Brantley Gilbert is in good spirits when I talk to him, and why shouldn’t he be? His European tour is on the horizon, his latest album JUST AS I AM has been a commercial success, and his career is heading in an exciting direction. With a talent for writing and performing everything from heartfelt songs to party anthems, Brantley is rightly being hailed as one of country rock’s standout stars.
âI try my Best not to put anything on the album that’s a filler song. Every single one of my songs has a meaning and has a purpose on that record. That’s one of the hardest things to do…â
Every record I put out is a chapter of my life, he says when I ask about his latest album. He’s not lying either; every track on the album is written or
It helps that Brantley tells stories of the past as well as the present. As some may have noted, drinking song Bottoms Up has been the standout hit from the album, yet he’s been sober since December 2011. I ask if it felt strange to write a song like Bottoms Up, and thankfully he lets out a friendly laugh, saying:
No man, not at all! I think when I was drinking I earned my stripes to be able to sing drinking songs and write them for the rest of my life.
Brantley seems to enjoy the process of writing, whether it be a story of his past or an expression of what he’s currently feeling. It’s the only way I can make sense of my story, he says, again letting out a warm laugh. As far as I go it’s important to me. It keeps me in check, holds me accountable, and writing is something I’ve always been proud of and it helps me a lot.
He’s also quick to make sure his love of writing doesn’t get misconstrued as a swipe at the co-written by him, and he’s not been afraid to put his heart and soul into the process. This is an album that details his faith in the title track, his battle with booze in Stone Cold Sober, and the harsh realities of war in One Hell Of An Amen, a song inspired by a friend of his who served two tours in Iraq, returning from the second with PTSD.
I try to share the good the bad and the ugly with everybody, he explains. The only criteria appears to be quality. I try my best not to put anything on the album that’s a filler song. Every single one of my songs has a meaning and has a purpose on that record. That’s one of the hardest things to do. I tell people all the time that if you listen to those three records you get a good idea of who I am, and who I’ve been,’ continues Brantley, in a tone that’s much calmer than you’d anticipate from his music alone. It’s important to me to express that in music and really be me; and I don’t think it would be completely honest of me if I didn’t share the good the bad and the ugly.
This kind of praise has required some bold artistic brush strokes. Brantley has been able to fuse country sounds with some heavy rock influences, and he’s even included a collaboration with T.I on the extended cut of JUST AS I AM (more on that later). This may seem a little outlandish, but a conversation with Brantley leaves you thinking that it’s typical of the man. He likes what he likes and he says what he thinks, and he seems content for listeners and commenters to have their opinion, whether it’s positive or negative numerous country stars who don’t write their own music and lyrics. No disrespect to those other guys who don’t write their own material, he adds. It’s an entirely personal thing. There are so many great writers in Nashville who would never have their songs heard on a grand scale without those artists cutting them. I know those songwriters and I’ve written with them, and they’re great people as well as great writers. That makes me appreciate those other artists that much more.
On the subject of appreciating other artists, Brantley teamed up with Justin Moore and Thomas Rhett for the Small Town Throwdown track. Those two guys are two good friends of mine and I have a lot of respect for them personally and musically, he remarks. It seems as though another collaboration is in the pipeline too, but despite my attempts to pry he remains tight-lipped. I don’t know what the status is on that and if I can tell people, he says cheerily. I’m dying to tell people but I just can’t! Collaborating is a lot of fun for me, and that was a fun song to do with them. It was an awesome experience and I’m looking forward to doing that again.
This brings us neatly on to the Bottoms Up remix with hip-hop star T.I. I’ve actually, believe it or not, been a T.I fan for a long time, says Brantley. Accordingly, it was Brantley who made the first move, reaching out to T.I’s representatives to see if there was a chance of working together. He’s an awesome guy, and when I finally got on the phone with him he was sitting in the studio. He listened to the song and was like, ‘I’m gonna knock this out right now, I love this.’ He wrote on it a little bit, he laid it down and sent it to me, and I loved it right off the bat.
A country-rap collaboration might not be to everyone’s taste, but I’d argue that it works smoothly for this song. Brantley seems happy with how it panned out too. It was an awesome experience, man. Having him on the song was a curveball for a lot of people, and I like doing that, he says. I like staying outside of the box, at least I know where I stand! I’d suspect T.I feels the same way about the track; he recorded more content than they could use.
With the T.I collaboration in mind it’s notable that Brantley has a ‘like it or leave it’ approach to music, which might sound brash, but in his own words and voice comes across as creative and suitably carefree. The way I listen to music is the same way I write music and put music out, he tells me. I just try to sit down and write the best song for the moment. And you’re not going to win everybody over with every song. What I do hope with my record, is that if you listen to the whole record hopefully there’s something you can relate to or something you like. And if you don’t maybe I’ll get you next time.
