Country singer Dierks Bentley is a man known for hitting the road hard, so it’s appropriate that when PopWatch met him Wednesday night in New York City, where he’s been promoting his new album, Feel That Fire, he had just returned from a day trip to Philadelphia. After signing 700 autographs in three hours at a Pennsylvania Dave & Buster’s, he needed alcohol. So first, he captured our toast for the Flip videos he shoots and edits for his website. “The best location I’ve ever had an interview in: Irish Pub,” he said, holding a Guinness he was forced to drink. (Mindful of his deal with Bud Light, he quickly added, “This is a Bud Light. This is Bud Light.”) Then, he submitted to an EW Pop Culture Personality Test, which eventually spread to the next table…
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: The best concert you’ve ever seen?
Dierks Bentley: It would definitely be U2. Would it be their final show, Dec. 9, 2006 in Hawaii, or would it be here in New York on Nov. 22, 2005, or would it be May 9, 2005 in Chicago, where they actually shot their Vertigo DVD? I would probably say here. My wife and I came up for my 30th birthday, we had a great dinner, we were in the circle at the Garden, we went to some club afterward and Usher was there, so I got a picture with Usher. That was a momentous trip.
The band you’ve seen most often in concert?
The Sidemen. They play at a little bar called The Station Inn in Nashville. When I was growing up — musically growing up, I moved to Nashville when I was 19 — I’d go watch this bluegrass band play every Tuesday night and just absorb banjo, mandolin, upright bass, acoustic guitar, harmony singing. The cover charge was $5. It was definitely the best music lessons I ever got, and I ended up getting extremely hammered. I probably saw them play 50 times a year for about five years.
Your position on karaoke?
I love it. I carry a Jeep behind the tour bus, because it’s fun to go out in the festival campgrounds at 1 a.m., and hang out for as long as we can before it gets crazy. One time, we pulled up and these guys had a karaoke machine set up in the back of their truck bed. And I’d had just enough drinks where I thought it’d be funny if I got up there and sang “What Was I Thinkin’”, one of my own songs that I’d just got done singing in front of 30-40,000 people, and now I’m singing my hit for a gathering of 20 to 30 from the back of a truck bed. But it was fun at the time. I wish I’d had my camera. That would’ve been good footage to capture.
That is a story those guys will be telling for the rest of their lives.
And no one will believe. “Dude, he was singin’.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Let me guess, he was singing ‘What Was I Thinkin’”. “Yeah, he was!”
Do you have a fallback karaoke song that’s not your own?
It would probably be a poor rendition of “My Way,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “I’m Walking Behind You,” “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning,” “South of the Border,” “Learnin’ the Blues.” I always go for Frank. Have the drink in one hand, the mic in the other…. The last time I karaoked was in a private room in Japan. I did Billy Idol’s “White Wedding.” I’m a huge fan of Billy Idol. I spiked my hair every day like him in 7th and 8th grade. My autograph, to this day, is based off of his. I signed Billy Idol’s name so much, my autograph has the same sharp edges that he did.
Your pop culture blind spot?
I’ve very intrigued by the Jonas Brothers. I’ve gone online and had a listen and watched some stuff. What am I missing here?
And what did you think?
It’s good music. I actually downloaded a tune… [Looks at tape recorder] I hate to have that on tape.
The line that stuck out was something about “you can take this, you can take that, you can take this awesome scarf my grandma made for me.” Do you know what song I’m talking about? ["Girl of My Dreams"] I loved it. They’re singing it all punk. [Scrunches up his face and sings] “You can take this awesome scarf my grandma made for me.” It’s lyrics for a younger audience, but they really perform with a lot of bravado and they have a lot of great moves. When I was 13, I was just figuring out how to play “Eruption,” poorly, by Eddie Van Halen.
What song do you wish you’d written?
“Don’t Close Your Eyes” by Keith Whitley. [Sings] You ever heard that?
Maybe. Keep singing.
[Laughs] She’s got her eyes closed because she’s thinkin’ of someone else. That’s a good country song. I’m a huge Keith Whitley fan. He would’ve been the greatest country singer of all time, but he drank himself to death at 33.
You have a great song on your new album called “I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes.”
So yeah, I flipped it around. I wanna make you close your eyes. I thought about it. And I thought about calling it “Close Your Eyes.” It’s a little different sentiment, a little happier song than Keith’s.
