The time has come for Dierks Bentley to begin work on a new studio album, if he wants to keep the pace he has established over the last decade of releasing a new one every other year.
That’s what his manager is thinking, but that’s not where Bentley’s head is. There’s a meeting scheduled to discuss a new album, Bentley says, when he calls in to promote his Cincinnati show, the first stop on the country star’s summer tour.
He’s not happily anticipating the meeting. He's too busy thinking about the tour and “The Mountain,” the album he released last year that continues to generate hit songs.
Question: You had a lot of interesting guests on “The Mountain”: Brandi Carlile, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien. Are people like that, who are accomplished in bluegrass and Americana, operating in the same mainstream Nashville circle you’re in, or are you going out on a limb by putting them on your record?
Answer: It’s just me going back to my roots and going back to what I think is cool. When you’re making an album, there’s no real formula for what works. You have to rely on what your sense of what cool is. And for me, it’s guys like Tim O’Brien, the acoustic-bluegrass world. I just think that they’re the coolest cats in Nashville. It was just a gut feeling. I saw Brandi play at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2017, and she blew me away. I was driving around Nashville one day listening to a rough demo of a song (“Travelin’ Light”) I had written and I was like, man, she’d be perfect for the song. Getting those guys involved, and girls involved, on my record is important to me. I think they make me look cool, so I owe them a lot.
Q: Is the title "The Mountain” a metaphor for reaching the top of country music?
A: I told someone five years ago, if I ever made a book, it would have a sketch of a mountain on the cover and it would be called “A View from the Top, Almost,” because I feel like there’s always another peak. You feel like you’re always climbing the neverending music mountain, I’d guess you’d call it. I think it’s a metaphor for what life is in general. Every job, every life has these peaks and valleys. Just when you think you get to the top of something, there’s another one a little bit higher. In the music industry, for sure. You get a gig downtown. You think you’ve made it. You’re playing Lower Broadway. It can’t get any better. And then you get a record deal, and you realize you start all over. It’s always growing. There’s always another peak to go after.
Q: It’s a grind to stay at or near the top of country music. Do you think about what it will be like when things slow down in 10 or 20 years or whenever?
A: I got to take it year by year, album by album. And I always assume the next album’s the last album. I’m driving right now to a farm I have on a river. I feel like the older I get, the more the ying and the yang is, and I have to balance as much time as I spend traveling and around concrete and talking to people with a lot of alone time with nature. I love what I do. I love playing Riverbend. I know the backstage. I know what that whole thing feels like. I can’t wait to get out there. As far as careers go out there, I kind of look at the whole thing being like a Nascar race. I don’t want to be out there doing it for the sake of just being someone that can be passed. I only want to do it if it can be meaningful to me and our group. I don’t know what the future looks like. As long as I feel like we’re still growing and have something to prove, I’ll do it as long as I can.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Climbing 'The Mountain': Dierks Bentley explains his tour, new music and focus in 2019