Why country music's Dierks Bentley went west to make his latest album, "The Mountain"

After more than a dozen No. 1 country hits, Dierks Bentley decided it was time to go back to his roots. The country music star spoke to CBS News' Jan Crawford about how he found inspiration far from Nashville for his just-released ninth studio album, "The Mountain."

In 2003, Bentley's first single hit No. 1 and he quickly went from playing honky-tonks to arenas. But in trying to replicate that initial success he lost his way. 

"It was like 2006, 2007, 2008, we tried to play arenas, and they hold 25,000 people. And we were playing for 2,500 people…. And every review was like, you know, 'Bless his heart, he played like it was a sold-out show but nobody was there,'" Bentley said. 

So Bentley stepped off Nashville's treadmill, went back to the music that inspired him and decided to be himself, a guy from Arizona who likes to raise a little hell and a man who also sings about love and loss. Today, he's selling out arenas as a star who found the peak by charting his own path. 

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Dierks Bentley and Jan Crawford in Telluride, Colorado

CBS News

"So yeah, there's kind of a trough after that initial success you have, which is awesome and feels great. You know, we've made it. It's like, 'No, that's kinda just the very first,'" Bentley said. "So like the, you know, the analogy of a mountain. It's like there's always another one a little bit higher."

With his latest record, Bentley is taking that analogy literally, going home to the West. The idea came to him last year during a performance at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

"One of the best days of my life," he said. "And after walking off that stage, I was like… 'This is it. How do I bottle up this vibe and take it back to Nashville?' And I realized I couldn't do that."

So instead, he brought his team to Telluride, Colorado, to get to work on a new album that would become "The Mountain."

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Dierks Bentley's Telluride studio

CBS News

"That first morning we woke up, got some coffee, took the gondola up to the top of the mountain, watched the sunrise come up. Just came back down off the mountain so inspired…. Wrote like 14 songs in four days," Bentley said. "Being here just makes you get away from that rat race of the competitive country music… and just kind of see things from a bigger perspective."

Bentley has learned to tune out the noise and focus on what's important. He's even recently gone low tech, swapping a smartphone for a flip phone.

"Just like the constant assault on your brain that you get from your phone every day is just – it's hard to be creative. It's hard be present," Bentley said. 

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Dierks Bentley now uses a flip phone

CBS News

To keep his sound authentic, Bentley not only wrote "The Mountain" in Telluride but recorded it outside of town – a world away from Nashville in a studio in the clouds.

"I think that's the thing about music is you can't quantify and say exactly what you're trying to do. But you can –  you can remove what you don't wanna do, which is, I don't wanna be influenced by Music Row or Nashville when making this record," he said. "Because that's just people chasing trends." 

What Bentley created is a record by a man finally at peace with himself who is perhaps taking a moment to look back down the mountain and reflect on where he's been. 

"I wouldn't change anything all. Not one thing…. It's all led to where I am now. And this is a good spot."

Bentley said his new album is partly inspired by stories that fans have told him on tour about mountains they're struggling with in their own lives. He hopes that in some way, his music connects with them and encourages them to keep climbing.