And then you had that hit “Come A Little Closer.” You’re like Conway Twitty, always trying to find creative ways to say, “I want to have sex with you.”
Yes. Yes. I think “I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes” is a little more blatant. Some of those lines in the second verse: “If you need a little bit of help from me/Babe, there’s not a button that I can’t reach.” I think the parents will pick up on that one; hopefully the kids won’t. We have fun with that. Seeing how far you can take it.
Has your label ever had to rein you in on a song?
I’ve never taken it too far on anything I’ve turned in to the label. I wrote a song for my 4-month-old daughter: “I love boobs, boobs, boobs. Boobs. Boobs. Boobs.” ‘Cause she does, she loves boobs. I thought I was a big fan of boobs, but she really likes boobs. But that’s never gonna be released on an album.
When do you yell at the TV?
[Sarcastic] Man, the rose ceremony always gets me so mad.
The Bachelor is mine! You so watch. Maybe with your wife?
Uh, it’s like a train wreck… We have one TV in our house. I live with TV on the road — our tour bus has 11 TVs — so when I get home, we don’t watch a lot. But I have an email from my wife from a couple of days ago that’s so hilarious. [Tries to find it on his phone, but there's too many emails from her.] Anyway, I was all freaked out because reading the first few lines, it sounded like something terrible was going on. Then I was like, “Oh my god, she’s writing me about The Bachelor.” Do I ever yell at the TV? When the Cardinals just lost the Super Bowl, there was a lot of yelling there. [Bentley was born and raised in Arizona.]
Your guilty pleasure dance song?
This would be a good question for my wife. I do a lot of stuff just to make her crack up. I need her here next to me. [Leans into tape recorder] I’m phoning a friend on this one. [Dials. No answer.] I’m tryin’ to think. The latest would probably be “Single Ladies.” The hand thing, the [slaps his booty]. I know all the moves to that one. Sugarland’s “All I Want To Do” is a big hit in our house because our daughter loves that song. That gets sung a lot.
Did you ever write a fan letter to someone when you were young?
I don’t think I ever actually wrote anyone, but I’d take a picture of Madonna and Xerox it 50 times and tape them up all over my room. I’m a member of the George Jones fan club, and I’m a member of U2′s fan club.
Billy Currington recently told me that he gets mistaken for you all the time in airports. Ditto?
About four years ago, I was in an airport going through the screener, and I failed the thing twice. So now I’m over getting the hand wand thing, gettin’ kind of a hard time. I’m late. All of the sudden, this woman’s facial expression changed. [Look of love] She’s like, “Ohhh, I know who you are.” I’m like, cool, maybe this will speed things up. “I saw you dancin’ around in that video with Shania Twain ['Party For Two'].” “Oh yeah, that’s me. Billy.” So I signed an autograph Billy Currington. I don’t get it too much anymore. I have fans who tell me they get mistaken for me, and I’m like, “Man, if that helps you out, go for it. I’m married, with a child. If I can help you get laid, I’ve done my job from one dude to another.”
Do you need to get to the movie theater in time to see the trailers?
I hate missing the trailers. Trailers are a part of the whole experience. I got on a major movie kick. I’ve seen Milk, Slumdog Millionaire, Doubt, Gran Torino. I saw Revolutionary Road, but unfortunately, I read the book. The book is so much better than the movie. I still need to see The Wrestler, The Reader, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, then I’ll be ready for Oscar weekend.
You’re a hardcore movie fan.
I really do love movies, but our problem on the bus is we’re guilty of watching the same movies. Anything with Will Ferrell, we just watch over and over again. My wife will bring out cool documentaries. “Guys, you should really watch Grey Gardens tonight.” We’ll all look around and we’ll be like, that… or Anchorman for the 115th time. “We’re gonna watch Anchorman, babe. Sorry.”
What is the movie you have to watch every time you spot it on cable?
If Tombstone‘s on, it’s done. Days of Thunder. Tommy Boy. The classics. Shawshank Redemption, on a serious note. I’ve seen that so many times — it’s my all-time favorite movie — and I can’t pass it up if it comes on. It’s just that good. When I signed with new management this year, they got me the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Movies of All Time on DVD. It’s great. No more Blockbuster. On the road, Blockbuster is so bad. You rent a movie in one town, you wake up in the next. Well, there’s $50. You get outstanding warrants at Blockbuster all over the country.
