LOS ANGELES (Brooks & Dunn Official Website) - While the current single incinerating the charts is called 'Play Something Country,' Ronnie Dunn
and Kix Brooks understand the way to keep the roots strong is to let them reach out into fresh and fertile ground. As double down as the intensity of their high-octane brand of no-nonsense honky tonk/beer joint country is, they decided to cast their reality into some very modern, very urban environs.
To that end, the 4-time Entertainers of the Year enlisted noted rock photographer Chapman Baehler, known for his arresting black & white pictures of Nine Inch Nails, Queens of the Stone Age and Stone Temple Pilots, to cast the duo's equally hard-edged musical sensibilities against a world that reflects the same kind of real world from a 180 degree perspective. But what the trio came up with was more than a juxtaposition of two worlds colliding, but rather the merging of aesthetics that illuminates the commonality of what could be viewed as poles.
'It was a little bit the notion of the outsider in that world,' explains Baehler of the driving force behind the cover art. 'But it's also about intensity and reality – and walking through wherever you are who you are. Ronnie and Kix have the ability to just be dudes, which is what's so cool about them.
'They're huge stars – like the Rolling Stones of country. I put them in the same category of Nine Inch Nails or Queens of the Stone Age, in being so huge and really being on the film. They came into my world, too, and what we got – in part because they're so humble – breaks the mold in a lot of ways, even as it intensifies who they are.'
It took 5 graffiti artists to execute the look for the wall in East L.A. where the downtown pictures were shot – and the gang members who appear in some of the images are actual Angelenos who've reformed and started a production company that lead straight lives, dress as they always have and provide support to the film, video, television and photographic industries.
'Chapman is really funny,' says Dunn. 'But he's got an eye – and the ability to see what we were talking about. Country music is for people who work, people who don't always have enough at the end of the week, people who're fighting to make ends meet… If that isn't the intensity that binds people – rednecks, gang bangers, whomever – together, what is? And he got that, which was pretty cool.'
Not that Brooks & Dunn forgot where they came from. In a futuristic take on the classic High Plains Drifter aesthetic – one that casts freedom and vast possibility against the desert – the nearly 30-million-sellers went to the desert with their mirrored steerheads and beater pick-ups to inject life force into the sun-baked desolation.
'Those shots were classic, in that timeless way that is the permanence of harshness,' Baehler, who's also shot Green Day, Alanis Morrisette, Bright Eyes, the Pixies and Rancid. 'We worked opposite worlds which Ronnie and Kix moved through with equal ease, which was fun, because they're so larger than life. That imagery can be so predictable, but the way the guys did it this time, it's something totally else. I've shot lots of people, but these guys are the real deal – and, truthfully, after everything I've shot, they're the ones who finally impressed my Dad.'
'Chapman understand how to make pictures that dig beneath the surface,' says Brooks. 'He gets inside what's really going on in the moment, rather than just shooting what's obvious. I can't wait for people to see these images 'cause they're not the obvious take on how cool this music is, but they're the perfect mirror of it.'
See for yourself when Hillbilly Deluxe – produced by the legendary music man Tony Brown, and featuring guest performances by Vince Gill and Sheryl Crow - hits streets August 30. And the seek-and-destroy duo kicks off their Deuces Wild tour August 6 at Dallas' Smirnoff Center with special guests Big & Rich and the Warren Brothers.