As he premieres his new stadium stage this weekend in Detroit, Garth Brooks is also gearing up for his next album, Fun, which he’s preceded with the songs “All Day Long,” “Stronger Than Me” and his current hit, “Dive Bar,” with Blake Shelton. (With “Dive Bar,” Brooks becomes the first artist to have posted top 10s on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart in four decades: the 1990s, 2000s, ’10s and ’20s, dating to the list’s launch on Jan. 20, 1990.)
“Something is happening at the very last second that might have a song make it on there, so we’re exploring that over the next two weeks,” Brooks told Billboard on Friday afternoon (Feb. 21), shortly before sound check at Detroit’s Ford Field, where he’ll perform for a sold-out crowd of more than 70,000 on Saturday. He revealed that the album, originally slated for release in 2018, is now supposed to be delivered by March 1, with a release “looking like summer at some point.”
Brooks described the album as uptempo, befitting its title. “The reason it’s called Fun is it’s 90 percent up,” he said. “We have one or two ballads on there, and it ends with my favorite song called ‘Sometimes You Have to Die to Live Again.’ It’s a gorgeous Gabe Dixon song.”
Brooks also hinted that there will likely be a couple more singles before Fun — the follow-up to 2016’s Gunslinger — comes out. “There’s gonna be five singles on this” before the official release, Brooks explained. “If you were [listening to] music in the ’60s, they would just release singles, singles, singles and then the album would come out. So everything was always new to radio, which I loved. That’s what I like, so hopefully you’ll have surprises in the B cuts, or the album cuts.”
Brooks said he and his Pearl Records team are also drawing up distribution plans for Fun, which will include his partner and tour sponsor Amazon, but also encompass a number of other options from the military to big box retailers like Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Costco. He’s also exploring direct-to-consumer sales, which he deployed on last fall’s Legacy, a seven-CD/seven-vinyl box set.
“Our deal with [Amazon] has to involve physical as well as streaming because that’s the only way the songwriters get paid,” Brooks says, referencing that songwriters get paid a much higher royalty rate on physical sales than from digital streams, “so it’s important for us to keep that going.”
Brooks also hopes to return to an unlikely outlet. “I know you’re gonna think I’m crazy, but I think Dollar General has it figured out because what they’ve done is they have a million of these stores, everywhere … but what they have available is now starting to raise in price and therefore hopefully in quality. And I’m thinking you’re gonna get to see, on a real working guy’s and working woman’s kind of level, a chain actually explode.” Brooks sold Legacy through Dollar General’s 15,000 U.S. stores.
While Fun is in the future, Brooks’ immediate concern was getting onstage Saturday night and taking his in-the-round stage — flat and sans risers, levels or steps — for its first spin. The Michigan show is his first date in the second year of his three-year North American stadium tour. Coming up are sold-out shows at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium May 2 and Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium, May 16.
“This is a pretty massive stage, probably about 138 feet wide, maybe 100 feet deep — so fat boy slim’s gonna have some ground to cover,” Brooks said with a laugh. To be surrounded on all sides by fans is “gonna be like eating two bowls of ice cream instead of one. This is gonna be fun.” Just as it had from last year’s stadium tour, Brooks added the stage will continue morphing. “If we’re lucky enough for someone to come back to the show somewhere else a year from now, hopefully they’ll see the stage changing and modifying. Getting to where every seat is perfect is the goal.”
Brooks also weighed in on his upcoming Gershwin Prize for Popular Song from the Library of Congress, which he’ll receive March 4 in Washington, D.C., in a ceremony that will air March 29 on PBS. He called the honor very humbling, particularly because it heralds his talents as a songwriter.
“It’s everything,” Brooks said of being recognized for his song craft. “I moved to [Nashville] to be a songwriter … with a song called ‘I’m Much Too Young to Feel This Damn Old,’ and my whole thing was to get George Strait to cut it and then I could die happy. … If somebody says, ‘This guy has the most this, the most that, ‘ I don’t care about that. But if somebody describes me as a songwriter, that makes me feel like what I came here to do.”
Brooks also name-checked his many co-writers over the years, promising that it’s gonna be a shared award, and he’s honored that those paying tribute to him — including Keith Urban and Chris Stapleton — “are basically doing it on their own dime, and that’s very sweet.”
“An award’s only as good as the names on it,” Brooks added, “and if you look at the names on that one” — including previous winners Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Carole King, Willie Nelson, Smokey Robinson, Burt Bacharach and Hal David and others — “that’s pretty cool.”