"There ain't enough Bourbon in Kentucky for me to forget you/ no, there ain't enough matches I can strike to set afire the memory of you/ up goes down, right's gone left behind, wheels spin around, revers stuck in my mind." - Bourbon In Kentucky - Ryan Tyndell-Hilary Lindsey-Gordie Sampson.

When Dierks Bentley toured here with Australian country king Lee Kernaghan in 2012 he was a on a high as he drew Carlton footy stars Andrew Walker, David Ellard and St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt to his Palais concert on March 13.

But less than three months later the Arizona born bluegrass and country star was mourning the death of his dad Leon who died at 88 on June 1.

His death inspired four songs - I Hold On, Here on Earth, Bourbon in Kentucky and Damn These Dreams - on Dierks eighth album Riser, released here in summer.

"It's more of a snapshot of the past two years and not one particular moment that's just about my dad," Bentley revealed when he launched the disc at a February 27 album release show in Chicago.

"That would've been too dark. It would've been kind of a drag of a record, and he wouldn't have wanted that. My dad was 88 years old. I can't feel too grief-ridden, when people lose kids in school shootings."

"Dad did the string-on-the-door thing with my teeth. With my daughter, I couldn't even pull the tooth out. Dad was such a solid dude. I can still hear him laugh at me having to go through sleepless nights and chaos. 'Dad, do you ever think about getting in a car and driving to Colorado, alone?' 'Uh, no.' "

Leon loved George Strait and Hank Williams, roots country music and always had country radio on in his car.

"He loved that even if you didn't know a song, you could almost guess the next line," Bentley said.

"He loved the simplicity of it. You could always be singing along to it."

That simplicity made Bentley think it would be easy to write country songs.

"Then when I got to Nashville, I found out that to write a good song that ends up like that, you have to write it, destroy it, tear it apart and put it all back together again," he said.

"It's really hard to make it look that easy."

But once Bentley got the hang of song-writing his father was his biggest fan.

"My dad loved My Last Name," Bentley said of the single featured on his 2003 debut album.

"I was changing it a little and trying to make a bluegrass version of it, and he did not like that at all. He liked the original. And he was right."

And when Bentley debuted on the ACM Awards his parents flew to Las Vegas for the show.

"I have a great picture of them from that awards show," he said.

"They both have these huge smiles on their faces. And my dad was in a bolo tie. I used to work at The Nashville Network and I remember sending a TNN hat back home. My dad wore that hat every day. Until the very end. That and a Capitol Records sweatshirt I sent him.

He drove the same cars, wore the same things all the time, kind of like me. I guess I get that from him."


"With my mouth open in a whiskey rain/ I can stand there 24 hours a day." - Bourbon In Kentucky - Ryan Tyndell-Hilary Lindsey-Gordie Sampson

But Bentley was bemused by radio reaction to his first single.

"The record started in a darker place," Bentley explained.

"The first single I put out, Bourbon in Kentucky, I think it just stopped a lot of radio stations when they put it on. There were all these summer songs coming on and fun songs and then there ain't enough bourbon in Kentucky for me to forget you." It's such a hard-core song.

"I had some programmers tell me, you know, "It's just too much." And I appreciate their honesty. I have a great relationship with radio, and I love that feedback. We went for something, but it's cool because that song reflects where the album started with my dad passing away. Then by the end of it, my son Knox was born.

"I've fought for singles, got what I wanted and then thought, 'I should have listened.' "

"Bourbon in Kentucky, we put it out and it stuck out like a sore thumb on radio. It was heavy and brooding. I love that we took a chance on it. It's weird talking to people about this new record and the things that are behind it. I've probably said, 'My dad died' 100 times."


"It's just an old beat up truck/ some say that I should trade up/ now that I got some jangle in my pocket/ but what they don't understand is it's the miles that make a man/ I wouldn't trade that thing in for a rocket/ what they don't know is my dad and me/ we drove her out to Tennessee/ she's still here and now he's gone." - I Hold On - Brett James-Dierks Bentley.

Bentley's new album enables him to explore new ground musically and personally - it's darker than past work because of turbulence in his life when he wrote and recorded it.

"I think every record I've made has always been a Polaroid snapshot of where I was at that place in time when I made it," says Bentley, father of three.

"But this particular album just has a lot of scenery in the picture. There's a lot that's gone on the last two years - more so than any other time in my life. I mean, you look at some of the bookends of making this record, my dad passing away at the start of the process, and then my son, Knox, being born at the end of the process. So it was unexpected."

Through the turmoil Bentley wasn't sure what direction he wanted to take.