Moving away from the studio and towards life on the road, Brantley is gearing up for his European tour. Those of you who saw him at Country to Country last year will know what to expect; an energetic and muscular set that doesn’t let up or compromise. This seemed slightly awkward last year given the variety of different acts at C2C, of which Brantley was undoubtedly the heaviest, and the varied tastes and demographics represented in the audience. It struck me as a love it or loathe it set, though his attitude towards the performance is quite admirable. We wanted to come over there and give you guys exactly what we give folks here, he says. We didn’t want to take any shortcuts or any of that.
Having mentioned that Brantley doesn’t hold back, there was more to this at C2C last year, as he spoke openly on stage about his support for the second amendment. I dig deeper on this, and ask if he worries about the reception these opinions will garner when he’s on foreign soil. I’m the same person over there as I am over here, and my opinions don’t change from country to country, he responds, remaining unwaveringly polite despite my insistence on a controversial subject matter.
It’s the same dude, same guitar, same band, just a different piece of land and a different culture, he continues. I’m an unapologetic kind of guy too. I don’t say anything just to offend anybody, but I don’t pull any punches either. I don’t think I’d be being true to myself or true to anybody if my opinions were to vary from region to region.
Brantley has two 1911 pistols tattooed on his back these days and remains a strong opponent of any proposed gun ban. Our views clearly differ quite strongly on this but it’s no cause for an argument. Brantley accepts, however, that his opinions are going to occasionally cause a stir. You never want to piss anybody off, but it happens, he admits. It’s not something that I intentionally do. He’s also prepared to deal with any backlash that comes his way, saying, it’s an expectation at this point. There’s going to be positive feedback and there’s going to be negative feedback. I feel like there are a lot of things that may rub people wrong, but people are entitled to their opinion and I think those different opinions are what keep conversations interesting sometimes!
Another topic that Brantley is passionate about, which he says leads to a degree of controversy amongst some crowds, is his support for the American military. I love my freedom, I love my country, I love my family. And those guys and girls help to protect that, so I owe ’em, he notes. His inspiration for supporting the military comes from his family, as well as from his friend, mentioned earlier, who battled with PTSD.
He’d tell me stories and I was honoured that he felt comfortable enough to tell me what was going on in the inside, says Brantley. It really affected me. I’d heard stories and you hear about PTSD all the time. My mom’s side of the family is military and I had uncles that dealt with it, but that was the first time I’d ever seen it that close to hitting home. It was somebody that I knew well, who had drastically changed, and not so much for the better. Working through that whole process with him, I felt like I helped and he’s doing so much better now. It just inspired me to want to help more. Brantley has since been a vocal supporter of the military, and in September performed at Chattanooga Unite, a parade and concert honouring four marines and one navy sailor who were killed in the city in July. He also recently gave his CMT Music Awards tickets to a Purple Heart recipient.
I’ve learned to appreciate the ballads and the more serious songs, especially when people in the audience respect them and want to hear them. It makes it a lot easier and that helps a lot… it’s another show and it’s a lot of fun. He’s also supported by his wife, who’s going to be joining him for the European tour. It’s awesome, he comments. If she’s there I’m home.
When conversation turns back to Brantley’s return to the U.K, he lets on his excitement and also that we should prepare for another rocking set. The songs that feel more like a party are definitely easier to do and more fun most of the time, he says. That said, he’s started to embrace his more sensitive side when he’s up on stage. I’ve learned to appreciate the ballads and the more serious songs, especially when people in the audience respect them and want to hear them. It makes it a lot easier and that helps a lot.
Whichever side of Brantley we see in Britain, and I’d still expect more of the hard rocking side, we can be confident he’ll give it his all. The United Kingdom is a beautiful place, the culture’s beautiful, the people are awesome, he says, looking forward. You guys welcome us with open arms, and it inspires me to give y’all my best. Ian Horne â¢ www.bgblackout.com
Guns and the military are topics that often tie in with the country scene, and in his support of both Brantley runs the risk of being depicted by critics as a backwards Southern stereotype. This wouldn’t be fair, however, and while Brantley is country to the bone he possesses a sharp turn of phrase and an affable demeanour that cuts through negative perceptions. Also, when he’s away from the American South he’s not exactly a fish out of water. When the show gets started and you see people singing the songs back, it’s almost like having a piece of home there with you, he says, though he does admit that people in Europe struggle to understand his accent. That’s the only thing I struggle with, he jokes. Outside of that it’s another party,