some good critiques. He loved the song and said some cool things about it. Definitely that second verse, it’s like their song, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.’ Even though you might believe, there’s things that come along that test your faith.”
While all the tracks hold meaning to Bentley, he knew he couldn’t have an album of just heavy songs, so after lead single “Bourbon In Kentucky” didn’t take off the way he had hoped, he went back into the studio to cut the album’s feel-good summertime tracks. Among these later additions is current fan favorite “Drunk On a Plane,” which follows the emotional “Here On Earth.”
After a song as emotionally heavy as “Here On Earth,” Bentley said, “the next song has to be a release, not only to me, but the person listening. It’s like a gift. ‘Thanks for putting up with that last song. Thanks for crying. Here’s your reward.'”
As for “Drunk On a Plane,” Bentley described it as “just a funny song about a dude that got stood up at the wedding, still had his tickets to Cancun, couldn’t get his money back, so he gets drunk on a plane. It’ll be a fun video to make on that one for sure.”
As he gears up to take his new songs on tour with him, Bentley said some will be more difficult to perform than others.
“To sing the song the right way I wrote it, I have to go to that particular time it came from. The ones about my dad, or ‘I Hold On,’ there’s times when I look out at the crowd and see someone crying or getting emotional, I have to almost zone away or close my eyes so I can finish the song without going there as well. There’s certain ones I have to be cautious of.”
Dierks Bentley’s new album Riser is out now.