Brooks & Dunn Storm Ahead with New Music on New Album “Tight Rope”

Brooks & Dunn Storm Ahead with New Music on New Album “Tight Rope”

Originally published in the October 05, 1999 issue of Country Weekly magazine.

Perhaps Brooks & Dunn should modify the ampersand in their title.

Of the 13 songs on their new Tight Rope CD, Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks had a hand in writing all but one. Yet, these two talented songslingers didn’t co-write any of the tunes together.

“We just get tired of each other,” Kix explains with chuckle. “We’ve obviously written a lot of songs together in the past. But at this point, if we’re writing together, it’s like staring a song down all day long, and all the push and pull that goes with that. And then we go take a shower, meet each other onstage and expect to have some kind of fresh energy. Now, when we meet onstage, we haven’t seen each other all day and that keeps the show fresh and fun.”

Ronnie believes a certain friction exists during the songwriting process. “There’s also a competitive thing that we’re into that makes it really not worth it to write together,” he explains. “Creatively, it just seems to work better this way for us.”

The one song that Ronnie or Kix didn’t write — John Waite’s 1984 No. 1 “Missing You” — is already flying up the charts.

“It’s obviously one that’s easy for critics and industry people to take shots at,” admits Kix of the pop remake. “But I think Ronnie sang it good, and I think people like to hear it. As always, the friends and neighbors ultimately decide what a hit is, if radio gives you a chance. If any negatives come out, you might see some people balking on it, but so far the word has been real good on it.”

Ronnie agrees. “The initial gut reaction when we cut the tracks was, ‘Hey, that’s a real strong track,’ ” he says. “We were all really into it when we got through.”

When they finished recording the album, the duo felt that they had a wealth of riches on their hands. “I was real confused — I didn’t know which single to put out,” says Ronnie. “There were more changes on picking the initial single on this project than ever before.”

The album is full of strong potential singles, from “Can’t Stop My Heart,” written by Kix, who takes the lead vocals, to the powerful love “You’ll Always Be Loved by Me,” co-written by Ronnie and Terry McBride.

Both Ronnie and Kix admit they have a tendency to put off preparation for a recording project until it’s breathing down their necks.

“We try to keep that wheel turning all the time,” says Ronnie. “You think you want to take a breather after you get through with an album and forget all about music for a while. But, before you know it, it’s right back on top of you.

“We hacked away, though. We’d go out there and for two weeks we didn’t write anything. Then one week we’d hit something.”

Ronnie’s also wearing yet another hat these days, producing some tracks for Wade Hayes’ new album. He notes that the project gave him a new perspective on songs.

“I’m going back to a lot of these songs that were pitched to us from the outside. It’s so much easier to approve songs for somebody else,” he says. “It’s unreal. I go back and say, ‘Man, that’s a big hit there.’ I didn’t hear it for me, but I sure hear it for somebody else. It’s a whole different deal.”

The current Brooks & Dunn tour has been different from the last two years — mainly in that they’ve returned to the great outdoors. They’ve also been headlining their own shows once again, instead of co-headling with fellow superstar Reba McEntire.

“We were real nervous,” says Kix. “We’d been ‘inside’ with Reba for two years, doing coliseums and whatever. We honestly didn’t know how we were going to do, going back to the [outdoor] fairs and festivals. But we were very pleasantly surprised.

“God bless the fans, they’re still coming! For us to take Brooks & Dunn and a support act and do it like we’ve done it in the past, we honestly said ‘This could be the year we go flat.’ And, thank goodness, it didn’t happen. It’s like winning at the awards shows. It’s not going to last forever. But this year looks good, and we’re running into next year with pretty high hopes that we can still do business.”

Kix is optimistic about the future, too.

“Hopefully you can continue to make good music and do shows and whatever for years,” he says. “Alabama is a good example — they’re still making good music and playing tons of dates. Just because they aren’t award darlings any more doesn’t mean that they’re not continuing the longevity of a great career.

“Somebody mentioned that the Dixie Chicks got our spot in the Entertainer of the Year category. It’s like, we had that for six years. That’s pretty cool to think we were considered in the top five.”

Both performers keep a close eye on the music business changes affecting country music. It’s like walking a tightrope, they conclude.

“It’s confusing, and it’s changed drastically just in the last year,” notes Ronnie, noting that TNN recently cut back on its country music programming. “That’s really going to be a challenge for new acts — there’ll have to be new and creative ways to break them. It’ll be a real challenge.”

The CMA’s reigning Vocal Duo of the Year  filmed a video recently for “Missing You.” They’ve always tried to release videos for their singles. “We have that debate around here a lot with the label, trying to justify the money we spend on videos with the exposure they give,” Ronnie says. “It’s funny, as I look back at hits like Alan Jackson with ‘Chattahoochee,’ and what we did with ‘My Maria,’ the video really complements the song and serves as a support factor.”

Though making videos hasn’t always been painless. Kix still winces when he recalls the clip for “South of Santa Fe,” which included a scene that called for him to fall off a horse.

“The first time I fell, I said, ‘I hope y’all got it.’ I hit the dadgum pavement like a gravel bag,” he says. “There wasn’t nothing peaceful about it. It was wham! And it knocked the breath right out of me. I thought, ‘This is Hollywood — so where’s the short horse? Bring that swayback one over here.’ I fell three times — two times too many.”

Even though Kix got right back on that horse, the big-screen movie bug hasn’t bitten either performer. “We have fantasies like everyone else, like getting to do a movie like Unforgiven,” says Ronnie with a smile, recalling the critically lauded Clint Eastwood “comeback” Western from 1992.

“But Hollywood is not going to call up two hillbilly singers,” he notes, “who have never acted before.”

And for that, country fans should probably be thanking their lucky stars.

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