Brantley Gilbert is heading to Tyler on November 12 to headline the 2011 Taste of Country Christmas Tour, but don't assume that the Georgia-born singer will carry on the holiday tradition a la Vince Gill and Amy Grant or John Berry. Gilbert is on the brink of stardom because his shows are as lively and rambunctious as anyone who headlines major arenas and amphitheaters right now. He's focused, emotional and honest. As a result, his fans are as loyal as a biscuit is to gravy.

In sharp contrast to the excitable young man one sees onstage, Gilbert is somewhat shy and quiet in conversation. He often answers questions with "yes sir" or "no sir" and never displays any of the fiery passion one hears on songs like 'Kick It in the Sticks' or 'Hell on Wheels.' It's this Brantley Gilbert, one figures, that is able to write the more poignant and often painful ballads on his new album 'Halfway to Heaven.' In an exclusive interview, the singer shared the amazing story behind one of those songs ('Saving Amy') and also talked about the relationships that inspired a few others. In many ways, listening to his music is like reading through his personal diary.

You’ve had the songs on ‘Halfway to Heaven’ for quite a while. Do any of them feel out of date to you now?
Not out of date. It’s just more memories of my life. It’s the second chapter of my life. ‘Modern Day Prodigal Son’ was the first one, this is the second. So I like to call them memories.

What is one memory of a Christmas gift from your childhood that really left an impression?
Man, when I was in the third grade, I got a dog whose name was Max, and that was my best friend 'til I was a junior in high school. He was a miniature dachshund.

Are there any Gilbert family holiday traditions that you can share?
There were. A lot of that is busted now, you know, with the divorce and things of that nature [Gilbert's parents recently divorced]. But we’re still trying to figure out a new tradition.

Will you be playing a lot of Christmas carols on the 2011 Taste of Country Christmas Tour?
I’m not a big Christmas song fan [chuckles]. I don’t know if that’s a good thing to write or not, but I don’t do it. I think we’ll probably go with the package we got.

Are there any songs from 'Halfway to Heaven' that are difficult for you to sing onstage?
Oh, definitely. There’s a lot that I don’t play. ‘Halfway to Heaven’ (about a near-fatal car crash) is one of those. We tried to play it a few times, but it’s just - you know - they’re so personal. You relive the song every time you play it. And sometimes it gets hard, especially when you’re having a rough day.

What’s your favorite song to play every night?
Probably ‘Kick It in the Sticks.’

Does that have any chance of being a radio single?
I think down the road it may be. But it’s hard to say right now.

Well your fans certainly react to that one. Which else is under single consideration?
You know, one of the new ones that we added to the deluxe edition of ‘Halfway to Heaven’ is actually a candidate, and I think ‘Them Boys’ and ‘She’s My Kind of Crazy’ are also candidates.

What about 'She's My Kind of Crazy' is so special to you?
I think it’s kind of showing the other side. ‘Country Must Be Country Wide’ was more of a rock, kinda really intense song. You know if you’ve heard the record, you know it goes from one extreme to the other. I’m a bit of an extremist. I don’t know if that’s from being bipolar or whatever [laughs]. But it kinda shows the other side of my songwriting and the other side of the band, too.

Who was the girl that inspired that song?
I dated a girl that she was just kind of goofy, she was playful all the time. And she would get on my nerves to the point you just couldn’t take it anymore, but you just couldn’t really get mad at her. She was too cute and that’s kinda where that one came from.

Does that girl know it’s about her?
Oh yeah.

Where the three new songs written specifically for this deluxe edition, or were they extras that you’ve had for a while?
Actually they’re new ones. They kind of tied up some loose ends. I went through some things in my life within the transition (from Average Joes Entertainment to Valory Music Co.) ... There’s a song ‘More Than Miles’ that, you know, I was kind of torn between spending a lot of time in Nashville and back home with this girl that meant a lot to me and I’d been dating for quite some time. Talking about finally being indecisive about whether or not we were actually be together or if I was gonna chase this thing. I chose her.

Things just didn’t work out, you know, because I was still holding onto this one, you know to a dream I’ve had for a long time. It kind of just came down to going back to her at the end of that one but then ... ‘You Don’t Know Her Like I Do,’ that’s where that song came into play.

‘Hell on an Angel’ is about that girl, too. It’s about, you know, the way she kinda kept me straight when I was a hell-raiser pretty much and had been for a long time, and she helped me kinda get it all together. She was always good for me.

You say “was” -- so you’re not in a relationship any longer?
No, we’re not.

Who’s Amy? (One of the more emotional songs on 'Halfway to Heaven' is called 'Saving Amy.')
I actually wrote that song - this is a crazy story -that song took me longer to write than any song I’ve ever written. I wrote it about a friend of mine from high school. Her name was not Amy, but her boyfriend had proposed to her and actually got in a car accident and died on the way home that night. And then about six months later I was still working on it, but I changed the title to ‘Saving Amy,’ I didn’t want to put her name in it, and I played it for my cousin who had just come back from Iraq and he started tearing up, and I was like "Dude, what is it?" He said, "Number one, that’s a sad song, but I’ve been waiting for somebody to write a song about Joseph for a long time." And it clicked. I didn’t know it, but a friend of mine, Joseph Hensley ... proposed to a girl named Amy one night, and on his way home he was actually hit by a train and the only thing that was untouched in the whole entire accident was his Bible. So it turned out to be a pretty strong song, and I felt like I had a little bit of help writing that one.

I know you’re passionate about your fans, and you’re really good to them. Is giving your fans that sort of access something you’ve always been comfortable with?
Well, I don't consider ‘em fans. I consider ‘em friends, you know. A friend is somebody that supports you and they’re paying money and driving that far to come to a show, that’s support. You know somebody that knows you - if you listen to both records, you know me - somebody you can call on ... I guarantee you any of 'em that show up at those shows I can call and tell 'em I need something and they’d do anything in the world to help me. So I call 'em friends, and yeah, I’m open with 'em. I’m open with all my friends.

Was there a role model who you learned that from?
My grandfather was always very, very open and opinionated with people. He passed away about two years ago, and he’s always been a role model to me.