Where there’s smoke, there’s fire — and with New Smoke Show, country artist Kimberly Dunn is ready to ignite.
The 11-track album, produced by Grammy Award winner Chad Carlson (Taylor Swift, Trisha Yearwood), should mark Dunn’s explosion into mainstream music, after several years of burning up the charts in her native Texas.
“Forever on the Run, my first full-length record, was a road map of where I’ve been and who I was when those songs were written. I would say the new music is definitely the direction I’m going in,” Dunn says. “It’s all about the live show and all about having fun with the audience. I want to make sure that we keep the energy up so everyone has the potential to have as much fun as possible at my show!”
Her attitude is summed up in “Stand on It,” the album’s third track.
“I don’t walk the line, I dance on it,” Dunn sings. “I don’t fit in a box…I stand on it.”
The album defiantly shows off all of Dunn’s various musical influences — country, pop and rock ‘n’ roll.
“What I’ve learned over time that I have to be true to myself, and in being true to myself, I have to pay attention to all of the music I grew up listening to — rock ‘n’ roll, pop, classic country, bluegrass…a little bit of everything!”
“In the very beginning of my career I felt like I had to stay in a more traditional country mindset. That’s what Forever on the Run is. I love it and it has a really special place in my heart. But New Smoke Show is definitely more me than I ever have been on a recording,” Dunn says.
The singer-songwriter has matured from the young woman in her first smash hit “Randy Rogers” who tried to find harmony between a heart broken by an ex-boyfriend and a heart that soared to the sounds of the Texas Country songs to which he introduced her.
But staying locked into one style of music didn’t completely satisfy Dunn — even at the risk of being called a sell-out.
“You know what, I’m not worried. I was at the very beginning, when I thought that I had to be more traditional, ya know? I have to wear boots on stage every night, I have to wear denim,” Dunn says. “The more rules I put on myself, the more I found that it hindered my creativity. Being worried about what other people think can consume you and the whole record New Smoke Show is about being yourself and doing what you want to do. Feeling good about standing outside of the box and just having a good time with who you are and finding yourself.”
“I’m on my journey of finding myself and the more I face my fears, the more I learn about myself and find new avenues of making other people happy,” she continues. “All I want to do is give back. The more successful I can be, the more I can give back to my fans.”
That’s when she found Carlson, who was recommended to her by producer Rachel Loy (William Clark Green, Dolly Shine).
“She was so right on,” Dunn says. “The cool thing about working with Chad is that he’s going to figure out who you are even if you don’t know what your sound is. He’s just so great at communicating a vision and he’s helped me to stay true to myself and also create a product that my audience enjoys.”
Carlson helped Dunn combine such diverse influences as Def Leppard, AC/DC and Iron Maiden with Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Clay Walker and Reba McEntire all in an effort to find a unique sound.
“If you listen to all of that, somewhere in the middle is Kimberly Dunn. Somewhere in the middle is me wanting both sides of that coin,” she says.
“If you’re really true to yourself and what you want to be and search real deep, then you’re going to create something that sounds like nobody else,” Dunn says.
“I like following the rules — I really do! I come from the Girl Scouts world where if you don’t follow the rules, you’re in trouble. But in music, you have to throw the rulebook out the window. If all else fails, at least it’s going to create something unique!”
To build New Smoke Show, Carlson helped her find tracks written by top songwriters, and Dunn also took pen in hand to work with cowriters Phillip White on “Lonestar” and Carlson on a trio of songs — “Until We Never Meet Again,” “You Belong with Her” and “Roots Run Deep.”
Making music isn’t about dreams of stardom, she says.
“There’s so much more than that. That’s a very paper-thin want, and it’s also a selfish want, and I’ve had to have some inner-demon battles with myself, like, why would you want that?” she confesses. “I think it comes from growing up without a lot of money and wanting to have more money, and that’s OK, but I’ve been reading a lot and doing a lot of soul-searching, and people are not for money — money is for people. If I can make somebody smile at the end of a hard day, then I’ve done my job.”
“As I’ve grown up and figured out what kind of person I am, I’m not as concerned about making a ton of money anymore. What I’m concerned about is making a positive impact in the world!”
To that end, Dunn founded her own nonprofit organization, the Dunn Good Foundation, which in six years has supported an array of different causes, from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation to the Brighter Days Horse Refuge, several Hurricane Relief Benefits and more — all with hands-on involvement from the singer herself.
The foundation is a reflection of Dunn’s upbringing. Her mother, Katy, set an example of giving back to others, and Dunn says she doesn’t feel complete unless she is giving her time and energy to make a difference in the world.
She also hopes to bring her fans further into her band’s world via a new series of YouTube videos, Originally Dunn.
“I want to show them the behind-the-scenes life of the band — who we are and how hard my band and my team work,” Dunn says. “There are so many steps to get the show on stage across the country. It all comes with hard work and dedication.”
Fans see the less-than-glamorous side of life on the road, including the time the seven-member team crammed into their faithful van to camp for four nights in a row in Bozeman, Montana.
“Seven people in that tiny van, and we couldn’t be happier!” Dunn says.
But above all else, Dunn is thrilled that New Smoke Show will translate into even more high-energy stage performances for the fans.
“I feel so much more comfortable on stage with the new album material in the set alongside our favorites from Forever on the Run. The show is more fun than ever and the more comfortable the band and I are on stage, the more fun it is for the audience,” she says. “The cool thing is we can only go up from here!”
Sounds like The New Smoke Show is heating up and we can wait to watch her light it up on tour this year!