May 21, 2013
Kix Brooks wrote his first #1 Country hit almost 30 years ago, before teaming up with Ronnie Dunn for a 20-year career that spawned no less than 20 #1 singles and about a dozen Platinum and Gold albums. But that wasn't enough for Kix, who decided to take a stab at radio in 2006, succeeding Bob Kingsley as host of American Country Countdown. When Brooks & Dunn called it a day in 2010, Brooks revived his solo career and added another syndicated show, the overnight "Kicking It With Kix," to his plate. How does he keep balancing his careers? Kix lays it all out here.
When did you decide to get into radio projects?
I was invited to do it by the people at American Country Countdown, who were looking for someone to succeed Bob Kingsley in 2006. Seeing how I love to hear myself talk, I thought it would be a piece of cake. No, honestly, I had no allusions of having a great radio voice, but I did feel like it was a great form of entertainment, and that I had a unique perspective to offer, having toured with almost everyone whose music was on the Countdown. I felt I could provide some insight from those 30 years of touring that would make the artists behind the songs more interesting to the audience.
When you finally got behind a mic, did your opinion of radio DJs change in any way?
Absolutely; I envy the great voices on the radio. As I was trying to get my legs under me, I really appreciated the talent good on-air personalities have. I've become a big fan of good DJs; it's a talent all to itself ... being able speak people you can never see. In a sense, you have to learn to communicate while having one-sided conversations. I really enjoyed getting into it. When you're listening to what you did on the air, you're paying attention to the smallest things. You also do that as a recording artist to become a better singer. Over time, I've become better at what I'm doing with the Countdown.
You're also hosting a syndicated overnight show, "Kicking it With Kix." What made you decide to do that?
It was an idea that John Dickey brought me when Cumulus bought Citadel and purchased the countdown show; he became the show's third owner since I've been there. When we went in to renegotiate a new contract for American Country Countdown, he brought up the idea of me doing something for overnights. I guess I was just dumb or arrogant enough to think that maybe I could pull that off.
It's a new experience for me, and honestly, it's been a lot of fun. The show is much looser than the Countdown. I do it with Donna Britt, who's also producer of the countdown show. There's a great on-air sense about her. We have a lot of fun going back and forth on all sorts of things. There's more news content to talk about, as well as a lot of music.
It's not like any countdown show. It's very important to put together a special show every day; we try to keep it as current as possible. Countdown shows are done almost a week out; some shows are done two weeks out, so the content there has to be evergreen. We can be much more current. We work out of our studio here in Nashville; associate producer Lonnie Napier puts the content together for us every day -- for that night's show. We always come in and try to make sure everything is pretty up to date.
I really like John and Lew Dickey a lot; they have great vision for Country radio. They're basically making their NASH-FM brand what ESPN is to the "sports fan" concept. I really enjoy being part of it.
Do you have input on the music used for "Kickin' It With Kix?"
That's not my department. John Dickey is the ultimate boss of that and he works with other programmers, including John Kilgo, to come up with the music for both of the shows.
Can you see yourself doing more radio projects in the future?
Well, I don't think I could do a morning show, that's for sure. I just don't understand how people can physically get up 4a and go on the radio from 6-10a. I guess I've been a Country singer and musician for too long; I've had too many late nights and whatever. I enjoy the freedom I have doing a countdown and overnight show. That allows me the ability to come and go as I please for most of the week.
Since Brooks & Dunn called it a day, you've embarked on a solo career - which is actually the second time you've gone out on your own. How is your current solo work different than your first solo efforts?
Hopefully, being an artist you just evolve just as any person does. The kind of music you do -- especially if you're the songwriter - is a reflection of sorts of how you're thinking at that particular time. At this point in my life, it's fun to look back on all the things I've lived through. That still inspires my writing, Now that doesn't necessarily mean that if I'm writing drinking and cheating songs, I must be a drunk or cheating on my wife. It still makes me smile when some of my biggest critics go, "Why are you writing about heartbreak when you've been married for 30 years?" As an artist, you're like an actor, where you put yourself in certain roles. As a singer, I try deliver the feelings behind those roles. That may not be what you're going through, but certainly a lot of people out here have gone through something like that. I hope you didn't mind a long answer to a short question....