Is there a movie that’s made you cry?
Yeah… When Rowdy Burns asks Cole Trickle to drive his car in Daytona in Days of Thunder that is a tender moment for any guy out there. As a dude, as a NASCAR fan, that’s a big deal.
Name a movie you think is overrated.
[Yells to his crew, who are now drinking at the bar, just as the song on the jukebox ends and the pub falls quiet.] What’s the most overrated movie? [Everyone laughs]
One of two male strangers sitting at the next table: What genre?
Bentley: Oh, sorry. I thought I was on the tour bus. I forgot I was actually in public.
We can open it up to the whole bar.
Stranger No. 2: Titanic.
Bentley: Titanic? Wow. That’s bold.
Stranger No. 1: Any of the Rockys after Rocky II?
Rocky only got crappy at V, thank you.
Stranger No. 1: Out of Africa. The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Any Meryl Streep movie — overrated. Except for The Devil Wears Prada.
Bentley: What about Doubt? Did you see Doubt?
One of Bentley’s crew: [To Stranger No. 1] Did you just say you like The Devil Wears Prada? [Everyone laughs]
Bentley: [raises arm] I liked it. I loved The Devil Wears Prada.
One of Bentley’s crew: Chick flicks are overrated.
Bentley: What about Steel Magnolias? You totally cried.
One of Bentley’s crew: Steel Magnolias never held up to the actual play. [Everyone laughs]
One of Bentley’s crew: Is that a Bud Light in an Irish bar?
Bentley: I’m drinking Bud Light. [Leans into tape recorder] I’m drinking Bud Light.
Do you guys ever fight over entertainment for real?
Every morning I wake up it’s the same: My bass player and my drummer are up front watching HGTV and talking stuff that’s so un-rock ‘n roll. [Launches into a mock discussion on mulch.] We watch that. We watch VH1 Classics. We don’t watch American Idol. We don’t watch the show I’m dying to — I’m so far behind on Lost. Bryan Burk [one of the exec producers] is a buddy of mine. I’ve got to catch up on Lost. I’m praying it’s not too late. A new season is getting ready to start, right?
[Gasps] I’m going to Canada for two weeks. I think it will be a fine time to just do it all in one sitting. [Leans into tape player] I’m going to watch it in Canada, Bryan, if you’re listening.
What’s the geekiest piece of pop culture you’ve parted with and wish you didn’t?
I got way into ’80s hair bands like Winger, Whitesnake, Iron Maiden, between the ages of 13 and 17. I mean, deep. When I got into country music, I took all those CDs to a record exchange place, and they wouldn’t take one of ‘em. When I checked out of this one apartment, I left them all on the counter for someone to have. I wish I had those. Like, Skid Row. The first concert I went to was Bon Jovi and Skid Row.
I love Sebastian Bach.
Do you really? Should we give him a call? I met him. He’s, like, a fan of mine. I’m serious. Look, I got him in my phone. [Shows me Bach's number.] I also was a huge Dukes of Hazzard fan. I used to have T-shirts that said “Dierks of Hazzard” custom-made. Then, when I worked at TNN, they did all the reruns. I’ve seen every episode like three or four times.
You worked at TNN (The Nashville Network) for awhile researching concert performances. What was the best thing you saw?
A producer would be like, “Hey, we’re doin’ a piece on George Jones, we could really use some footage of him singing ‘The Window Up Above’ from anywhere in the ’80s.” So I’d go to the computer, then go back to this huge VHS library, pull out a tape, find the piece, make a copy of it for the producer, make a copy for myself, and then turn it in. It was great. I got a chance to see Conway Twitty footage, a lot of guys I would never get to see perform. And I have all the original Purina Grand Ole Opry shows and Pet Milk Grand Ole Opry shows. The Johnny Cash Show came through one time, and I didn’t make a copy of it, and I wish I had. He had everyone on that show. Bob Dylan, Neil Young.
You’re spending most of 2009 on the road with Brad Paisley. Has he pranked you yet?
Not yet. He’s smarter than that. I’m not a spring chicken. I’ve been doing this for a while. If he strikes early, it would be problematic. But I know he’s good at it, so I’m studying him. It’s like the shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone. The hand is near the pistol but hasn’t touched it yet. It’s waiting for a move to be made.