Interview: Brooks & Dunn Reflect on Their ‘Reboot’, and What It Means for Their Future
It's official: Brooks & Dunn are back! On Friday (April 5), the iconic country duo dropped their new record, Reboot, featuring the legendary pair's most classic hits reworked as duets with everyone from Kacey Musgraves to Luke Combs. A performance spot during Sunday night's (April 7) 2019 ACM Awards ceremony quickly followed, and the coming months will bring festival appearances, a Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum exhibit and induction into that hallowed hall.
The collaborative Reboot introduces highlights of a golden era of country music to a new generation. Many Brooks & Dunn fans grew up on their music but never got to jump in on the action of buying records or seeing them live because of their 2010 breakup. Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn went their separate ways to pursue solo careers, new opportunities and side projects; in June of 2015, they reunited for a Las Vegas residency with Reba McEntire, but things were still silent on the recording end.
The idea for Reboot came from Brooks & Dunn's manager, Clarence Spalding. After he saw young artists working covers of the duo's songs into their live sets, he became curious about if people would want to hear more from them. The project's release comes 12 years after the pair's last studio album, 2007's Cowboy Town.
"Luke [Combs] kind of started this by [playing] "Brand New Man" with some of his bands, banging out the song, and next thing you know, Kacey’s doing "Neon Moon" in her show," Brooks told The Boot in an interview in March. "Ronnie sends me a copy -- He goes, 'Hey, check this out,' and Clarence said, 'I think there could be a project here.' He came back a few weeks later and said, 'Hey, I wanna talk to you guys. Here’s what’s going on: I made a bunch of calls and everybody wants to do this. Do y’all wanna do this?'"
Reboot is a project that Brooks and Dunn didn't necessarily see themselves getting back together to create. Their hits are hits for a reason, they say, and neither artist was in the market to relive their glory days.
"We were kind of blessed with getting to climb Mt. Everest," Brooks reflects, "and we’re not naive enough to think that we’re probably gonna climb Mt. Everest again."
But while they may not have predicted this project happening, Brooks continues, "We would never have imagined we would’ve done anything that we’ve done since the day we met, if you want to know the honest truth."
So, Brooks & Dunn finalized a lineup of artists to bring on for the record, recruited producer Dann Huff and headed to the studio. This time, the process was seamless: They already knew the songs, and it was their second time recording them. Combined with artists and management teams who were a breeze to work with, it was a formula for success.
"I think the line share of the effort from all sides was directed at making us feel secure with doing it," Dunn admits.
"Creatively, the big difference is, we know these songs, we’ve already cut them, and, at the risk of sounding arrogant, they’re already hits," Brooks adds. "Generally, when you’re in the studio, you’ve written some songs. You’re not sure how you’re gonna treat them.
"It’s, like, the quickest, by far, project we’ve ever done," he continues, "and I don’t remember having any more fun."
Much of that fun can be attributed to the acts who jumped on board. Each brought a unique creative touch: Midland insisted on playing their own instruments on "Boot Scootin' Boogie." Ashley McBryde flipped the meaning of "You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone" by singing from a woman's perspective. Jon Pardi insisted on singing his cut, "My Next Broken Heart," exactly like the original, while Musgraves gave "Neon Moon" a pensive, EDM-influenced slant.
Though their selection of artists came cherry-picked from just about every label in town, Brooks & Dunn say politics didn't hold them back, and no one second-guessed it. And the common thread between each individual song is Huff's production style.
"Dann made it smooth," Dunn reflects. "Sometimes, things cosmically happen. I’d love to sit here and say any of us took credit for what went down and came out sounding okay, but it just happens, you know."
Now that they've surpassed the initial step of a reunion, the question arises: Will Brooks & Dunn put out new original music? They may be busy with other ventures, but both say they show each other new songs they write all the time, as they can't quite kick the habit that made their career.
"[NASCAR legend Dale] Earnhardt told us years ago, ‘Don’t think you’re ever gonna forget the No. 3 car,'" Brooks says. "That was his way of saying, you’re musicians. We’re all doing all this fun stuff and all these other things we enjoy, you know. He’d tell you he loved to fish more than anything, but what he really loved is driving a racecar."
Continues Dunn, "Neither one of us are ever satisfied with anything. Some demonic driving force back there in our psyche keeps us uneasy all the time.
"We didn’t get here by following the rules." -- Ronnie Dunn
"I mentioned something to our manager last week: I said, 'Should we throw [out] a new song or two?' We write all the time. It’s just innately there," he adds. "He just spun around and he goes, 'You go see Springsteen, and what do you go see? New stuff?'
"That said," Dunn concludes, "yeah, we’re thinking about it. We didn’t get here by following the rules."
While no one can be sure of the duo's future, Reboot is tangible byproduct of the creative process that happened when they took a break from music.
"In terms of creativity, if you’re an artist, it’s good to take a break. It’s good to come up for air," Dunn says. "I don’t think we’ve ever put conscious thought to what that process is."
Brooks describes that process a little differently: "It’s like a NASCAR race: There’s gonna be a wreck, you’re not just not sure when it’s gonna happen."
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