Ronnie Dunn Talks Brooks & Dunn Reunion on 'Damn Drunk' & Being in the 'Best Head Space' of His Career
"Someone asked the other night, ‘What’s the best time that you’ve ever lived in?’ and for me, it’s now."
“We were just casually talking one day and I played him the rough [cut] of what I was doing,” Dunn tells Billboard. “And he goes, ‘Wait a minute! It needs harmony.’ I said, ‘Go to it, if you’re up to it,’ and it’s no more than that.”
After two decades and numerous accolades, Brooks & Dunn rode off into the sunset to pursue solo careers in 2010. Last year, they reunited to do a run of shows with Reba McEntire at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas; they’ll resume those shows on Nov. 30.
Dunn says he’s enjoyed performing with Brooks again and their relationship has evolved. “It’s like we’ve taken this time off and we got to know one another outside the business. We got to do some stuff together and we’ve traveled together. As a matter of fact, we’re getting ready to go to Italy in September. We’re doing a thing for the Muhammad Ali Foundation at Andrea Bocelli’s house. So it’s like the country guys sneak under the fence,” Dunn says with a grin. “I’ve done it for the last two or three years and Kix is going to go do it with us this year. Reba got me involved in that.”
As for future recordings with Brooks, Dunn says there are no plans. “There’s no discussion about that. I’m having too much fun with this and then what we’re doing at Caesars,” he says.
Produced by Rascal Flatts’ Jay DeMarcus, “Damn Drunk” was penned by Liz Hengber, Alex Kline and Ben Stannis and will be on Dunn’s upcoming solo album, due from Big Machine Label Group this fall.
“The different element that came into play more than anything is working with Jay DeMarcus,” Dunn says as he leans back in his chair in the conference room at Big Machine’s Music Row offices. “I didn’t know where to go until I stepped up to the mic and started working with him on the first song. It’s the least involved I’ve ever been because I’m a control freak, but he didn’t leave any gaps or dips in the production. He would send something over, and it’s killer. It’s awesome. Sonically it’s right where I want it to be. The songs are a blast.”
Dunn says he was drawn to “Damn Drunk” because it’s not your typical love song. “I like the edge of the title and I like what the guy is saying,” Dunn says. “He’s not some sissy boy going, ‘Hey, love your eyes! Like your hair.’ He’s going, ‘You know what? If you were a whiskey, I’d be a damn drunk!’ It’s probably the writer in me that attaches me to stuff like that.”
Dunn will duet with Reba again on the new album on a song called “Still Feels Like Mexico.” The new collection will also feature two new songs penned by Dunn: “I Want to Love Like That Again” and “She Don’t Honky Tonk No More.” “I thought I was banned from saying ‘honky tonk,’ but I got away with it,” he says with a laugh.
“I Want to Love Like That Again” just fell out one day while he was at home. “Ray Wiley Hubbard, a buddy from Austin, was [visiting] and he showed me this open G tuning on the guitar,” Dunn recalls. “I didn’t mess with it for a long time, and one day I just picked it up and started walking through the house. I just played it all day long, and then the lyrics started coming to me, started painting the picture of that relationship that’s gone on forever and they want to get back to that point of where they are in love again. I was just going through the house in shorts, tennis shoes and a T-shirt playing that riff one day, and that’s how a song comes out. That’s how it always works for me.”
Dunn’s fall release will be his third solo album, following his self-titled Arista album in 2012 and Peace, Love and Country Music released on his own Little Will-E label in 2014. Last year, he signed with Big Machine Label Group’s Nash Icon Records. “These guys are good and I would not have done another record had I not been over here at Big Machine,” he says. “I wouldn’t have signed a deal or done it. I think this is the best place in town to be.”
Dunn admits he’s learned a lot during his decades in the business and is happy to pass along his wisdom. “I wish there was a crash course that labels would put you through and/or management to orient you as an artist when you are signed. There’s way more to making a career work than just being able to stand onstage or go into the recording studio and make music, and I’ve seen those things take careers and artists out time and time again. I got a call from a major promoter a couple of years ago with a very, very popular artist right now. He was having anxiety and trouble out on the road to the point where he was breaking down. The promoter asked if he gave me his number would I call him and talk him down,” says Dunn, who made the call. “[There are] things that I had learned the hard way like you’ve got to rest. You’ve got to hydrate, drink water, silly stuff that sounds mundane and normal, but you get out there on that adrenaline rush, on that fast-track rocket headed to the top and it will beat you down in more ways than one. Things start coming apart if you don’t take care of yourself and business.”
As for today, Dunn is in a good place. “I’m in the best head space that I’ve ever been, ever. Someone asked the other night, ‘What’s the best time that you’ve ever lived in?’ and for me, it’s now. I don’t worry about much, but I worry all the time, just to stay in practice,” he laughs.
Listen to Ronnie Dunn's new single "Damn Drunk" below: