Story Behind the Song: Dierks Bentley, ‘Riser’
The title track of Dierks Bentley‘s seventh studio album, Riser, is, the artist says, one of the most meaningful songs he’s ever been a part of — except, he didn’t write it. Steve Moakler and Travis Meadows co-wrote “Riser,” but Bentley made the anthemic song come alive by creating an accompanying music video about a real-life formerly homeless single mom named Amy who rose above her obstacles to create a meaningful life for herself and her children.
Below, Moakler recalls the (slightly terrifying) day he wrote “Riser” with Meadows.
I describe Travis as twice my age and three times the life experience — probably four times [the] life experience. We got together to write one time; I was a huge fan from having seen him play in a writers’ round. I guess I earned his trust, so I brought this idea for a song called “Wide Open,” which we both wrote. He was hesitant to write that song with me because it was so optimistic and hopeful, which usually isn’t his sound.
We got together a second time, and he said, “Man, I’ve been wanting to write this song called “Survivor.” And I was like, that’s a big title. Destiny’s Child pulled it off. How do you write a song with that kind of grand title? He started to mumble all this stuff from his deep well of life; he looked at me and goes, “What do you think, man?” I said, “Everything you’re doing is amazing. I just don’t think I’m the right person to write this song with you. You really are a survivor. You’ve overcome addiction, cancer, you’ve been in and out of jail, and you turned your life around. I failed algebra a couple times, but I haven’t really survived anything. I think someone else could do a better job with you on this.”
He got pretty mad, picked up a notepad and threw it across the room. He said, “Damn it, Moakler! I was saving this for you because you’re so dang optimistic. I’ve been having a bad day for six years, and I need you on this!” So I sat back down, a little frightened, and we wrote that song together. It was really like, he’d say one line, I’d say the next line, he’d say one line, I’d say the next line. It happened really quickly, and I think that’s part of what makes the song so powerful — it has that edge of hell, and it also has the light of Heaven and optimism in it, together.
We never thought that was ever going to get cut. That was one of those really personal songs you play at the Bluebird [Cafe, the listening room in Nashville], but it’s probably never going to be a record, let alone on [a] record, and Dierks Bentley proved us wrong. That was very exciting for us.
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