Not at all. When you write songs today, do you consciously listen to what's popular in Country, to bring that influence into your work, or do you try to focus on the sounds and style that you grew up with?
I think you try to do both, I wrote songs for a living for 10 years before I met Ronnie, so it's hard not to have been influenced by the time you spent in those trenches. It's really interesting in a way, because you're not so much chasing what's on the radio, but in the songwriting community there are certain melodic things and rhyme structures that change - it's just an evolution of style. It's sort of like the way you dress. You may have dressed and looked a certain way 20 years ago, but does that mean you can't change the way you dress today? Look at how the world changes. I don't mean to be flippant, but you look at what music's happening now, and you go, "okay, that's cool, that's how that goes, let's see how that sounds on me." It's human nature to go through changes.
How much importance do you put in getting another top-10 or #1 single? Or are you now at a point where you're more into the enjoyment of writing and playing instead of how successful the music is on the charts?
Obviously you want people to hear what you're doing, but I really am playing for the joy of the music. I really am. In the last 30 years, I've climbed a lot of mountains, so I'm not stressing out over how high on the charts I am this week. Granted, it's still important to get your music on the radio. I don't want to do a show where no one shows up, so in that sense, I do make music for other people. But it's not important that I play just my new and solo stuff to them. It's not wrong to go out and play your familiar music to the people who want to hear it.
Was is at all difficult to write just for yourself, and to return to live touring as a solo act, after working so many years with Ronnie?
Actually when Ronnie and I came off the road, I was offered a couple of movie roles. The second role I was offered, I took; it was for a western called "Dark Canyon," which took up quite a bit of time. I also did the soundtrack and score for that movie, which got my brain freed up from writing for Brooks & Dunn, which I'd been doing for so many years. Then when I finally started going solo, I really began digging into songwriting for my next album. I came up with some really fresh lyrics and wrote some different songs that were really rocking. I was just ready to go.
As for the first time I went onstage solo, I got up there and for the first two songs, I looked to my left and began to realize I was going to have to sing everything all night. It was an adjustment. Honestly, it took somewhere between halfway through the first show to the beginning of the second when I felt totally comfortable in my new role, and it was a lot of fun after that. It helped to have as good a band behind me as I've ever played with. We've been really rocking, playing every kind of gig you could imagine for the last couple of years.
Live, how do you balance playing your new stuff with the Brooks & Dunn and early solo hits?
I just love playing. I usually don't play anything I didn't have hand in writing or singing with Brooks & Dunn. I love playing those songs; they may be old songs, but they're really fun for me - even to do songs Ronnie used to sing, such as "Red Dirt Road." I do that song differently, but there also songs we created that I do just like they sound on the record. Overall, though, we like to do really interesting arrangements to songs like "You're Going To Miss Me." We also play a lot of new music and we do some covers, such as Allman Bros. songs ... things I grew up playing. It's a lot of fun to pull that stuff out. When you have great players in your band, you can take a different approach to your music. It's one of the reasons I always look forward to playing my shows every night.
I noticed that you were recently played during Derby Week and saw the Kentucky Derby. How deep is your interest in horse racing?
It was great being there. I've always loved the Derby. My father was in thoroughbred racing; he'd take me to the track when I was six or seven years old. To me, the Derby is probably the coolest sporting event in the world. I played at the Barnstable Brown Party; it's a great fundraising event. Playing there is something I look forward to doing.
We do have horses, just not thoroughbreds. My wife has a real interest in cutting horses, but beyond that, I like watching ponies and I like betting on them, but I'm not ready to get into that business.
As we're talking, The Rolling Stones are on a tour that celebrates their 50th year together. Can you see yourself hitting the road for your "50th Year In Country" tour?
I don't see myself doing that, but I'm not going to say, "Till hell freezes over," either. I'm just a guy who wakes up every morning and just can't wait to jump into all the stuff I have to do that day. Everything I'm doing right now is really exciting to me. I honestly feel so blessed to live my life and love all that I'm doing.