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Kix Brooks Catches His Breath

Rick Diamond, Getty Images

On September 2, Brooks & Dunn bid farewell as a duo when they performed to a sold-out crowd in Nashville on the last stop of their Last Rodeo tour, but neither artist was ready to settle into retirement just yet. Ronnie Dunn is working on a solo album, while Kix Brooks is continuing his hosting duties on the ‘American Country Countdown‘ radio show, which he began in 2006. He’s also focusing on other creative outlets: acting, singing, writing and running his winery just outside of Nashville.

On his Top 40 countdown show each week, Kix plays the hit songs of the day, while also playing interviewer with his fellow country artists. But as the winds of change are blowing for the enterprising and always engaging Kix, we thought we’d turn the tables on him and get his thoughts on why he and Ronnie parted ways after 20 years, why he identifies with Tim McGraw‘s decision to curb his drinking, and what his doctor told him about forgetfulness.

Do you feel like you have an advantage when you interview country artists because you know them so well?

I’m not sure if that’s an advantage or not, if you want to know the truth. [laughs] A lot of times when you don’t know someone and you’re so inquiring about learning about someone, there’s a lot of obvious questions and enthusiasm that go with it. When you do have a history with people, sometimes it limits you because you feel silly asking them obvious questions that people would generally like to know because they know you know.

How do you come up with the little sidebar facts about the artists during your radio show?

A lot of it is just hanging out in town, running into people and in interviews on and off the mike. You just keep that stuff in your head. I go out to dinner and hang out with a lot of artists. I’ve got a lot of artist friends and everybody talks about everybody, and I try not to breach any kind of confidence if it’s personal things that people share with me. It’s obvious that it’s not for gossip or public consumption. I don’t give that stuff away, but if it’s fun stuff about their little pet dogs, I’m sure they don’t have a problem with it. [laughs]

Do you enjoy interviewing the new country artists as much as you do the superstars?

Probably more so. It’s really fun to see them get their chance and having their first hit. I remember Taylor Swift when her first record came out and she was in the studio. I called up Tim McGraw and he had never talked to her, and she was just freaking out. She had the song ‘Tim McGraw,’ and I called him up to see what he thought of it. He said, “Well, is it about me?” I said, “Well, kind of.” He said, “I like it.” [laughs] It’s neat. One thing I learned when I went to ESPN’s interview school, the thing that’s hardest for me … they were showing how all these pro quarterbacks — whether it’s Dan Marino or Troy Aikman — as an interviewer, they’re really good about not talking about themselves. It’s really hard to [not] go, “Oh I remember when I was doing that.” Sometimes I forget and I spend a lot of time — not so much with Toby [Keith] or Tim but with new acts — you’ve got to be careful because it’s easy to shut them down if you start telling them about your big experiences. They just kind of stop because they’re listening and they’re not talking anymore. That’s the most difficult thing with new acts. I do want to hear what they’re up to and their experiences, and I just have to bite my lip sometimes. I have plenty of war stories. [laughs]

Rick Diamond, Getty Images

When you interviewed Tim McGraw, he talked about why he decided to quit drinking — to get sober and refocus for his family’s sake. Have you ever had an obstacle in your life that you had to deal with?

Gosh, every day. [laughs] We all have obstacles to deal with. Tim’s sobriety is one that’s really interesting to me. Of course, I own a winery. Partying is fun, but partying takes time. In our business, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go and how they deal with that. The entertainment business is kind of a big party, and people are always wanting to go out and have a drink. It isn’t a direct answer to your question, but I see a lot of people get into heavy productivity, and I tell my children the same thing. They’re just about out of college … we were talking yesterday about drugs and stuff like that, and I was just telling them how much time it takes. When I was in college, when I partied real hard and especially when I first started on the road, I was first opening up for Jerry Jeff Walker. Those guys, they stayed out of it all the time, and I was trying to keep up. I explained to my kids that until I really slowed that down … I really wasn’t very productive. I really didn’t have any success in my life. I kind of got that feeling from Tim, too. I get the same impression from Keith Urban. I think he was probably successful because he’s just so unbelievably talented as a musician, but he wasn’t successful in his family life and keeping a relationship together. It’s interesting to see how people in our business deal with that, including me.

I got married when I was about 25. My wife and I had a lot of fun in our early years. Not that we don’t still have fun, but we partied a lot in our early years. Especially when I started having children, I didn’t want to be loaded around my kids. I realized a lot of songs that I was writing, even though they had good lines in them, they weren’t put together in a sober way. [laughs] I just feel like everything I was doing started to have a sense of completion, and now … just when you said that about Tim, it made me refer back to it with the radio show and making new music and running the winery, I have a lot of responsibility to a lot of people, and I just don’t have time for all of that.

