With a single, "Ain't Nothing 'Bout You," that's logged four weeks atop the country charts and a new album, Steers & Stripes, that's also No. 1 (and into the Top 5 of the Billboard Top 200 charts), the duo of Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn are entering today's Academy of Country Music Awards ceremony in Los Angeles with a formidable head of steam.
"I'd say we're in the running, which is kind of cool," says Brooks, who finds himself and Dunn nominated for Entertainer(s) of the Year and Top Vocal Duo. "Man, I hope we've got a shot at it. Obviously we lost [the duo award] at the CMA, so you can bet we're not taking anything for granted. You never know what will happen."
Nevertheless, Brooks & Dunn are happy country campers these days, thanks to the success of Steers & Stripes. It regains a bit of luster for the duo after the disappointing showing of its predecessor, Tight Rope, which was the first of their seven albums not to go platinum (five are multiplatinum). Brooks confirms that he and Dunn approached the new release like "it was pretty much do-or-die time. We were at a big-time crossroad." But with the help of new co-producer Mark Wright, who's also worked with LeAnn Womack and Trisha Yearwood, he feels that things are comfortably back on track.
"Sometimes you just need a little wakeup call to look around and go, 'You know, this thing's going to get away from us if we don't make some real serious music,'" notes Brooks. "That's what we seriously set out to do, and it seems to be working."
The duo are celebrating their achievement with Brooks & Dunn's Neon Circus & Wild West Show, a package that features not just music — Toby Keith, Montgomery Gentry, and Keith Urban — but also a pack of circus-style sideshow performers to keep the audience entertained between acts. Brooks says the interview process for those artists — particularly the fire-breather — was, well, a gas.
"When a guy walks in your office with Vaseline on his face and a bottle of kerosene, you make sure you're on the other side of the room," he says with a laugh. "We did a photo session with this guy, and I don't think any of us came out with eyebrows."