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article imageInterview with Dierks Bentley Special

By Adrian Peel     Feb 24, 2014 in Entertainment
The positively titled "Riser" is the country megastar’s new album, a thought-provoking endeavour very close to his heart and probably his most personal and profound work to date. Digital Journal found out more.
Arizona native Dierks Bentley has been one of the biggest names in contemporary country music since his self-titled debut album - featuring memorable tunes like "What Was I Thinkin'" (his first number one) and "How Am I Doin'" - became the first of many visits to the upper echelons of the album charts in 2003.
Now, 11 years later, comes LP number seven (his first since 2012’s Home), though this time the usually fairly straightforward recording process was blighted by a series of life-changing events.
"My dad died about a year a half ago and my son was born about four months ago, so that definitely all plays into the whole theme," explains the influential vocalist and songwriter, a graduate of Vanderbilt University. "Riser started in one place - grief - and ended in a place of real gratitude, and that definitely plays into the feel."
The title track offers a powerful message about not giving up: "I'm a riser, I'm a get up off the ground, no run-and-hider, Pushing comes to shove and hey I'm a fighter. When darkness comes to town, I'm a lighter, a get-out-aliver, of the fire. Survivor."
"Yeah, it’s a song about going through a hard time and picking yourself back up and coming through stronger because of it," notes the down-to-earth dog owner, set to play in London and Dublin next month as part of the C2C Country to Country Festival. "This album has six songs I wrote and six songs that I did not - it’s the most mixed album I've ever had.
"I wrote as hard as ever for this album - if not more - and really went after it. I brought somebody in to executive produce it, which I’d never done.
"It’s a buddy of mine that I trusted who could tell me: 'No, that’s just not good enough.' His name’s Arturo Buenahora and he really played a critical part in being that person I could lean upon and trust and say what was good and what wasn’t good enough. He was the final say on what made it and what didn’t."
As already revealed by the Phoenix-born 38-year-old, Riser is made up of 12 tracks, half of which he co-wrote and half of which came from the pen of trusted Nashville writers such as Hillary Lindsey, Gordie Sampson and Matt Jenkins. Which particularly stand out for him?
Pausing for a moment, Dierks replies, "Riser" certainly does, "Here on Earth" does - I wrote that after my dad had passed away… I mean obviously it’s so fresh, that they’re all real special songs; they all have a story to tell. I’m really proud of the record and I’m waiting to hear what my fans think of it."
Mixed in among the soul-bearing material already described (tracks like "Say You Do," stirring second single "I Hold On" and the aforementioned "Here on Earth" also fit this description), is the catchy "Drunk on a Plane," one of my personal favourites on the record, along with the title track, "Bourbon in Kentucky" (featuring Kacey Musgraves), "Hurt Somebody" and "Back Porch."
"It’s a fun song I wrote with two friends of mine in Nashville," recalls Dierks, referring to "Drunk on a Plane" (his collaborators on it were Chris Tompkins and Josh Kear). "It’s really kind of left-field and we had a great time writing it. I wasn’t particularly writing it to be on the record but we needed some lighter songs to balance out the heavier stuff."
How does Riser differ from the artist’s previous work?
"Well like I say, the lyrics are just trying to get what’s happening in my life in there, and there’s a lot that’s happened the last few years. Personal stuff, people dying, people being born… I also opted for a different producer, named Ross Copperman. He has great ideas and we really tried to make sounds that weren’t necessarily going for trying to make a country record.
"When it came to instrumentation, it was really about: 'What instruments are going to help these lyrics tell the story the best they can? Let’s not just go put a steel guitar down just to put a steel guitar down, let’s use the instruments in a way that’s really going to help these lyrics have the biggest impact they can upon the listener.'
"So it’s a different record… It’s a little more atmospheric at times and certainly digs in in other places too. It has a lot of grooves and I think a lot of the music really supports the lyrics better than I’ve ever done before."
Million-selling albums, a slew of number one hits and an award-lined mantelpiece (industry prizes include Top New Artist at the 2004 Academy of Country Music Awards), is there anything Dierks Bentley, one of the friendliest artists I've ever spoken to, still has left to achieve?
"I hope I’ve still got a lot left to achieve... The second that’s gone, I think you need to quit. As soon as you lose that hunger, there’s no point in doing this. I’m hungry for getting the chance to play the O2 in London. That’s unbelievable - never even dreamed of that.
"I think as a band we’re just getting better and better and I want our live shows to keep growing. This is really our first year of getting a chance to headline amphitheatres in the States…
"So still eaten up with country music and love that I get to do it. I love that I can do some more traditional bluegrass stuff and get away with that, and I love that I can also do the more progressive sound and still get away with that too. I feel like I’m in a great spot and I look forward to seeing what the future holds."
Riser is out in the US tomorrow and hits UK shelves on March the 17th.
A documentary on the making of the album, entitled Dierks Bentley: Riser, was aired on February the 22nd on the Palladia Television Network.
Dierks will be appearing at the C2C Festival in Dublin on Friday March the 14th and in London on Saturday the 15th.
For more information, visit his official website.
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