Dierks Bentley's ninth studio album, the forthcoming The Mountain, features strong imagery of nature for good reason: It was recorded in Telluride, Colo., against a backdrop of forests, lakes, and -- you guessed it -- mountains. But while many of the mountains referenced on the album are literal, at least one is a personal metaphor for Bentley's career.

What is the mountain, and where is Bentley located on it? The singer offered some insight during his 2018 Country Radio Seminar keynote speech in early February.

"I had this idea of me climbing the mountain, and of other people climbing over me," Bentley explains. "For years, I was opening for Kenny [Chesney], and Carrie Underwood would be opening for us, or Sugarland would be. Then, the next year, Carrie Underwood went around me, and then Sugarland went around me, and then Lady Antebellum went around me. It felt like I was getting beat up just trying to get there."

Bentley is candid about the fact that his career has been far from a straight shot to the top: "Sometimes, like in my case, you make the jump into arenas too soon. I had about three years of trying to tour and headline tours. I was playing these big arenas that hold 20,000 people, but only 2,500 showed up. Every review said, 'Bless his heart, he was playing like it was a sold-out show, but no one came,'" he recalls.

"That's when it felt like we were rappelling back down the mountain," Bentley adds. "We went back to theaters and spent a few more years there. You're always either going up or down -- there are no plateaus in this business."

Luckily, thanks to radio hits including "Riser," "Black" and his newest single, "Woman, Amen," Bentley's career is now solidly on the upswing, and in retrospect, he's grateful for all the ups and downs that contributed to his maturity as an artist today.

"These albums I'm making now, there's a lot of attention paid to making each record the best it can be," Bentley shares. "[On the newest album], there's a song called "Living," which is all about how, some days, you're just getting by, and other days, you're living. The album is about nature on some levels, but it's also about [how it feels to be] truly living in that way."

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