Brantley Gilbert Talks Staying Country, Writing with Brian McKnight

Tune the radio today to any Top 20 Country station in America and the majority of the hits are coming straight out of Georgia. A shift in the mainstream country scene is building, and sitting atop the wave is singer-songwriter Brantley Gilbert, who leads the charge with a musical style that blurs the lines between country and rock 'n' roll. Brantley will talk about all of that -- the awards that followed his breakthrough album, his place in the new country hierarchy -- if necessary, but what he really wants to talk about is his new fiancée, Jana Kramer. Like a true Southern country boy, he is head over heels and always looking for a way to squeeze her into his conversations.

Gilbert is coming to Salt River Fields on Wednesday, July 3; he's headlining the Independence Day Music Festival, featuring Tyler Farr, LoCash Cowboys, and a monstrous fireworks show to light up the desert sky. Up on the Sun spoke with Brantley in the days leading up to his performance about his achievements and his future.

We're excited to see you here for the Independence Day Music Festival. It's going to be a ball; I'm excited to come. I love Phoenix. We always have a good time there.

What are you planning on bringing to the stage for us since it's a 4th of July celebration? A party. I'm going to bring a party with me -- that's what I'm talking about. We're going to come with all guns blazing and put 'em back in the holsters the same way. Amen.

Okay: Give me three reasons why country music kicks ass. The stories, the songwriting, and the fact that it led me to my fiancée. [laughs] It's really the message you portray and the difference you can make in people's lives. You can help get people through situations with songs you write that have things they can relate to. And to help soldiers get through their deployments.

That's really what it's all about.

I would like to get your perspective on the mainstream country music coming out of Georgia lately? There's something in the clay, brother.

There must be. It's taking over. Yes, it is. I'm really proud to be able to be one of those acts. I don't know what it is, because every single one of us has a different style. It's gotta be in the clay.

You have a new album in the works, correct? Yes, sir, we're working our tails off on it. I'm ready to get it out.

When can we expect it? I'm hoping for late fall.

After the jump: If you listen to the words of [my rock songs], I can guarantee you [they're] as country as the day is long.

Are you approaching this album with a specific musical direction in mind? Absolutely not. [laughs] There's songs on there that are heavier rock songs, all the way down to almost [harmony] stuff. It's definitely country -- it doesn't fade from that. It really encompasses this next chapter in my life, and where we are as a band, and where I am as an artist.

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All my guys bring something to the table. All their influences and all mine match up, and we make a pretty good team.

I know I'm happy with the final record. Of course, we still have some more work to do, [but] I love it. Somebody asked me if there were any nerves about following up the last album, and there really isn't -- It is what it is. I guess we'll see if everybody likes it as much as I do.

Your country music mixes a lot of rock into it. Would you ever do a straight-up rock album? I don't know about a whole album. I think I'm kind of feeling it in different parts on this new record. To be honest with you, I don't feel any pressure to put out a straight rock album, because the songs I write that I feel need to be rocking I put on the same record as the songs I sing on country radio.

It kind of stays in that "what you see is what you get" thing. I'm a country dude, and in a song there might be a heavy influence of [that] rock sound and rock theme. But if you listen to the words of it I can guarantee you it's as country as the day is long.

Describe your method of songwriting. To be honest, there really isn't a set method. A lot of times you have a riff on the guitar that's been stuck in your head, or you'll have the notes to a song that need a guitar riff written to them. You never know; it comes from everywhere. The ideas can come out of a conversation.

On most of the co-writes I like to get in and talk with whoever I'm writing with. I just wrote my wedding song with Brian McKnight, actually. [laughs] That was kind of a dream of mine. I don't know if you can get any more badass than to write your wedding song with the king of love songs. [laughs]

Jana [Kramer] will probably love that. Has she heard it yet? She set up the co-write. [laughs]

I'm curious how your life has transformed in the past few years, after a gold album and two number one hits. You know what, man? I'm still working my butt off all day every day. Then, getting engaged definitely comes with some good change. I have the greatest girl in the world, and she has my back, and I have the freedom to write whatever song I want.

I'm in a really good place.

After the jump: "You Don't Know Her Like I Do" has taken on a whole new meaning to me [from] the situation I was in when I wrote it.

Were you surprised by winning New Male Vocalist of the Year at the ACM Awards last year? It's always a surprise, [and] it's always great to be recognized. I'll be honest -- I'm not really much of an awards guy. I wear stuff to the red carpet that's out of my closet. For me, the biggest part of winning the award is for everybody in my organization who is working their tail off. It's great for those guys to feel a sense of accomplishment. There's more fuel for the fire and more motivation and drive.

You just concluded your first headlining tour. How did that go? Well, it was sold out. We had an absolute ball with great crowds every night. We were just rocking out and had a blast. It couldn't have gone any better.

Can you describe the relationship between you and Jason Aldean and the covers he does of your songs? Jason is a great dude. He's a Georgia boy. Those songs [he covers] are still on my record, and I still play them live every night. He does his own thing with them, and more power to him. I think he did a great job with it. He's a super-nice dude; I have a lot of respect for Jason.

Tell me the story behind the song "You Don't Know Her Like I Do." That song has taken on a whole new meaning to me [from] the situation I was in when I wrote it. I relive every song I play every night. We've all been in those relationships, where sometimes you have to work for it.

In my case, when I met Jana, I knew right off the bat.

How is your tour with Tim McGraw going? It's great. I'm sitting in the bus right now in Texas and he's about 10 feet away from me swinging a hammer right now. From what I know about my schedule, my fiancée and I set it up to where we see each other at least every two weeks. Other than that, I'm on autopilot. [laughs]

What do you have planned next? You know what, man? I'm just riding this thing until the wheels fall off. I'm always working on something, so there ain't no telling what it's going to be. I'm already starting to write for the next album. So I guess I'll be getting ready for that one.

Well, thanks for your time, Brantley, and have fun out there with Tim. Don't let him hurt himself with that hammer. Oh, he's got it. [laughs]

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