Country music band Sugarland back on tour, making music to ‘make things better’
By: Isabel Hughes
Published: Aug 3, 2018
Stepping into Duluth’s Infinite Energy Arena Friday night , fans will be greeted by two familiar faces: Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, who make up county music band Sugarland.
After a five-year hiatus so Bush and Nettles could work on solo projects and focus on their personal lives, the band, which was formed in Atlanta in 2002, promises some of its classics — especially from its “Love On The Inside” album, which celebrated its 10th anniversary July 22.
But the band will also focus its performance on music from “Bigger,” which was released June 8 of this year after nearly a year of work.
“It was great to feel that if you put us in a room together, (the music) would just happen,” Bush told the Daily Post. “We got (back together) in September or October of this past year and the first song we wrote was called ‘Still The Same.’ Suddenly, we were like, ‘Let’s do this again’ and we had another writing session in early January.”
Bush said the January session largely contributed to where the band is today.
“There was now a reason to be writing this stuff, because what we’d talk about in the room had to do with (kids) and the world,” Bush said. “Then I started to understand, we’re writing songs in a time in America that is very odd, and suddenly, the ‘Why now?’ became clear.”
The reason the two parted ways in 2012, Bush said, was because Nettles came to him and said, “I want to have a baby, I want to have a family and I want to do a solo record.”
“I was like, ‘Oh, OK,’” Bush said. “That’s how I had met her originally here in Atlanta — in my old band, Billy Pilgrim, she was our opening act. So I knew what she sounded like solo, but nobody in country music did, so it made sense to me.”
Nettles did just that. Having married her boyfriend of two years, Justin Miller, in November 2011, the two had a son in December 2012.
Nettles then went on to record some music of her own, do “some Broadway-type stuff” and act some, Bush said.
But, last year, at the 51st Annual Country Music Association Awards, the duo reunited to present the Vocal Duo of the Year award and also announced that they were working on new music together as Sugarland.
While the two have been able to largely pick up where they left off — the song writing came just as naturally last year as it did a decade ago, Bush said — there have been some changes in how the two work together, Bush said.
“Jennifer has different things going on in her life, so sometimes we’d write a piece of a song and then I’d go to a hotel room and write the rest of it,” Bush said. “Then I’d bring it back and we’d go over it and work on it together. I think creatively, I drove a lot (of the lyrics) but nowadays, I drive anything I do.”
Still, Bush said, what’s special about the band is “kind of like the Venn diagram of the two of us, where we overlap.”
“It’s where our belief systems overlap, our melodies overlap — all of that is what makes us Sugarland,” Bush said. “I think it kind of took us that time (apart) to go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what we do when we’re together.’”
That overlap is exactly what the duo’s newest album is about, Bush said.
“Because I work with a lot of new artists, there’s an energy of, ‘I want to play a new song for you that you don’t know and you’ve never heard, and I want to play it for you and I want you to fall in love with it,’” Bush said. “There’s a certain amount of that energy that’s in this entire album, and I think that people can expect (that) from a Sugarland show.”
When the duo performs, Bush said, their goal is to “make things a little bit better than they are right now.”
“You’re supposed to come and have a good time,” he said. “You’re supposed to come and dance and smile and get a relief. You’re supposed to leave at least a piece of this very heavy life that we all are living in right now behind for an hour and a half, two hours. That’s worth everything to us.”
Born out of a “very odd time” in his life and in America, Bush said Sugarland has always tried to simply make people’s lives a little brighter.
“My mother had just passed away, (terrorists) had flown planes into buildings — I was like, ‘I’ve already got a band, but what if we started a band that just tried to make things better?’” Bush said. “That tenant has not changed, it’s just now a different time in the world. I tell people, that’s why we don’t put our faces on the cover of our albums, because it’s not about us; it was never supposed to be about us. It was always supposed to be about you, the (listener).”