For Brooks & Dunn, life on the road this summer will be a circus — literally — as the duo unleash the Neon Circus & Wild West Show. Touted as one of the summer’s hottest tours, the excursion — which launches April 28 in Birmingham — also will feature Toby Keith, Montgomery Gentry and Keith Urban, not to mention jugglers, fire-eaters and a plethora of circus acts.
All this fan fare will draw attention to Brooks & Dunn’s new Arista album, Steers & Stripes, which arrives Tuesday (April 17). The project marks the first time the duo have worked with producer Mark Wright, known for his work with Lee Ann Womack and Clint Black, among
others. The partnership has proven successful as the first radio hit, “Ain’t Nothing ’Bout You,” is screaming up the charts. With new music and a new approach to touring, the duo are ready to cut loose this summer, and they feel the Neon Circus will be an antidote to the everyday concert experience.
“We look out there in between acts and see people walking around with a glazed look over their faces while some background music plays. It just kind of gives me the creeps,” says Kix Brooks. “We’ve always said something needs to be going on, and our plan was to have a
carnival atmosphere. Between jugglers, fire-eaters, goats and guys that throw hatchets, we are going to try to find some music in the
middle of all this. We’ve got so much stuff blowing up, I hope people bring plenty of protection.”
The duo don’t feel the circus atmosphere will take fans’ focus away from the music. “It will add to the whole effect,” says Ronnie Dunn. “That stuff will go on between the shows. Once the show starts up,then they go back to their corners. We unplug them.”
After more than a decade together, Brooks & Dunn feel like they’ve made one of the best albums of their illustrious career in Steers & Stripes. “No one is more surprised than us that we aren’t out there
chewing grass, believe me,” Brooks says with a laugh. “We are at a great place in our career. It’s really getting fun for us, and that’s no lie. We’ve always had a good time, but after Brand New Man we were
scared to death that we had started this fire we could never keep burning, and 10 years down the road, we don’t have that fear anymore.”
Despite multiple gold- and platinum-certified albums and numerous awards, the duo have no intention of resting on their considerable
laurels. For this latest phase in their career, they turned to Wright, who is also senior VP of A&R at MCA Nashville. Brooks and
Dunn say they owe thanks to his bosses at MCA for giving Wright the green light to work on an album for a competing label. “Mark
knows how to cut a great country record and his records sound really good on the radio,” says Dunn.
Brooks & Dunn’s last album, Tight Rope, wasn’t as successful as their previous outings (though it was certified gold, for shipments of
500,000 copies), and the duo cite various reasons including changes at their record label and songs that didn’t ignite a fire at country
radio. “Album releases are driven by first singles,” says Brooks. “’Missing You,’ wasn’t as big a hit.”
“We’re at a point where we had to come back with a strong record,” adds Dunn. “We lost momentum with the last one. So we knew we had to get serious … There was a lot at stake. I felt the heat in a
big way. I felt like we could have easily been written off, like ’OK, that’s over, next thing.’ It was time to buckle down and come up with something. Maybe that’s what we needed, more pressure.”
Dunn says they took their time in recording this record and feel they hit the mark. “I think we got the fire we were looking for, the excitement,” says Brooks. “We really got the quality just by taking our time. With [the first album] Brand New Man we were afforded that time because we weren’t up against any pressures or walls, but once Brand New Man was so successful, then all of a sudden we are on this treadmill. We had to get back out on the road, and we have 900 other commitments to take care of. We’ve never really taken the time we probably needed to on the following records.”
On Steers & Stripes, Brooks & Dunn have no regrets. “Sometimes it’s time to add something different just to get a breath of fresh
air,” says Brooks. “You have to look for new ways to work for things to be creative. It was a real fresh attempt at making music, and
it sounds like that.”