In advance of his eighth LP, the country star, 40, tells EW about the inspiration behind his new album Black—and why his upcoming tour might rival Taylor Swift’s.
You’re back this month with a new album, Black. How are you feeling?
I’m a mess right now. [Laughs] Right now everything is a show. I look at a menu and I call it a set list!
The record is sort of conceptual in that you’re exploring your decade-long marriage. What made you want to do that?
After releasing Riser [in 2014] and some of the stuff that’s more positive, I was leaning towards the darker stuff. One song, “Why Do I Feel,” is about exploring the darker corners of your heart and love, and I hadn’t heard anything else there that really looked at love in that way—that “Everything’s good so why am I suspicious?” kind of way.
What inspired a song like “Black”?
My wife Cassidy’s last name is Black, and I was thinking about how we’d been married for 10 years and relationships and thought, “That’s something I can sink my teeth into.” It’s certainly the sexiest color, and I feel like this record has a lot of sexiness. That word is so weird for me to say. [Laughs] But the vibe is like—I hate using this word—but the vibe is sexy, in a well-worn, leather-jacket kind of way. It’s not, like, glossy sexy. It’s got this attitude. There’s a realness and sexiness. Okay. That’s the last time I’m using that word.
Were you nervous to play the song for her?
Oh, yeah, definitely. [But] she really likes it a lot. Imagine if she hadn’t. That would suck. There would be no way to fix it. I can’t go back and rewrite something. Some people can, but I can’t take something that’s out there and put a new melody on it or keep the title and give it a different melody. [But] this one works.
How did you end up teaming up with guests like Maren Morris, who duets on “I’ll Be the Moon,” and Elle King, who sings on “Different for Girls”?
I went and checked Elle out on Twitter, and she was really funny. She also plays banjo, and I love banjo. So we had this song “Girls,” and I thought, “What if we got a girl to sing on it?” I contacted her, and she seemed cool. She’s self-deprecating, and she cracks me up. And no filter!
What’s in store for your tour this summer?
I’m lucky I have [country singer] Cam on the road with me. She’s awesome. We went to Europe to try some things over there, and we feel 90 percent good about it. We’re figuring out how to put all these components together, with audio guys and video guys. We set up in an old steel mill [to rehearse]. We’re putting in as much production time as Taylor Swift!
After eight albums, is making music still fun for you?
I’d hate to think I was ever making a record just to make a record or to be in a spot that’s like, “Just put something out there that someone would buy!” I would quit, I really would. And with the live show, I enjoy being on a stage now more than I ever have. Me and my band have been on a ride together for the last six years, and we’re still giddy over it.
Catch Bentley performing on Citi Concert Series on TODAY on Friday.