"All I wanted to do, when I made this record, I just wanted to have the best songs. I wasn't sure what they were going to be about, but I wanted them to be the best," he recalled.

"I wanted to write my best songs, I wanted to write a lot of songs. I wanted to listen to a lot of outside songs and find the best songs that I could for whatever I was going to write about, but I wasn't sure what it was going to be. And then life came along and decided for me."

Bentley reaches deep into his psyche.

"I think with all of my records, I'm always searching for new," he admits.

"But I don't want to lose all the work and time I've gone into developing a sound or a style.

So there are songs on the record that kinda correlate back to themes I've had in the past - certainly the lonesome stuff is on there. I'd say Bourbon in Kentucky is an example of that."

Bentley took the actors in his I Hold On video on the road.

"I had this idea, what if we just trace the steps of someone, to get to that idea of faith, love and freedom? But not get to it in a cheesy or generic way," Bentley revealed.

"We wanted an authentic way. The way I saw faith, love and freedom, and the way I saw America, was through a tour bus. That was my first time going through places like Wisconsin and Illinois and Iowa and Nebraska. I think anybody who watches that video feels like they're on the bus and on the ride."

Bentley exploits a bass fuelled heartbeat.

"It does reflect a heartbeat," he admitted.

"I like that. I think for the whole album, the goal was for the music to provide the heartbeat for the lyrics, instead of going in and saying, "Let's make a country record where we put steel guitar here, the fiddle here." We said, "Let's just let the lyrics decide what the music is going to be." Which instruments - or even which sounds - are going to best support the lyric of the song? So it was a really different mentality."


"I took two weeks for the honeymoon/ a couple tickets all inclusive down in Cancun/ I couldn't get my money back so I'm in seat 7A/ I'm getting drunk on a plane." - Drunk On A Plane - Chris Tompkins-Josh Kear-Dierks Bentley.

Bentley, a pilot, flew with the punches on songs Drunk On A Plane and the hedonistic Sounds Of Summer and Pretty Girls.

"Just trying to do that better, or differently, or find a new way of doing some of that lonesome-sounding stuff," Dierks says.

"I feel like that song Pretty Girls is taking a new approach to get to the same destination. We're all having a good time partying and having fun but just the vibe of that is so different from anything I've ever recorded. So there's that element of it, and then there's kind of a third layer to the album - songs like I Hold On, Riser, Here on Earth that really kind of show where I am in my life as a dude, as a man, as a husband, father, just kinda looking at the world around me, and making observations on that."

Bentley hired producer Ross Copperman and executive producer Arturo Buenahora Jr. on Riser - a hybrid of old-school live recording techniques with newer digital technology for a fresh but classic sound.

I Hold On is one of the most personal songs Bentley has released.

"That's definitely a new theme, and I feel like it kinda needed to have a new sound to go along with the album," Bentley explained.

"So I worked with a different producer, new engineer, new players just going for stuff, and not being afraid to fail. I think a lot of guys who have been successful in country music have honed in on a certain brand and sell that. I don't really do that. I'm always searching for something that's going to be a little bit different for my fans. Sometimes I go to great extremes, like making Up on the Ridge - the bluegrass record.

"On this record, I think the sounds are different than what you might have heard in the past. I think that in itself might be its own brand. Always keep it changing a little bit. Never let them know exactly what's going on or get too comfortable with the music."

He cut the album between two life changing events.

"And in between those two pivotal moments in my life, I was on a co-headlining tour with Miranda Lambert across the whole country," Bentley recalled.

"It was the most fun I've ever had out on the road. It was such a cathartic experience. So, the album ends up making a full circle. It starts off on a downward slope, but it picks up steam and comes back around toward the end.

The title track is a salient signpost.

"I think the song's optimistic," Bentley added.

"It's hopeful. It's almost like a motto that you want to be this person. You want to be strong enough to make it through the tough times, to be a shoulder somebody can lean up against and to be somebody's rock. I like to think of myself as that person, but I also want to be that person when perhaps I'm not. I think it's a really optimistic song, and I think, in all, the record comes out feeling optimistic."


"I remember hearing Hank on the radio/ the first time it felt like I fell in love/ I bought a cassette, stole some Reds from dad/ and me and old Junior just burned it up/ I was hooked like a fish/ every birthday wish was guitars and records." - Damn These Dreams - Ross Copperman-Jaren Johnston-Dierks Bentley.

There's an element of nostalgia to Damn These Dreams.

"I almost didn't put that on there," Bentley confessed.

