Brantley Gilbert: Topping 'Halfway to Heaven' Will Be Tough
Brantley Gilbert: Topping 'Halfway to Heaven' Will Be Tough

Brantley Gilbert wondered what all the commotion was about on the morning of September 5. His phone has started going crazy, as people were calling to congratulate him on being named a New Artist of the Year finalist by the Country Music Association.

"I had been so busy out on the road," he told Billboard in a new interview. "I had forgotten that they were announcing the nominees that day. I woke up to a lot of texts and voicemails from some some of my friends in the business, my management, and people from the label congratulating me. I had no idea what they were talking about."

Though radio and the award shows have caught on to Gilbert's talent -- thanks to back-to-back chart toppers "Country Must Be Country Wide" and "You Don't Know Her Like I Do," he stresses he's been working at it for about thirteen years. "We've definitely paid some dues," he said. "It wasn't an overnight thing."

The Valory Music Co. recording artist is about to take things to the next level. After stints on tours with Eric Church and Toby Keith, Gilbert is excited to be embarking on his first headlining effort, titled the Hell On Wheels tour. "We're fired up and ready to go," he said, noting supporting acts Uncle Kracker, Greg Bates and Brian Davis.

Gilbert says that he has learned a lot from those that he has opened for - with one such lesson being how to treat your own. "I became really good friends with a lot of Toby Keith's crew members, and they talk about how long they have been with them, and how good he's been to them. That's my goal. I want my crew to say that about me. That gives me something to shoot for. We've never done anything quite by the rules. We've always done things our own way."

That "way" has paid off quite handsomely. His "Halfway To Heaven" album has been certified Gold. "That's a great feeling. The hardest part about the next record is going to be topping it."

At the same time, the Georgia native says that he tries not to dwell too much about his many successes as of late, and just tries to enjoy every step along the way. "I'm having to go back to the drawing board and figure out what to do next. I didn't have any expectations. This has been icing on the cake."

Gilbert has had success as an artist and a writer, co-penning Jason Aldean's hits "My Kinda Party" and "Dirt Road Anthem," and he says that he couldn't imagine not doing both. "Writing and performing are equal in my book. Writing has always been a passion of mine. It's therapeutic, and a way to get what's inside out. Playing live is an adrenaline rush like playing football on Friday night. I couldn't take one without the other."