Ronnie Dunn's first solo release (post-Brooks and Dunn) is a work of love and pride, and the result of taking the time to reassess where he's at as an artist. After spending 20 years as one-half of the celebrated duo, the Oklahoma native cut 34 tracks on his own, narrowed the selection down to a dozen songs and found himself with a full record of music that he really loves. "Every song on there could be a single," Dunn, who wound up releasing 'Bleed Red' first, tells Taste of Country. "It was written that way. There's not a filler song on the record."

Before the album was officially released this week, Dunn called in to Taste of Country to share some intimate family stories that have played a part in developing his solo project, why the album track (and future single) 'Cost of Livin'' has him so fired up, and just how much tequila it'd take to get the 'I Don't Dance' singer to hit the 'Dancing With the Stars' stage.

What made you choose 'Bleed Red' as the very first single to release in your solo career?
I know where you're coming from. There was a lot of -- I call it overthinking -- to do something different, I think drastically different, from what I did with Brooks and Dunn. That song came along, and I cut it just to play it for the guys at the label and the management company, just to hear it. They were really, really preachin' to do something different, come up with something different. That's where it came from. I had it, I had all the rest of the record cut and recorded and turned it in, and they go, "That's it! That's the one! That's the one we want to go with first." So there it is. I like the message. I sincerely like the message.

Are you feeling a lot of pressure to have a successful run with this record?
I feel pressure all the time, no matter what I'm doing. Yes, to answer that question, but nothing any different than any other time. My goal was to make a really good record, something I was proud of and would hold up years down the road, and I feel really good about it. In fact, I love it. I'm anxious to get on with it and get into the meat of the record.

We spoke with Kix recently, and he said you were really ready to just take the time and run on into your solo career. Is there a particular moment when you came to the realization?
No, it was a process over the last few years. We were just kind of getting to the point where we were starting to see just little snippets of ... Kix is interested in working on his winery and having a radio countdown show and things like that. You get to point with something like B&D -- I felt like we'd done everything and then some that we could do as a duo. We had a phenomenal run, and I feel lucky. But no, no particular one moment. Sat everybody down one day and said, "Hey, what do you say we move on?" And we did.

You've said that your wife helped you find yourself in recording this album, and your daughter Haley is featured in the 'Bleed Red' video. The album starts off as labeling you a 'Singer in a Cowboy' band, but would you say you're just as much of a family man?
Yeah, I am. Haley, we took her down to the barn. There's an old, broken down rusty horse trailer in a field behind my house, and we went down to shoot still shots for another project. The cameras that we used are video capable, so we were working on the 'Bleed Red' video at the same time. I said, you know what, she'd just broken up with her boyfriend. I didn't want to really go there, but we sat down on the tailgate of that horse trailer, and I asked her, "You want to be in maybe an intro to this video or just a spot?" I was trying to get the video from that intimate encounter [as an] intimate representation as what the song means: We all bleed red ... to something that's global and cosmic and big. It turned out to be, we kind of made the lines up as we went. It took two or three takes. She made me look good.

There's some rockers on this album, but there's also quite a few ballads and love songs. Is that a reflection of where you are personally right now?
'Love Owes Me One' is an example. Janine [Dunn's wife] stopped me. I came in ... you know, whatever, we're sitting down on the back porch and I'm kind of fidgeting after the last show on the tour, the B&D thing. She looks over and she goes, "You quit a pretty good payin' job. Whatcha got planned?" And I said, "I really don't know." She said, "We didn't talk much about this before you did it at all" [laughs]. And she goes, "You know, I look over at you may be goin' through some changes. I see you got 'cowboy' tattooed from your elbow to your wrist. What does that symbolize to you?" She says, "Are you coming apart on me here? What are you doing? Are you gonna go out there and be David Allan Coe or play bars and beer joints and take on that road gypsy thing?" She said, "What are you battlin' with?" I said, "I really don't know. I'm just at a stage where I feel the need for a change in a lot of things." And she says, "Well, maybe you need to go somewhere and just think about that and spend some time trying to come up with who you are and what you want to be, what you want your music to sound like, how you want to live your life." She said, "I think that's pretty important for you right now. Go out to New Mexico in that little adobe house you have out there and stare out at the desert and see what you can come up with." She said, "You're writing all over the place."

