Meaning Behind the Song: “Heaven By Then” by Brantley Gilbert ft. Blake Shelton & Vince Gill

For Brantley Gilbert, his single “Heaven By Then” featuring Blake Shelton and Vince Gill comes from an honest place. 

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The song arose during a songwriter’s retreat in Texas that blended the great outdoors with the power of songwriting. Gilbert, HARDY, Randy Montana, Taylor Phillips, Hunter Phelps, Brock Berryhill and Jake Mitchell co-wrote the track in the dead of night when Phillips threw out the phrase that ended up being the song’s title. 

“We were just having interesting conversations and Taylor Phillips spouted out something about, ‘Man, I hope I’m in heaven by then,’” Gilbert recalls to American Songwriter about the 3 a.m. writing session. “I remember HARDY slammed both his fists down on the table and he stood up and he said, ‘Damnit Taylor, why would you say that in a room full of eight writers?’” he adds with a laugh. 

Meaning Behind the Song

The song stems from Gilbert’s affinity for the traditional and country way of life, as evidenced by such lyrics as when they pave all the dirt roads / And John Deere’s are dinosaurs / When the last back forty gets sold / And young boys don’t open doors. His belief system is anchored by the final lines of the chorus, if there comes a day this country’s somewhere country don’t fit in / Hell, I hope I’m in heaven by then.

“To me, it’s about being an old soul and feeling like the world’s kind of running off and leaving me behind a little bit,” he expresses about the meaning of the song. “There are things that I enjoy in life and if there comes a day when what we consider to be country like hunting, fishing, if there ever comes a day in this country where that doesn’t fit in, then I don’t really want to be here anymore, and that’s completely accurate. I feel like there’s a lot of times in today’s world I don’t necessarily fit in and I’m all right with that. I feel like this song captures that really well.”

Gilbert admits that while he’s often left puzzled by social media and that online communication can be “challenging,” he does see the value in having honest conversations. “There are a lot of important conversations that happen on social media and I feel like they lose so much weight in that format because there’s no accountability,” he explains. “If somebody says something that has weight to it and they’re willing to say it to me, I’m listening, you got my attention.” 

Sharing this message alongside Gilbert are country music heavyweights Shelton and Gill. Describing Shelton as a “bucket list” feature, Gilbert has been a longtime fan of the singer since his 2001 hit “Austin” and cites “Ol’ Red” as a “jam.” When thinking of an artist to collaborate with on the song, Shelton was the first person that came to mind.

“We heard him right off the bat, so for him to agree to do it was kind of like a master plan coming together,” Gilbert reflects. “I love the guy’s music, but he’s one of those that’s been the same guy every time I’ve met him. He’s always been kind to me, so him getting on a song meant the world to me.”

Another person who helped take the song to new heights is Gill, who provided background harmonies.

No, I don’t wanna go today but I don’t wanna live
Down here at a place that thinks that that place don’t exist
If there comes a day this country’s somewhere country don’t fit in
Hell, I hope I’m in Heaven by then

After Shelton laid down his vocals, Gilbert noticed that the track was missing a “high harmony.” What started as simply imagining Gill on the song turned into a series of phone calls with Gill’s team to see if he’d be willing to be a part of it.

“I always tell people if God gave angels voices to humans, he gave them to Vince Gill and Alison Krauss,” Gilbert praises in what he calls a “pinch-me moment” having Gill on the song. “He’s got one of my favorite vocals of all time and he’s just an insanely talented artist and he’s another one that’s been kind to me.” 

“Heaven By Then” is featured on Gilbert’s latest album, So Help Me God, released in November 2022 that also features collaborations with Jason Aldean, Jelly Roll and Toby Keith. He recently announced the release date for So Help Me God (Deluxe Edition), which contains five new songs and will be available on April 21. Like his previous studio albums, the songs are a musical reflection of where Gilbert is at in life, now as a husband to wife Amber, father of two children, five-year-old son Barrett and three-year-old daughter Braylen, and his journey of being sober for 11 years. With So Help Me God, Gilbert purposefully lets the songs take the lead, co-writing all 15 tracks.

“My albums have encapsulated a chapter of my life,” he describes, noting that his songs are “autobiographical.” “If you listen to all of my records beginning to end, you have a pretty decent idea of who I am and what I’ve been through. I figure if I’m going to be out of the house and be away from my family, I’m going to be having fun and doing something I love and, in order for it to be something that I love, I’m going to have to be able to go back to writing what I want to write.

“I want songs to be what they want to be and people’s definition of country can be just that. It’s their definition, it’s their opinion, and I have one of my own,” he concludes, with “Heaven By Then” serving as a prime example of how he defines country music. “I feel like what it says is special. I hope a lot of folks can relate to it.”

Photo Credit: Alexa Campbell/Courtesy of Big Machine Label Group 

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