In an interview with Billboard at his barn in Nashville with bandmate Kix Brooks, Dunn revealed that he’s recording an album of rock covers. The album has no street date yet, but will come out after the April 5 release of Brooks & Dunn’s duets project, Reboot. The 12-track Arista Nashville project features collaborations with country artists including Kacey Musgraves, Luke Combs and Kane Brown, among others, covering the duo’s biggest hits.
Dunn discussed the difference between the songwriting for rock and country and the latter’s penchant for storytelling versus the former’s emphasis on gut emotion over detail. “[Nashville] is a song town,” he says. “I’m working on a rock covers project for another label. If you go in and start listening to those lyrics, you go, ‘What? There’s no story here.’ They’re just throwing words together that are kind of like ‘whatever.’ They rhyme somewhere down in there and the meanings are all impressionistic.”
He adds, “We’re all realist writers, if you were going to compare it to art. I think about it a lot. This town, if we were painters, we’d paint realism with a real tight brushstroke. Every word has to count because we’re telling stories. In rock and other genres, they don’t. They paint lyrics or write them with a broad stroke and your imagination takes you there.”
Dunn is also bringing country’s tendency to focus on enunciation to rock. “I can’t tell you how many of the songs I have cut where people come back and they go, ‘I had no idea what that song said [before].’ Which is kind of good.”
Recording the rock project has proven an interesting exercise for Dunn, who wrote many of the duo’s biggest hits, including “Brand New Man,” “Neon Moon,” “Believe” and “Hard Workin’ Man,” and wants to be remembered as a songwriter, first and foremost.
“People are going to forget in time who Brooks & Dunn are and who certain artists are. The songs, they can live forever,” he says. “That’s the thing I’m more thankful for than anything: being pushed to be a songwriter. Songwriting is like doing your homework. It didn’t come naturally. I had to work at it, and I hated being off by myself. Although, even if you co-write with somebody, you’re not up there having fun singing. Singing is fun. You’re in the game. Songwriting, you’re off somewhere trying to come up with something, pulling something out of the sky. That’s the stuff that pays off.”