I had 34 songs written, I was recording everywhere and I was just kind of in a chaos frenzy. And life has been that way for the last 15 years, in a lot of ways. We'd tour, we'd run hard, we'd tour, we'd run hard. You had very little time off to reassess what is real to you. She kind of got up, patted me on the head [laughs], walked off and said, "You know, maybe you just quit writin' for a while, quit playin', quit singin' and just figure it out." So anyway, she walks off and I do just the opposite of what she tells me, of course. I grab a pencil and paper and I write 'Last Love I'm Tryin'.' And it was about the idea, or even the concept or the thought of living life without her.

Have you thought about what will be the next single?
Yeah, I have. I'm getting an overwhelming reaction for one called 'Cost of Livin'.' Everyone that we play it for has been absolutely over the top. I'll say 'Bleed Red' was our choice out of the bat. It was the choice by committee. OK, we did that. But the ones that I'm getting a passionate response from, 'Cost of Livin'' is at the top of the list. Another one ... they love 'Waco.' It's something that sticks its head up. It has a little bit different, has a different sound, but it's still home turf for me.

What's the story behind 'Cost of Livin''?
I've had it since 2008, when gasoline was at its all-time high and the economy had just crashed. Then I played it for the guys at the label and the comment was that the economy would be back up and running and in good shape by the time I was ever able to get it out on a record. So I was kind of [like], "Yeah, whatever," and just backed away, walked out of the meeting a little frustrated. Anyway, it came around to this time. I had 34 songs cut, and they were wantin' me to put only 11 on the record. I kept going back to this and going, "I really think I want to do this song." It was beyond thinking. I really want to do this song. They said, "Well, you have to negotiate to get 12 [tracks on the album]." Anyway, I got it on there. One of the comments this time, instead of the economy turning around, was "Hey, you're too rich to do this song. You're too wealthy." I think that was a manipulative comment to try to keep me from doing it. I can't imagine someone thinking that. I mean, I grew up a poor kid ... I grew up in a trailer house in New Mexico. Don't pull that. Made me furious. Anyway, we go around to all the radio people and play it, played the whole record to different people in the industry, and they just flipped over that song. So now I'm doing it in the live shows, and it's a show stopper.

One of the writers, Phillip Coleman, is and was mowing yards for a living while he was trying to make a living as a songwriter. He's got a a family, a wife and a little girl. So it comes from a real place.

What music were you listening to while working on this record that you think might have influenced you?
Nothing directly. I'm a big John Fogerty fan and different stuff. You'll hear a slide guitar in a lot of stuff, like 'Last Love I'm Tryin'' and a couple others. I love [George] Harrison's slide guitar on 'Something' [sings, "Something in the way she moves..."]. But it's just things like that that you grow up listening to ... they just kind of come out when you're putting a record together. And part of doing it as my own producer is that I can let that stuff flow without having to answer to someone else at the studio and kill the vibe a lot.

One song that's standing out to us because it's so catchy is 'I Don't Dance' -- it's been stuck in our heads!
That's the one that really poked its head up in a lot of ways. That's probably right up there with 'Cost of Livin'.' I had that title forever. A couple of buddies were over one day [at] I call it the barn -- it's where I go down and write. I threw it out. I said, "Guys, let's think about this." It's David Lee Murphy and Craig Wiseman, who are just terrific writers. I said, "Let's take this title and see if we can come up with something about how not only do I not dance, metaphorically, but it's about being true to love." They were like, "Yeah, let's go!" So away we went. It's autobiographical as well. I'm talking about playing at bars and beer joints and that lifestyle, and how hard it is to dance through temptation.

And on the lighthearted side of it, it also sounds like you're saying that you really don't dance, so we're guessing you wouldn't consider going on something like 'Dancing With the Stars.'
No. No, not unless it's preceded by an Olympic tequila shoot-off [laughs]. That's when I really dance, really well.

Can you tell us about what plans you have for touring this record, and how you think the live show is going to compare to what fans were used to with a Brooks and Dunn show?
I'm gonna have to develop it. I'm gonna play some casinos and a couple of festivals between now and next year. I'm gonna let this record do what it needs to do in terms of the singles. I need some time for radio to expose and people to be exposed to three or four singles. That would help me to redefine and give me a solo platform to spring from. I'll spend this time putting the band together, tightening up the show, trying different things and just gettin' it to where I want it.

Watch the Ronnie Dunn 'Bleed Red' Video

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