In addition to power, sophistication, evil and mystery, one of the many things that the color black can represent is nothingness. After all, black is the result of the total absence of light.
Dierks Bentley had nothing in the songwriting tank and no bright ideas when he began trying to formulate a plan for his eighth studio album, Black, a 13-song offering that drops today (May 27). Flying high from his 2014 Grammy-nominated album Riser, which is widely regarded as his most personal project, nothingness can be a dark thought. It can also be a catalyst.
“When I started thinking about this album, I went into the process with nothing,” says Dierks during a sit-down at the Nash Country Daily campus. “I didn’t have any songs leftover [from Riser]. I didn’t know what I was gonna write about or sing about. I was searching for something. Luckily, I wrote the song ‘Black’ and felt like it was the centerpiece of what the album could be: exploring relationships. It’s kind of dark and moody and sexy, and it’s also my wife’s maiden name, Black, so it has some personal layers to it for me. I felt like it was something I could really go deep on and build an album around.”
Following “Black,” the album’s lead track, are a dozen more songs—seven of which Dierks co-wrote—that delve into the ups and downs of relationships, from breakups and hookups to meltdowns and knockdowns. Dierks takes listeners through the gauntlet of love. There’s jealousy in “Pick Up,” drama in “I’ll Be the Moon,” new beginnings in “Somewhere On a Beach,” power in “Freedom,” self-sabotage in “Why Do I Feel,” regret in “Roses and a Time Machine,” double standards in “Different for Girls,” spirituality in “Light It Up” and self-reflection in the album’s capper, “Can’t Be Replaced.”
“I feel like I made an album that explores relationships and has a thread from the first song to the last song that kinda follows a guy—sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s more of a fictional character,” says Dierks, now with his eyes closed as he speaks. “He’s in one relationship but he leaves it for another, and the grass is green for a little while, then it all tanks. On the back half of the album, he kinda matures a little bit and the songs follow his story. I kinda wanted to make an album that explored the darker elements of love, not just the happy stuff, but more of like the moodier stuff that happens when the lights go down. The album kinda explores the shadows and corners of love. I wouldn’t straight up call it a concept album, but it’s definitely an album. I’m making a vinyl copy of this album because I feel that’s the kind of record it is. I want it to be on my shelf for a long time and be listened to from top to bottom.”
There are some fresh sonic textures throughout the album that give it that “sexy, moody” feel that Dierks previously mentioned, and some of that has to do with Black producer Ross Copperman (Keith Urban, Brett Eldredge), who has proven he’s comfortable living on the rockier edge of country when it suits his artists. Ross, who has four songwriting cuts on the new album (“Black,” “Freedom,” “Why Do I Feel,” and “Light It Up”), also produced 2014’s Riser. But there’s also Dierks’ laid-back delivery that his longtime fans will recognize immediately. As a whole, the album lives in its time and space, without individual tracks serving as outliers. That doesn’t mean the album won’t generate hit tunes, as evidenced by its lead single, “Somewhere On a Beach,” which climbed to the top of the charts in May.
‘“Somewhere On a Beach’ has been a great song for me,” Dierks says. “After coming off some heavy songs like ‘Say You Do’ and ‘Riser’ off the last album, ‘Somewhere On a Beach’ is a great song to kick this album off. Get a fresh start, move forward. It really sets the tone for the summer. It’s been a refreshing way to move forward for me. I feel like I have a lot of songs on this record that have some heavier, meatier stuff, but what I’ve learned over the course of doing this for so long is that it’s OK to have fun songs. Fun songs are good, especially for yournbsp;fans.”
If you’re going to make an album about relationships, it doesn’t hurt to include a female perspective, or in the case of Black, five female perspectives. Texas native Maren Morris, fresh off of her Top 5 hit, “My Church,” is featured on “I’ll Be the Moon,” while Grammy-nominated Elle King is featured on “Different for Girls.” In addition, Jessi Alexander (“Light It Up”), Natalie Hemby (“Mardi Gras”) and Hillary Lindsey (“Can’t Be Replaced”) all provided background vocals on songs they co-wrote.
“I heard Maren Morris on the demo for ‘I’ll Be the Moon,’ and I wanted that voice on the record and found out it was her, which was a double win because I love her,” says Dierks. “It’s great to have someone out there that’s killing it right now being featured on your record. I love what she did on that. ‘Different for Girls’ [the album’s second single] talks about how guys and girls handle heartbreak differently. It’s kind of a heavier song, so I wanted a female voice on it. And it’s great having Elle on that track. I also co-wrote songs with Jessi Alexander, Natalie Hemby and Hillary Lindsey. When I was going to make the album, I had heard their voices on the demos and thought we should get them on the record and get their voices up in the mix. It really helped lend this female perspective to an album that really talks about relationships. I’m really lucky to have all five of those women on the album.”
On Dierks’ previous album, Riser—which he wrote and recorded in the year following the death of his father—the title track became the centerpiece of a very personal album that included songs “Here on Earth,” “Damn These Dreams” and “I Hold On.” Likewise, Black is a personal exploration for the 40-year-old, albeit with a very different theme.
“Black is extremely personal, so you get that out there, which is kind of—you’re putting it all out there,” says Dierks. “But then it’s also just me exploring, taking the freedom as a songwriter and an artist to explore a character that’s not necessarily me all the time . . . there’s some things I’m singing about that I’m not going through in my own personal life right now, but people might misconstrue that for being me because a lot of the songs are personal, so there’s a whole other level that I’ve never really done before on an album. The goal for me is to make a record that’s so personal that it becomes universal. I found that out when I did the song ‘I Hold On.’ It was such a personal song, after my dad had passed away, that it became one of my most universal songs. People sing the crap out of that song every night. They love that song. They make it their own. So the more personal I can go, I feel like the more universal the album is for listeners and hopefully Black does that.”
photos courtesy The Greenroom PR