Brantley Gilbert Discusses Making 'The Devil Don't Sleep'

James Minchin
Brantley Gilbert

While it’s been three years for Brantley Gilbert since he released is last album, 2014's platinum-certified Just as I Am, the singer says that that period has been far from idle time.

“I write or co-write [nearly] every song on my records -- all but one on this one,” he tells Billboard in reference to The Devil Don’t Sleep, which will be released on Friday. “All of the records I’ve made so far have been parts of my life. That’s one of the favorite parts of my job. What you see is what you get. So, when I tell someone that’s it’s a chapter of my life, if I have skipped some things or feel like I haven’t lived a chapter yet, I would feel like I was handing people something that was half done."

“I’m not a big fan of that -- I like sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m not on social media every five minutes telling people that I’m in the drive-through line at McDonald’s getting a double cheeseburger,” he says with a laugh. “I think the people that have known and supported us a long time appreciate that I’m out living, and writing songs about that life, and sharing with them. That’s how I share my life -- through my music.”

A huge part of his life and his music now includes wife Amber, whom he wed in 2015. Her presence in his life can be heard on such songs as the sweetly romantic “Rockin’ Chairs,” as well as the honestly pleading “Outlaw In Me.” In the latter, Gilbert admits that he never felt like he would surrender as much of himself to another person before she came along. “I never thought I’d be loved the way that she loves me by somebody who knew me through the good, the bad, and the ugly, and knows everything about me," he marvels. "She does, and that’s an amazing feeling.”

How does the country star feel about the fact that their life together provides inspiration for much of his catalog these days? “I think she likes those better than the songs that aren’t about her,” he says humbly. “She understands that I am a songwriter, and being able to write songs about my life, there’s going to be content of different colors, shapes, and sizes. She does a great job of just having my back. I’ve got an awesome wife. I’ve definitely out-punted my coverage.”

But it’s not all romance on The Devil Don’t Sleep. There’s songs that would fit quite well on previous albums, such as the raging fire of “Bullet In A Bonfire” and the sobering “We’re Gonna Ride Again.” With a pair of platinum albums and nine of his singles being certified gold or platinum, one can surmise that Gilbert’s music strikes a chord with people. Merle Haggard was known as the “Poet of the Common Man," and while some might have their opinions about comparing any modern-day star to the late country legend, one thing is for sure -- Brantley Gilbert knows his audience.

“The favorite part of my job is to be among the people,” he affirms. “I write songs that regular people -- like me -- get those songs. I don’t write about things that I’m not familiar with or educated about. I try to keep it about things that I’ve been through in life. I think that’s one of the things that makes my music so relatable to the people that do support us. I write songs about my life.

"I still live in Georgia, in my own hometown," the singer-songwriter continues. "When I’m not on the road, my life is simply normal. I write about my life, and I think that people that are like me find something that they can relate to. I think that as long as I keep it like that, we stay relatable and relevant to the people that have supported us, and some new ones too.”

Gilbert is as polite and as down-to-earth as one can be, but he knows that his style isn’t exactly for everyone -- a divisiveness best described in “The Ones That Like Me,” which he co-wrote with Bobby Pinson and Blake Chaffin. “I think it’s safe to say that I’m definitely polarizing," he explains. People either love me or hate me. I’m completely cool with that. That’s all good. If you don’t have nobody hating you, you’re doing something wrong.”

That being said, it would be hard for anyone to dislike the dreamy melody of the likely hit-to-be “Baby Be Crazy,” which Gilbert says he has been sitting on for a while. “That’s one I wrote with Brett James, who I wrote ‘Bottoms Up’ with. He came out on the road with me, and we wrote both of those at the same time. It’s an older song, but sometimes you write a song where it wasn’t that it wasn’t good enough to make the album, but it just didn’t fit the story. It definitely fit here. I’m proud of that one.”

Perhaps the best example of Gilbert stretching is on the gospel lift of the album’s closer, “Three Feet Of Water.” The singer-songwriter has recorded songs that express his faith before, but he admitted that this one was special. “I came in on the back end of that song, which is something that I typically don’t make a habit of. I like to be from the ground up on songs. If I had my pick, that would be the way to do it. All of my records have had a song about faith. I had three or four different ones for this record that I was working on, but I just couldn’t get the end to the songs done.”

Then, he got word from his pal Barry Poole, who country fans might know by another name. “I got a call from Cledus T. Judd about 8 a.m. one morning -- which is about three in the morning to me," Gilbert recalls. "He said he had a song he wanted me to listen to -- I always get excited when he’s got a song. They’re usually funny. When I listened to it, the hair on my neck stood up.

"That song is one where every person is going to have to speak for themselves on what it does for them. For me, what they had written before I even put the things I changed in it, there was something about it. I had a similar feeling to that song as I did [2014 single] 'One Hell of an Amen.' I don’t know if it’s going to be a single, or what it’s going to do. But, it’s going to do something. I’m excited to see what that is.”

With the album out, Gilbert can’t wait to take the music to the people, and he’ll start that trek next week. “We start February 2 in Reading, PA, and we’ll be taking out Brian Davis, Luke Combs, and Tucker Beathard," he details. "All of those guys are songwriters and awesome fellows, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to get out on that tour, and see what they bring to the table. It’s always a lot of fun to tour on a record... We’re gearing up and ready to go.”


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