Brantley Gilbert Interview: Hitmaker Talks Mexico Trip, Biggest Fears and How YouTube Would Have Killed His Career
The two competing sides of Brantley Gilbert‘s personality make him one of the more fascinating artists walking around Nashville. He’s a rebel who writes his own rule book on and off stage. He’s also a sensitive songwriter, willing to reveal his broken heart or darkest memories to a room full of beer-swilling fans.
Gilbert’s success as a musician (two No. 1 hits and three Gold singles since 2011) comes as he’s figured out how to marry these two personalities, or at least get them to see eye to eye. “Marry” might be the wrong word, actually. Commitment, he tells Taste of Country, is one of his four major fears.
If everything works out, Gilbert’s next album should drop early in 2014. It’s finished, and he’s itching to start sharing the specifics. “This one picks up where the last one left off,” the Tropical Nights: Boots in the Sand headliner says, referring to his
commitment resolution to write and record songs telling stories he’s lived.
During the interview, he mostly kept a promise not to talk about his ex-fiancee, but a few details did slip about the new music. Even more slipped about his rowdy past and how trips to Panama City inspired the most eye-opening piece of fan gear you’ll ever see. Gilbert says he’ll be playing his new single during his set in Mexico in February, and it fits his theme.
“It’s a good bit different, it’s a little outside the box but it’s a lot of fun,” he says.
ToC: Everything you do is outside the box. What is your box?
BG: [laughs] You think like I do. I appreciate that. That is a compliment. We operate well outside the comfort zone. Everybody else gets a little bit uncomfortable. That keeps it interesting for me. But to be honest, the truth about it is when I sit down at a writing appointment, I don’t sit down to write a No. 1 song. I don’t sit down to write a country song. I don’t sit down to write a rap song. I just sit down to write a song, you know what I mean? And I try to make that song the best it can be.
If you’ve ever listened to one of my records, you know that I’m definitely bi-polar, and I’ve got a soft side [laughs]. We can switch gears real quick, but that’s what I like about this new record is every song is really its own animal and it’s really up to you to decide whatever your personal taste is; how you feel about it.
Will the album be totally new to fans, or do you let people hear tracks to gauge how they’ll respond?
When I got back from the USO tour, I did release one and I kinda did it without permission. I got in a little bit of trouble, but not a whole lot [laughs]. We kinda leaked one. It was a demo of the song, it wasn’t the album cut. I leaked it myself, and that wasn’t the best idea ever.
But we’ve been waiting to put out some new music for quite awhile, and we got back and that was just kind of a big inspiration in a lot of ways, so we wrote a song called ‘One Hell of an Amen’ kinda … whoops. It ended up on the internet. It was crazy!
Have you ever been to Mexico before?
I have. Once. I went for Christmas last year. I can’t really say a whole lot about that story because, you know, I was there with my ex-fiancee. But what I loved about Cancun is it’s like an extension of America and you can use your debit card to get Mexican money at the debit machines. So that saved my ass over there [laughs].
How about growing up? During Spring Break did you have a beach destination?
My police record says I went to Panama City, but I don’t recall it [laughs]. My arrest report says I’ve been to Panama City a few times.
You must have had a great time.
That’s what they say! [laughs] I was a wild one back in them days. A lot of my buddies know the story better than I do.
On your website, you sell a t-shirt with a mug shot on it.
Yeah, we did that. That’s one of those things, you know, that most everybody would get kind of nervous about and think it’s questionable. I thought it was hilarious. But I will tell you the funniest part about that whole process was choosing the mug shot. Because there were a bunch of ‘em from when I was younger.
It’s a ‘Read Me My Rights’ shirt, that’s another new song that’s on the record … it’s just about a couple of things that, whether or not it’s against the law, it’s something I believe strongly in. You know, if I ever hear a guy call a girl a dumb b—- or put his hands on a woman, I make it my business to put a dent in his head, you know what I mean? That song talks about that and it talks about if somebody were to break into my house what might happen. It’s just one of those songs.
At Tropical Nights, they’ve got you doing a stand-up paddleboarding excursion.
Yeah, is that news to you?
Well, hell yeah! I’m not real good at surfing, and I’m terrified of sharks. That’s like one of my main fears. Snakes, sharks, deep water and commitment. I think those are my four big ones.
Are you a daredevil?
Oh yeah. I’ll definitely be on that surfboard now, cause it’s kinda like a dare. But yeah, I was kind of scared of heights as a little kid and stuff.
I wrote a song with a guy named Brian McKnight, who’s a huge R&B guy. I’ve been a huge fan for a long time … he was talking about all the things that he’s done, you know. He’s a professional basketball player and he raced motorcycles professionally and likes to scuba dive and skydive. I was like, “Are you a thrill-seeker, or what’s the deal?” He said, “I just never wanted to get to a certain age and be like, ‘I wish I would have done that, and now I’m too old.’” I guess that kind of clicked then and then after I wrote with him I went bungee jumping.
So yeah. Especially when I drank, I would try just about anything. If it would make anybody laugh or was something we could get on camera and it would be a miracle if it actually worked, then I was all over it.
I feel like if they had YouTube back in your day, there’d be some entertaining stuff out there.
I don’t think my career would be where it is right now [laughs]. It’s probably a good thing.