"I sent it out to the guys in the band to see what they thought. I sent about five songs out, and they all wrote back and said, "That's our favourite." It's just so personal. It talks about your first love, which for me was Hank Jr. and country music. And then you get older and you have kids and a family and a wife. Now I have four other things tugging at my heart. And I thought it was hard to leave the house with Jake!

"It's an honest song. And a lot of times in country music, as singers, we try to well, honesty doesn't necessarily sell. You know, what sells is always going to be fun and party time and rock 'n' roll. So, to put a song out there, saying "Yeah, you know, it is kind of tough doing this."

And it's not just for a country singer. Anybody who's a traveling salesman - which in a lot of ways, I am - that has to leave their home and leave their families can relate to that. It's tough, but you wouldn't have it any other way. I wouldn't change a dang thing about it."

Bentley filmed a 30 minute docco of the behind-the-scenes project - Dierks Bentley: Riser premiered February 22.

"It wasn't one of those things where you just shot over a two, three, four-day period," Bentley said.

"It was director Wes Edwards really trailing me for a long period of time and catching me at all the different phases of what I do. From the road, the van, the music and the fans, to making breakfast, dropping my kids off at school, flying airplanes to gigs, he was there to capture all of it. And most importantly, he was there for the birth of our son, so there's some of that footage."

When he saw the final product Bentley was surprised at how revealing it was.

"For me to watch it, I'm watching it with one hand over my eye," he admitted.

"I don't like my speaking voice, you know? I'm fine singing, but hearing myself talk or be on TV. I'm not really comfortable with that, in general. Then to see this really private footage is tough, and you kind of question why are we doing this. But in the end, it's about really capturing a moment in time.

"I would have nothing without my fans, and they're the reason I've had any chance to live this at all. So if you think it's a story worth telling - which I think it was - you've got to get it on tape and give your fans a little something extra to watch. And we really went all the way in and didn't hold anything back."

"The two phrases touring musician and family man were never meant to go hand-in-hand. It's just hard. It really hurts your heart to walk out the door on your kids. It's like the two loves of your life pulling at you - your family and love of music," Bentley says.

"I wanted this album to be that deeper look at who I am and who I try to be, and so I guess it's the same with this film too. The first time I watched the rough edit, I actually got physically uncomfortable because it's all in there, my whole life right there on the screen for the whole world to see."


"Back in the day I was always/ cruising the road on a Sunday/ making those tyres spin your way/ yeah it seems like yesterday/ we'd go swinging on the front porch/ you were all mine and I was all yours." - Five - Ryan Tyndell-Dierks Bentley.

It's a far cry from his embryonic era when he first hit Nashville.

"When you're single, you have so much drama," Bentley recalled.

"Looking back, it's silly, but at the time, it's real. I lost hair, lost weight and had a hernia because I was working out too hard during a heartache. Then I married the right girl, and drama was at an all-time low. When the drama went away, so did the substance for song-writing. They go hand-in-hand."

"Then I discovered as I've had kids - one, two and three - that the drama comes back. There's heartache. My daughter just lost her first tooth, and my heart ached more for that than for any relationship I'd had in the past.

To see how excited she was to lose that tooth, and how excited to get bigger and older, it pains me."

But pain can become solace in song.

"Riser is the cornerstone of the record," Bentley confided.

"That's the guy I'd like to be. Like my dad. I look out in the crowd every night and see regular folks who have to get up, take kids to school and pay bills under tremendous economic stress. It's that idea of rising up for these times, of being a rock for your family.

Of being a real man with real responsibilities."

Bentley obviously gives a puck about his music.

"I'm probably one of the only guys in this town that can play the Station Inn and then go play an amphitheatre," Bentley says of his eclectic music.

"If country music was a hockey team, my position would be the grinder who digs the puck out. You're a kid until you have one, even if you're 40. You're somebody's child until you have a child. I don't think I was a fully realized man until I had a kid."

"In music we drag out adolescence. Once you have kids, you realise that it's a real completion of who you are. I relish the honesty of the situation."

"I'm a sick country music fan. I love old, sad country songs at 3 a.m. I want to hear something lonesome, all the way through."

"I fly a single-engine, piston-powered airplane. It's not fast, but it goes in a straight line and it buys me an extra night at home, and an extra day to take my kids to school."

"I was with my wife in a hospital room, just the two of us, for 18 hours. Bright lights. Then the baby came. Then I was on the plane. Then we landed, and I changed in the van. Then I walked into a dark room full of 15,000 people, cheering. Then I got back on the plane. In the air, it's a very quiet time."

top / back to diary