Life throws the country star a heart-tugging batch of inspiration 

Dierks Bentley’s new album, Riser, reflects the emotional roller coaster he endured beginning with his father’s death two years ago and concluding with the recent birth of his first son. “That definitely changed my perspective,” says Bentley. “A lot of the heavier material on Riser wouldn’t have come about without those things happening.” Bentley, 38, has matured as an artist, drawing on life experiences to mine deeply personal lyrics. “To write country songs, you’ve got to get your ass kicked and your heart broken,” he says. “I feel like I’m reaching a place where I can write those types of songs.”


How did you choose material?

I knew I wanted to do something different. The main goal was to put a premium on great songs. My friend, Arthur Buenahora Jr., executive-produced the album. He pushed me to write with different people and found some great songs. Whether the songs had my name on it or someone else’s, I didn’t care—I just wanted the 12 best. Arthur said at the very beginning that we’d make a lot of hard decisions and leave great songs on the floor. It was a matter of weeding out material that didn’t fit the concept of Riser—the idea of being a person strong enough to get through hard times. That’s the theme, even if there are a few songs that lighten the load a bit.


Was it hard writing about your father?

“Here on Earth” was definitely cathartic. [Producer] Ross Copperman and I were on the bus writing songs that day. I was thinking about my dad and about people who have suffered a horrific loss, like the death of a child. Where do they find answers? These lyrics just came out so quick. I remember being so hungry and wanting to quit to grab a bite, and Ross said, “You’re so close—just sing it one more time.” We were in the middle of a parking lot with the microphone against the window—not ideal for recording—but I tried it once more. Most of the vocal on the record comes from that moment. I’ve never sung a song like that, or had the lyrics come out the way those flew out. I was in pain from the lyrics and from being hungry!


How long did recording take?

About a two-year process. It first came together pretty quickly, but as we were wrapping things up, the first single, “Bourbon in Kentucky,” went over like a lead balloon. It was dark and heavy at a time when country radio was playing lighter stuff. When it died, it allowed us to go back into the studio, which was great because two songs made the record that wouldn’t have otherwise: “Sounds of Summer” and “Back Porch,” both of which are easy, fun songs.


How did you work with Ross?

What’s great about working with Ross is that his country catalog doesn’t go very deep. I say that in a good way. He was a breath of fresh air when it came to instrumentation. He’s looking for whatever sounds are going to best support the lyrics. I was the yin to his yang, the country guy who could balance that stuff out.


How have you evolved as an artist?

I feel that I’m making the best music I ever have right now. Back when I was on the road 300 days a year, albums were fuel for touring. I still love being on the road, but now I’m also about getting great songs and making sure every album is one that can be pulled off the shelf and consumed like a great book.

–Juli Thanki


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