When Brooks & Dunn split up in 2010, after 20 years together, Ronnie Dunn knew there was still plenty more that he wanted to do in country music. So, he released a solo album in 2011, and another in 2014 -- and on Friday (Nov. 11), Dunn dropped his third solo project (his first on Nash Icon), Tattooed Heart.

In the six years since Dunn parted ways, at least professionally, with his former duo partner Kix Brooks, he hasn't ventured all that far from the first part of his career; in fact, he teamed up with Brooks for his current single, "Damn Drunk." But Tattooed Heart is a little different: Dunn has writing credits on just two of the record's 12 tracks -- a welcome change for the man who co-wrote most of Brooks & Dunn's catalog -- and he also co-produced the disc with Rascal Flatts' Jay DeMarcus.

Recently, Dunn sat down with The Boot to discuss Tattooed Heart (available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes), why he was content to let others write for his new record and whether or not he is ready to at least consider retirement.

Talk about picking the songs for Tattooed Heart.

I’ve always had a lot of responsibility to write a lot of what I do, and this is kind of like getting to go on vacation for that dynamic and that part of it. I wanted to challenge myself, just to see what I could do with some outside stuff. Allison Jones, the head of A&R at Big Machine [Label Group, Nash Icon's parent company], really stepped up and brought some killer songs.

If you have a tendency to write most of your stuff, you won’t get the top-drawer stuff from other writers, because they’ll give it to someone who doesn’t write a lot -- say, Kenny Chesney or Tim McGraw, stuff like that. It was an interesting experience from that end, in terms of song acquisitions.

One of the most powerful songs on the album is "I Wanna Love Like That Again," which you wrote by yourself.

It was a vulnerable, rare, romantic time. I kind of took a vacation from the writing thing, and backed away from it. I have a buddy from Texas, and he was up, and he was messing around with an open G tuning on the guitar. He said, “This is what Keith Richards plays with. This is what he uses.”

I set the guitar off at the house, and I would catch myself picking the guitar up and playing the same chord progression all day, every day. If I wasn’t doing something, I’d just pick up the guitar and walk through the house. The lyrics came to me, not like sitting down for writing; I didn’t intend to write a song. Over the course of a year, I came up with a song.

I couldn’t be in a better place. I’m not just saying that; I’m really not. I’m just flat-out calling it.

What was it like recording your current single, "Damn Drunk," with Kix Brooks?

The usual torture -- the angst, anxiety and tension, all of that [Laughs]. He was funny: I was playing the roughs as I would record them in the dressing room in Vegas [during their Reba, Brooks & Dunn: Together in Vegas residency]. He’d sit back, and every now and then, he’d kind of grunt: “Yeah, that’s alright.”

We never give one another slack; it’s impossible for us to be around one another, or him hear something I’m doing or me hear something he’s doing, and not go, “You know, what if you’d like do a chorus harmony on the hook line here or there?" He made a comment one day, and I said, “Why don’t you go put it on it?” He looked at me and says, “No, I don’t think so.”

Anyway, he got back, and he and Jay got together -- I probably prodded it a little bit -- and he went in and put a part on it.

Can you talk about your duet, "Still Feels Like Mexico," with Reba McEntire?

That’s another one that came out of nowhere. Tommy Lee James wrote that, who wrote “If You See Her, If You See Him,” that Reba and I cut years ago with Kix. It sounded perfect. We spend a lot of time down in Mexico, not in a hotel together [Laughs], but all of us as friends, running and having fun down there. And so, it just sounded like it had to be done.

I in no way thought of Reba or anything singing on it, and she heard it when I got through, and she goes, "Can I come put a part on that?" She wanted to sing on it. So she came down to the studio and did it.

You released your last album, Peace, Love and Country Music, on your own Little Will-E Records. What was it like for you to return to a major label?

Of any place to be in town right now -- you’re always evaluating the situation on the business plane, what label’s the best to be with -- I would say that [Nash Icon]'s the best place to be. I don’t think that I would have really sought record deals in some other places.

Did you consider releasing another project independently?

At a certain point, I kind of went through a phase; I got around a bunch of tech guys, and we were thinking, "You know what? Let’s just do this stuff with social media and make all that happen." And then I learned in a hurry that it takes a team of people to do that -- and it’s not only super expensive, it’s darn near impossible to put an effective team together that can do that. And, right now, this label’s doing everything; they’re right on the mark with everything they’re doing.

I couldn’t be in a better place. I’m not just saying that; I’m really not. I’m just flat-out calling it.

There’s life way beyond all this. There was a time when I didn’t think there was life beyond all this, and there is.

Was there a point before recording Tattooed Heart that you considered retiring, and not working so hard anymore?

It’s fun to get out and develop other interests and do things. For 20 years, I used to tell people as a songwriter and an artist -- and it’s not wrong to be that way -- but it’s an all-consuming, 24/7 job, our endeavor; it’s something that consumes every minute of your day. I just got to a point where I didn’t want to do that anymore. I looked around and went, "Surely there’s other things I can do." I’m traveling to these cities and going all over the place, and I never see Seattle; I’ve been there 100 times, but I’ve never seen it. I want to go see some of these places. And now I can kind of afford to do it -- go travel. Do things. Experience things.

What's your goal with Tattooed Heart?

Just make good music. It’s as simple as that. It’s fun to do, and until it’s not, for whatever reason -- I don’t need to do it. I don’t have to do it. I don’t know. Everyone asks that question, and I haven’t answered it right yet.

What else do you want to accomplish, especially outside of the music scene?

I love creating stuff. I’m playing around with cameras now, running around photographing stuff. I’m not going to be a great photographer, but it’s fun. Finding different healthy doses of creative endeavors to be involved with. Some people say, you quit doing music or whatever you’re doing, you hit the wall.

There’s life way beyond all this. There was a time when I didn’t think there was life beyond all this, and there is.

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