The Warren Brothers

BRAD AND BRETT WARREN HAVE A LOT TO SAY. As one said of the other, “He’s got a lot of problems, but talking’s not one of them.”

It’s as if a chance to speak to POLLSTAR about the business side of show business was pressing against their chests, even though one gets the impression the brothers can plumb the bottom of any topic. A mention of Tampa Bay Buccaneer-football led to an eight-minute discussion with each of the Florida natives.

Although the country music duo touched many subjects, from supporting Tim McGraw/Faith Hill’s Soul 2 Soul tour to their reverence for manager Ken Levitan, they tended to steer toward industry topics like a couple of execs at a watering hole. And with country record sales dropping and the George Strait Country Music Festival moving from arenas to sheds in some markets, the Warren Brothers’ candor was timely.

They have been tagged “bad boys” and they agree it’s schmaltzy. It’s not because of their lifestyle, they said both have families and are proclaimed homebodies. They believe they’ve been pigeon-holed because they’re maybe a little too honest.

“I heard this joke once: What’s the difference between Baptists and Catholics? Catholics talk to each other in the liquor store,” Brad said. “That’s the difference between country and rock ‘n’ roll. We all have to love each other [in Nashville]. Everyone’s gonna love the song someone puts out, then they go behind their back and talk about how horrible it is. … We’re going to tell it like it is and I think that scares people a little bit.”

They think this ability to say what others are thinking and their refusal to make radio- friendly albums have hurt their airplay. “[Dwight Yoakam] is phenomenal and he’s having trouble getting on the radio,” Brad said. “[A radio exec is] normally some guy who’s from Long Island that’s working in Birmingham and he’s like, ‘Oh, no, that’s not country.’ How would you know? You’ve been in country for, like, four years and now you’re consultant control of the whole thing.”

“Dwight’s not getting airplay but an 8-year-old boy is selling a million records,” Brett added. “I’m not dissin’ them, but the country music industry in Nashville is a slave to the country radio. … Even the Tony Browns and the Luke Lewises of the world are coming out and saying that and it’s caused our formats to become very sterile. Back in the old days, you made radio stations for the music. Now you’re making music for the radio stations.”

Let’s take a breath and examine the brothers’ music. Their second album, King of Nothing, contains a single, “That’s the Beat of a Heart,” that has garnered them their second consecutive CMA nomination for duo of the year, this time with their good friend Sara Evans. However, another cut, “Superstar,” about a Nashville singer sleeping her way to the top, may have fueled their prickly relationship with radio.

Another stickler: radio and the press branding them a bar band. “I think that’s the biggest bunch of bullshit I’ve ever heard in my life,” Brad said. “I’ve never known anybody without a hit to play more arena shows. We did 40 dates with Tim and Faith last year. We’ve toured with the Dixie Chicks. We’ve toured with Faith twice.

“It all started with how we got signed. It wasn’t this big, pretentious showcase. It was in a club where we were working (Murfreesboro, Tenn.’s Bunganut Pig), so you get stuck with this bar-band thing. We get standing ovations at Madison Square Garden. Kiss my ass, we’re not a bar band.”

Brett Warren
Brad Warren

“From Hank Sr. to just reading country music history, it says that country music is about sincerity,” Brett said. “I think, now, this genre lacks a little sincerity. I mean, to me, Kid Rock is more like George Jones and Waylon Jennings than anybody in country music. He’s walking around with a joint in his mouth, a middle finger in the air, an F-you and a Budweiser on his lap.”

And so it goes with the Warren Brothers. They do not paint anything with a wide, critical brush. Without naming names, they acknowledged the need for “Disney Channel” musicians, but they are not ready to keep quiet on their passion for real country music. They have even approached their record company about doing a live album for their third release with two previously unreleased cuts.

“Who thinks of doing that?” asked Brett.

And if he could be in charge? “You know, I’m not a marketing genius. I’m a songwriter. But I like to think of myself as fairly intelligent. I think people at the record companies, at that level, have got to stop giving radio music that’s not cool. Why don’t you just stop giving them unhip music?”

They have a deep respect for the musical intelligence of a country audience, playing Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” at Madison Square Garden and writing a batch of disco-country tunes. They praise both CAA and former agency William Morris for hard work on their behalf. They love RCA, although …

“I don’t think Indiana Jones could find our record in the stores and it’s a little frustrating. I know everyone’s working as hard as they can, but we have to stay on top of that,” Brad said. He paused and thought about it. “You see, that’s one of those comments where they’re going to say, ‘Those guys! You never know what they’re going to say.'”