By Jeffrey B. Remz, September 2003
hat in the world was Dierks Bentley thinking when his first single rocketed up the country singles charts?
"I'm surprised in that it's the music industry, and things never seem to work out as they should," says Bentley in a telephone interview from Nashville about "What Was I Thinkin'," his catchy, twangy Top 5 hit.
"I hope this doesn't sound egotistical," he says. "I think we made a great record. A great record. A team doesn't go to a game not to win the Super Bowl. I feel lucky, and I feel really honored."
"I'm just pleased more than anything else," says Bentley, talking in mid-August just before the release of his self-titled debut. That also did quite well on the charts, debuting fourth for sales.
The single is a humorous one from the get go with Bentley, who co-wrote it with producer Brett Beavers and fellow artist Deric Ruttan, singing "Becky was a beauty from South Alabama/her daddy had a heart like a nine-pound hammer/think he even did a little time in the slammer/what was I thinkin'"
But despite the anger of his girl's father, the couple continues their escapades through cornfields and confrontations with "a mountain of a man with a 'born to kill' tattoo."
"For legal ramifications I can't go into the song too much," says Bentley, before adding, "I'm kidding."
Bentley says Ruttan and Beavers both were in steady relationships "and I, of course, was not. I was dating a girl that was a little bit younger than me. There was a father I had to meet every time I walked in the house. It was a little intimidating."
"We had so much fun writing it. We wrote it pretty quickly."
Bentley says he was so excited, "I called the A&R person at Capitol (the person responsible for singing new acts). I called her out into the parking lot. It's a pretty amazing song to come out of the gate with."
"I can tell if it's a hit song when we're out on the road, if people are singing the lyrics back it."
But if Bentley had his way, "What Was I Thinkin'" would not have been the first single.
"I didn't want it to be the first single. I wanted to come out with a song 'Wish It Would Break.' It's a little more slow, a little more serious. I lived that song to a T. I have 14 stitches in my knuckle. I have not only an emotional, but a physical attachment to the song."
The song is about an ex. Bentley sings "I swear my truck's got a haunted radio 'case/I hear you in every song."
Bentley admits to having some sort of temper because he said he really did hit his dashboard when a particular song came on the radio that reminded him of his former flame.
"It's a pretty straight forward country song," Bentley says of the tune that will be his second single. He wrote it with Beavers, who is better known for his guitar work than production.
"A lot of people can relate to it. If you're dumb like I am, you go out and live out a verse. I have a tendency to do stupid things. I like walls and doors. I never punched a stereo enough to break the skin of my hands. A song came on the radio. (He doesn't remember the name) I didn't think I punched it (the dashboard) hard enough. I punched it again. There was my knuckle exposed. I went to the ER. If I'm singing it, I'm reliving it every night."
Bentley keeps his album pretty traditional among the 13 songs. He mixes up a lot of acoustic-based songs with a touch of bluegrass.
Bentley says he wanted to make music that was "really just trying to make a record for me where I was at this time of my life. It wasn't like I was trying to record for radio or anyone else. I just made a record for me. I made a record that's a little bit acoustic based because I'm huge fan of bluegrass music. There's no piano on the record. It's still country acoustic music."
And while country's biggest demographic appeal is to women, Bentley takes a different tack.
"I made a record for the guys that are out there. I like female singers, but I like country singers that I can relate to. There hasn't been much on the radio that I can relate to."
Speaking of his music, Bentley says, in effect, don't expect him to go soft. "If we're going to err, it's going to be on the side of Hank Jr.," says Bentley.
"It's hard to describe my music, but I think it goes well with domestic beer...NASCAR, (Tennessee) Titans football. A little bit more man music."
Bentley makes it clear he's not abandoning the female side of country though.
"Females are fine with the kiss off songs," he says.
"They relate just as well. Everyone loves the love songs."
In Bentley's case, most of them just aren't that happy. And there may be a good reason for it.
"I went through a relationship that supplied me with a lot of songs," says Bentley. "It was one in particular. I'd asked a girl to marry me. I got more of the two-word response, not the three-word response I was looking for. Thank God. It was two years ago which is when I really started writing the record," says Bentley.