Brantley Gilbert’s ‘Fire & Brimstone': A ‘Bad Boy’ Finds Faith, Fatherhood
"On every record, I try to bare my soul as much as I can," says Brantley Gilbert. It's a hot mid-August day in Southern California, and outside, at Tailgate Fest 2019, it's also dusty and loud. In a few hours, Gilbert will roar onto the stage as the night's headliner and put on a rowdy show, but backstage, the soft-spoken singer is thoughtful and quiet -- so much so that it's tempting to ask him to speak a little louder to be heard over his tour bus' air conditioning.
As he talks, Gilbert's about a month and a half out from releasing his fifth studio album, Fire & Brimstone (out Friday (Oct. 4)). About three weeks later, on Sept. 9, he'll welcome his daughter, Braylen, into the world. She's the second child for the singer and his wife, Amber (they've been married since 2015), joining big brother Barrett, who will turn two in November.
"For this record, the rules have all changed," Gilbert reflects. He's referring to the way artists share and promote their music these days -- sharing "grat tracks" ahead of a record's release offers them an opportunity to "give songs a life that, maybe on some of the past records, had gotten buried a little bit, gotten lost in the record" -- but he may as well be talking about his personal life, too.
The self-described "Bad Boy" with the rehab stint, near-fatal car accident and on-again, off-again relationship with his now-wife to back it up is now a family man singing to his kids and wife, and about his faith -- but also about going out and raising a little Cain, too (you know what they say about old habits).
"I've gotten to this point in my life that I'm having to write some reminiscent stuff," Gilbert admits. "I've always considered myself more of a songwriter than I am an artist, and that kind of gives me the freedom to live with that and do some different things."
Fire & Brimstone as a whole, Gilbert says, covers two concurrent journeys: one "from being this hell-raising guy to [becoming a] dad" and the other a spiritual journey. The album's title track -- a song, Gilbert explains, about "being comfortable in your skin and not judging folks" -- features Alison Krauss and Jamey Johnson, and is rich with religious imagery and Bible-borrowed phrases.
"There's a song called "Lost Soul's Prayer" -- when you listen to it, it's a prayer, but it's not something -- not the normal language you would use in a prayer, you know?" Gilbert explains. The song's groove backs the singer as his almost raps, "I'm out on my own and I'm a little bit faded / And I don't even know if I should even be prayin' / But if you think there's somethin' in me worth savin' / Then I pray you save me ..."
Even "Man That Hung the Moon," a song for his children, has a religious line running through it: "[It] says, basically, one day you're gonna need more than me," Gilbert says, "and when you do, know that somebody upstairs has got your back."
At CMA Fest 2019, Gilbert shared that he'd "written and re-written" the songs on Fire & Brimstone multiple times, but he clarifies that revision process as a natural part of making an album, not an entire scrapping of a project. "I think all writers do it to an extent," he notes.
"When it gets close to the record, I'll go back and make sure there aren't holes in it. You know, 'cause a lot of times, there's some time passed between when we laid down the demo and when we're laying down the record, and there might be some things you wish you said differently, or something you wish sounded a little different," Gilbert adds. "So we just do some little tweaks on some songs, and also, on this one, when listening through, there were just a couple spots we missed, so we went back and wrote some new stuff and went back and tweaked some other stuff."
Now that the album's out, though, it's time for Gilbert to turn his focus to crafting a live show in support of the project. His 2020 Fire't Up Tour will begin on Jan. 23 in London, Ontario, Canada.
"I found out with the last baby that, in those first couple months ... there's not a whole lot for Dad to do," Gilbert admits with a chuckle, "so I might as well have my butt out working."
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