In many ways, Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry — otherwise known as Montgomery Gentry — were ahead of their time, singing about trucks and tattoos as a duo long before Florida Georgia Line discovered the power that comes with pairing up. But that doesn’t mean they’re interested in keeping current with country’s evolving trends.
“If we were to take one of our songs and bring in Nelly or some other rapper, people wouldn’t believe it,” Gentry tells Rolling Stone Country, seated at a Nashville radio studio with his bandmate while their mug-adorned tour bus waits outside. “They would know it was put together, and it’s not us.”
Unsurprisingly, there are no hip-hop interludes on the duo’s eighth LP, Folks Like Us, out today — just a collection of songs written by Nashville’s heavyweights like Chris Stapleton and David Lee Murphy that talks about hillbillies, dirt roads and small towns. It’s like Montgomery Gentry have always done, but with a little extra pep in that electric guitar step.
“We go around to a lot of radio buddies and they’re like, ‘Y’all were actually the start of bro country,'” adds Montgomery. “And we are like, ‘I don’t know about that.’ We grew up listening to Hank Jr., Charlie Daniels and all that stuff. But if they want to say we started it, then that’s fine with us.”
Since they released their debut LP, Tattoos & Scars, in 1999, Montgomery Gentry have been an enduring force in the country music climate — being inducted into Grand Ole Opry, snagging CMA Awards and notching Number One hits like “Something to Be Proud Of,” “Lucky Man” and “Roll With Me.” They’ve withstood some rocky times, too, including two label changes since 2009. Now on Blaster Records, they’re well aware that there are plenty of other duos to contend with these days: two’s a crowd on country radio.
“There are a lot of them in the format,” admits Gentry. “Swon Brothers, Dan & Shay. . . when we first started out there were a half dozen in the industry.” Now, that’s more than doubled, with Thompson Square and Brothers Osborne, two acts that they particularly admire, among the mix.
“[Brothers Osborne] made a comment about our style of music, and how it influenced them,” he says. “And you can hear it a little bit. I really dig their sound because they are being true to themselves and what they want to do.”
Adds Montgomery in his deep Kentucky drawl: “Them guys are killer.”
Folks Like Us isn’t a huge leap from the Southern rock-steeped sound Montgomery Gentry have become known for — there are still plenty of arena-friendly party tunes and shout-outs to God, beer and rock & roll rednecks. But there’s an unexpected polish on songs like “Two Old Friends” and several nods to the Eric Church school of country guitar on “Headlights” and “Hillbilly Hippies,” which favor feedback and heavy-metal vamps over anything too softly plucky.
“We always sang songs about our faith, our family, the military, the hardworking folks out there that make this world go ’round,” say Gentry. “And that has been the winning formula throughout our career, and we did the same thing on [Folks Like Us]. . . We try to continue to do that but musically try to freshen it up, and stay relevant to what’s being played on the radio today.”
One way they’ve done that is through Stapleton, who co-wrote two songs, including “Pain,” a chugging ballad that shows the bluesy side of Montgomery’s vocals and slides in nicely next to other slower-tempo charter-toppers by the likes of Luke Bryan and Tim McGraw. For the duo, wrangling tracks from the celebrated songwriter, who released his own Traveller in May, was a coup. “The fact that we were able to grab a couple killer songs from him was amazing and flattering,” Montgomery says, as was “the fact that he didn’t cut these songs himself.”
So after 16 years together, is there a secret to keep things from going the way of Brooks & Dunn? (Well, before B&D reunited last December anyway.)
“We don’t talk,” laughs Montgomery.
“I guess it’s just the friendship that developed before coming to town,” says Gentry. “We know what buttons to push, what not to push, when we can dig a little harder, or when we need to back off and give each other some space. It’s like any other relationship — knowing how to respectfully treat your partner.”
Or, if all else fails, blackmail.
“We’ve joked that we have videotape of each other from back in the day,” adds Montgomery. “There is some out there that we go, ‘Oh god, we hope it never resurfaces. . .'”
They won’t elaborate on what sort of sordid exploits or disastrous live shows might be contained in that lost footage, but they will extend some advice to other country duos hoping to also make it into their second decade: Show mutual admiration and keep a sense of humor.
“Be open-minded,” says Gentry, “and, first and foremost, you have to respect your partner. You can’t get respect unless you give it first. That’s what I would say. Ying and yang. Give and give.” They burst out laughing. “Give and receive, I mean.”