Dierks Bentley has more than a dozen hit singles, has been nominated for 13 Grammys and is about to release his ninth studio album. Yet the country star says it was only in the past few years that he finally felt like he had established a foothold in the genre, particularly with touring.
“It’s like, ‘Wow, people just show up now.’ I don’t have to peek behind the curtain every night to see if everyone’s going to be there,” Bentley says by phone from Nashville during a break while rehearsing for his summer tour, which kicks off Friday at Merriweather Post Pavilion. “It’s weird knowing that we’ve carved out a little bit of a niche as far as what fans can come to expect when they see us play live.”
A bit of self-deprecating reflection? Sure, but Bentley, 42, isn’t entirely joking. He’s often candid about the challenges of being in such a competitive industry and even took a break to release a bluegrass record in 2010 when he was frustrated with the mainstream country world. And although he has found the kind of success he could have never imagined when he moved to Nashville in the mid-1990s, Bentley calls himself a “born seeker” who can’t stop thinking about how to evolve.
“I’ve achieved more than I’ve ever dreamed musically, but it’s never been about that for me. It’s never been about money,” he says. “It’s been about fans as far as I love seeing people, but really, it’s just about . . . still trying to figure out this crazy thing called life.”
It’s a major theme on Bentley’s new album, “The Mountain,” which drops June 8. The title track captures these internal struggles, with such lyrics as “There’s always another one a little bit higher/ Just when I think I’m finally done, I’m staring at another one/ So I reach down deep and I lace ’em up tighter.”
Bentley wrote and recorded much of the album in Telluride, Colo. (hence its title); he brought along six songwriters to brainstorm among the mountains, where he goes to recharge. The result was 13 songs that he calls “very autobiographical.” The sound is a mix of country, bluegrass and rock, from the rollicking “Burning Man” (featuring Brothers Osborne, the Maryland natives and tour openers) to the softer “How I’m Going Out.”
“Dierks has never been afraid to show fans every part of who he is,” says Brandon Lancaster, lead singer of Lanco, also opening for Bentley on this tour. “The bluegrass side of it, the party side, the heartbreak side . . . Dierks has done a really good job of exploring every avenue of who he is as an artist.”
The new album’s first single, “Woman, Amen,” is in the Top 5 on country radio, and it hits Bentley’s sweet spot: a big, contemporary-sounding radio hit that carries a deeper message. It was inspired by his wife, Cassidy (they have three young children), and the chorus ends with a straightforward “Thank God for this woman, amen.” While some wondered whether this message was pointed — it was released in the midst of the #MeToo movement — Bentley says it was just coincidence.
“It had nothing to do with the ‘Me Too’ movement or any of that, it was just, that’s the way I feel about my wife,” he says.
But when people started bringing up the timeliness of the message, Bentley was immediately onboard.
“I’m like, ‘Yeah! I love that. I’d love to be part of that. Please associate me with that, that would be wonderful.’ ”
Bentley has been vocal about the fact that some of his lighthearted popular singles — including the recent “Drunk on a Plane” and “Somewhere on a Beach” — don’t reflect the album’s more thoughtful themes. It’s a frequent conundrum in country music, since labels often won’t release an album until a single climbs high enough on the charts. Although Bentley says he wouldn’t necessarily choose to sing his recognizable party hits such as “Sideways” or “5-1-5-0” alone in his free time, he appreciates how critical they are to creating the energy-packed atmosphere in arenas.
“When I’m putting a set list together . . . those songs get people excited,” he says. “This is why they come to my shows.”
Merriweather Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia, Md. 877-435-9849. merriweathermusic.com.
Date: Friday at 7 p.m..