Tim told you he almost quit [the film] ‘Friday Night Lights‘ before he did the first scene, because he felt a sense of panic. Have you ever wanted to quit anything in your career?

I’m really bad at saying no. I can think of a lot of things, but making the commitment gives you the courage to do it. Otherwise, I’m sure I wouldn’t have done half the things that I have been able to do, but especially in terms of performances and things like that. Your manager will bring you stuff and you go, “Wow, that sounds over the top, but OK we’ll do it,” and then you have the next however long you have to worry about it.

I have a movie part coming up in about three weeks that I just read the script for, and I’ve got a lot of lines to learn and a lot to do. I’m sure I’ll feel the same way as it’s approaching because it’s a lot to get my head around. If that’s all I had to do for the next three weeks, it would still be a real challenge for me, and I’ve got a ton of stuff besides that to do. So I’ve probably bitten off more than I can chew but I imagine I’ll be a lot like Tim on that movie part, [thinking] “I wish I didn’t have to do this!”

What can you tell us about the movie?

[It's] a small film that’s not even scheduled for release, but it’s got some neat actors in it. The working title is ‘Thrift Store Cowboy,’ which could change. It’s got some real actors in it, so it’s a chance for me to work with some real actors, and have some fun with that. I was actually a theater major in college, and have turned down quite a few parts over the years just because I didn’t really have time while I was touring,so it’s one of the things I’m looking forward to getting into a little bit more now.

Do you ever just sit down and listen to some old Brooks & Dunn music?

Absolutely … and a lot of it I don’t even remember. Probably eight or 10 years ago, we were in Santa Fe just kicking around in some little shop. They just happened to be playing one of our albums, or they saw us walk in and they put one on. There was this little bench in there, and we sat down and listened to almost the whole thing. I said, “Wow, that’s me singing, but I don’t remember it.” I think we were in just such a whirlwind as far as the tour … driving and going, playing, recording and writing. We missed a whole lot of it. We were just trying so hard to keep up and did that for 20 years. I know that’s hard for people to understand how we would turn it loose, but we really needed to catch our breath.

I actually asked my doctor about this in my physical last year. He checked me out, and he said everything looks good and he always has this point in the exam where he says, “Is there anything you want to tell me about?” I said, “Yeah, I feel like I’m losing my memory. I really need to remember a lot of stuff, and I feel like I’m too young to be slipping like this with my memory.” And he said, “OK, tell me how your day goes.” So I started and I got to about noon, and he started laughing. He said, “You need a pencil and a piece of paper … I can promise you, you’re a normal human being and your computer is not big enough.” [laughs] It made me feel a little better but at the same time it answered some questions for me.

Rick Diamond, Getty Images

You were one half of the most awarded duo in country history. Is it hard to now see yourself as a solo artist?

I don’t think Ronnie and I — either one of us — feel like we were never really not solo artists. We’ll be the first ones to tell you that our harmonies aren’t that great, and we’re not the Everly Brothers and never wanted to be or never tried to be. We’ve always just kind of done our own thing and supported each other as a duo, but we both started out as solo artists. I think that’s what we are now. We’re both having a lot of fun working on music without having to check in with the other one to see if everything’s OK. It’s fun for us. Last week we went out and gave an award to our production manager and had a great visit. The week before that, we went to the lake skiing together. We’re getting a hunting trip together right now, so I think people will probably be surprised at how much time we spend together and stuff we share together. Creatively, we had really met an impasse. We just needed to give it a break if we were ever going to come back and try it again or just if we were going to enjoy doing something creatively. We needed to get away from trying to make it happen as Brooks & Dunn.

You recently did a solo gig in Chicago as a part of the CMA Songwriters Series. How was that?

That was real fun. I made a living for 10 years as a songwriter before I ever met Ronnie, so I’ve done a lot of writer’s nights, and I really enjoyed sharing songs I’ve written. That’s a Nashville tradition, and that’s something I’ve always enjoyed doing. I think in New Orleans I [played] 72 nights in a row, just me and a guitar. It’s got a lot to do with my background and something I’m real comfortable and enjoy doing.

What new singer out there do you see going the distance?

I think Easton Corbin‘s got a good long run in front of him. I like his singing a lot. I think between him and George Strait, he’s got a really good sounding voice that way. Jamey Johnson obviously has something that’s very real, and people have embraced that. I think our business is changing to some extent. There’s going to be a lot of different ways to distribute and promote music, and I think that his music is real enough that people are really going to gravitate to it as long as he keeps doing it. He’s someone who could go long-term for sure.

Are there any female artists you’d like to record a duet with?

I’ve actually got a song right now that I played for Miranda Lambert the other night when we were doing the show together. She’s real excited about it, and I think I might get her to sing on it with me.

What’s the name of the song?

I better keep that under wraps. [laughs]

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