If you don’t know Brantley Gilbert, you definitely know his songs. Gilbert’s country-rock anthems have been recorded by major artists like Jason Aldean, including the 2010 smash “Dirt Road Anthem.” After winning New Male Vocalist of the Year at the 2013 ACM Awards and the Favorite Country Album ACM in 2014, Gilbert became a country mainstay.
The Georgia native has produced multiple number one hits, including songs “Bottoms Up” and “Stone Cold Sober.” Gilbert never fails to deliver southern inspired anthems that make listeners crave the weekend. His newest album The Devil Don’t Sleep, released in late January, notes his newfound sobriety as well as the devils found on everyone’s shoulders. Mixed in with his usual party-ready rockers like lead single “The Weekend” are a handful of introspective pieces that give listeners a glimpse at Gilbert’s trials and conquests.
Gilbert, taking a break from rehearsing for his Devil Don’t Sleep Tour, took some time to talk with American Songwriter about his latest work.
You’ve said before that every album reflects a chapter of your life. What’s the theme behind The Devil Don’t Sleep?
You know, contrary to the title, I think this is the most positive record we’ve ever released. This has been an extremely positive chapter in my life. My wife came back into the picture – she wasn’t my wife during the five years we didn’t speak – but she came back into my life. We’ve known each other about 14 years now. She came back, and we got married. It’s been an extremely positive chapter, but The Devil Don’t Sleep is all about staying conscious and being aware that even though things are good and this has been a positive chapter, there is always temptation, whatever your devil is. [It] just reminds me to live day-to-day and keep my head on level.
What song on The Devil Don’t Sleep is most important to you?
You know, as a writer or co-writer on every one of them, I’m attached to all of them in their own way. I’ve got to say, songs about my wife are always – they punch me in the chest. There’s a a song called “Three Feet of Water” that I think has stood out to everyone that’s heard the record.
What do you want listeners to realize from The Devil Don’t Sleep?
I don’t know if there’s something I’m wanting them to realize. Anytime I put a record out, I’ve found that if I just write songs about my life and tell the truth and be the “what you see’s what you get” guy, people seem to relate to that more it seems. That’s just what I’ve found. Anytime I’ve tried to do something for a particular purpose I feel like I can hear that, and it just becomes insincere and not as authentic.
What made you pick up a pen and paper and start songwriting?
I don’t know. It was just something that [happened] at a very early age. I don’t have a good memory [of it]. I had a wreck right after high school. I don’t know if that was it or [if] I’ve blocked a lot of it out on purpose. I don’t really remember a whole lot. I played in church and took a couple guitar lessons, but I wasn’t a fan of taking lessons. I just wanted to figure everything out myself. That’s kind of been the story of my life: I didn’t want to learn other people’s songs.
Your song “Halfway to Heaven” is inspired by your car accident when you were 19. Does this incident still work its way into current songs?
I think its one of those things. I don’t know if it so much works its way into my current songs, but I think it has a lot to do with who I am. I try my best to learn from things like that, so it’s something that I try not to forget. It’s like part of me wants to forget it but part of me knows it’s important not to.
You’ve had your songs recorded by Jason Aldean. What’s it like as a songwriter to hear your work covered by other artists?
It’s cool, you know? The Aldean songs I feel like opened a lot of doors for me and for other artists in the business. When he released “No Doubt,” that would have been a very difficult song for me to release that early in my career.I don’t know if you’d have a “Bottoms Up” or “The Weekend” without “Dirt Road Anthem.” I feel like it opened a lot of doors for me and other artists in this genre. It’s definitely cool to hear, especially with someone with Aldean’s stature and have him put that out.
You recently credited Keith Urban with saving your life. Can you touch on how that experience affected you as an artist?
At the point I was at in my life I was turning over some new leaves. What I meant by [him saving my life] was that I don’t know if I would be where I’m at in my career right now or with music. I was really anxious about being able to do my job, really nervous about being able to perform and write songs. I didn’t know what it was like to do it sober. He just kind of calmed those nerves a bit and told me it wasn’t going to be the same, but that once I got it figured out and once I got my bearings back, that it would be extremely different but in a good way. And he was right.
You’re about to head out on a headlining tour. How do you plan to translate these new songs to the stage?
We’ve been playing a couple of them, and during rehearsal we’ve ran through a few songs. The crowd has already been great on the two weeks we’ve thrown at them on the last tour. These other new ones, it’s kind of a trial by fire, baptism by fire. You have to throw them out there and see what happens.
Is there anything else that you’re working on now that you’re excited about?
I always tell people that the minute a record goes out, I’m working on [the] next one. It’s time to start writing the next one. I’m extremely proud of what we’ve got, and we’re going to ride this thing ’til the wheels fall off.