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It all started with a few notes on a Starbucks napkin in Atlanta.
Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles weren’t asking for much. They only wanted the simple things in life – like being able to balance being in a band and having a family, getting a Grammy nomination and selling a million records.
Peanuts, really in the grand scheme of things. Their Mercury Nashville debut “Twice the Speed of Life” surpassed all expectations selling a mammoth three million copies. The duo has been honored with an American Music Award, an Academy of Country Music Award, a Grammy nomination and six CMA nods. They have toured packed arenas on both coasts and have appeared on "The Tonight Show" and "Good Morning America" and are getting set to wow the country music world again with their follow-up “Enjoy the Ride”, due out on the Mercury Nashville label on November 7.
Sugarland has proven without a doubt that the sophomore album curse is a fallacy with this outing. The album is nothing short of a roller-coaster ride of fun foot-tappin’ country anthems (Mean Girls, County Line, Everyday America, One Blue Sky) alongside introspective moving ballads that tug the heartstrings and bring a tear to the eye (Stay, Happy Ending, These Are The Days).
Nettles’ vocal range is unsettlingly wide, belting out dead-on soul and power in one instant then dropping to a whisper and a sigh the next with equal depth and clarity. Her voice brings to mind the gutsy growl of a youthful Reba with the sultry sass of Gretchen Wilson.
The big burly beasts to Nettles’ heavenly beauty, Kristian Bush’s vocals are deep and masculine without being overbearing. The duo harmonizes flawlessly complimenting each other in ways that highlight the strengths of both. In his cowboy hat and bearded grin, Bush is the perfect counterpoint to the smaller feminine presence of Nettles as they both complete a sort of perfect yin and yang in their music as well as their stage presence. One cannot be easily imagined without the other and together they are a force that cannot easily be resisted or met with anything but rapt attention and awe. Recently, Jennifer Nettles took a few brief moments of time off from Sugarland’s whirlwind tour of the Great Northwest in order to talk with "O&AN."
O&AN: It’s a real pleasure to chat with you, Jennifer. You have definitely become a certifiable superstar of country music now, and I’m convinced, based on conversations that I’ve had with friends, of the possibility that every lesbian in Nashville is madly in love with you.
JN: That’s a huge ego boost! I’ll take it!
O&AN: It’s refreshing that you are actually proud of the fact that you have a large gay and lesbian following—an attitude that is very much unlike most mainstream country acts. Why do you feel that it’s important for you to embrace your gay audience?
JN: We have an ethos here that we try to apply to our lives in all aspects. With Sugarland we are all about opening up boundaries and crossing lines in order to celebrate the human condition. Regardless of where we come from, what we do for a living, who we love, how we love, or how we choose to live—we all live the same kinds of lives emotionally. We all celebrate victories. We all weep over heartaches. We all get our hearts broken. We all have great times with friends and loved ones. That universalism is the message we try to communicate when we tell our stories through our songwriting. We want to celebrate the fact that we are not alone here and that we can all validate each other by saying that we are all the same.
O&AN: You and Kristian seem to be having the time of your lives on the road. What is it like for you to live in the middle of a whirlwind like this?
JN: We really are enjoying the ride, no pun intended. Just like with our first album “Twice the Speed of Life” we are approaching it all from the perspective that we get back what we put out there. We wanted the album to have a positive message that was a sort of invitation for people to come along with us on this crazy ride that Kristian and I call a life and career. Intent is an important thing for us in our lives. We set our goals for what we wanted and we went after them until they happened. We wanted to really evolve our sound this time around in order to give our listeners something from us that they haven’t gotten before. We wanted to raise the bar not only for our songwriting, but also for our performances. We’ve been on the road now for almost four years, and it was important to us to demonstrate the evolution that we have experienced over that time.
O&AN: Your new album isn’t due until November 7, but you have been touring for a while now. How have the crowds responded to the new material?
JN: The audiences have been awesome. It’s been such a good time because when we write songs we attach our own meanings to them, but when we let those songs go and let the crowd have them it’s up to them then to attach whatever meanings they want to the songs. It’s a really great experience each night to see which parts of which songs new people latch onto. We have a lot of fun.
O&AN: With all of the constant traveling how did you ever make time to write a whole new album with such incredibly strong songs?
JN: We wrote most of the album on the road. We had a couple of weeks at home in Atlanta at the beginning of the year. For the next several months into the spring we wrote on the back of a tour bus and hotel rooms here, there and everywhere—anywhere inspiration hit us.
O&AN: You had a lot of time to yourselves to write “Twice the Speed of Life.” Did you find it difficult to write the new album under such different circumstances? How did the different environment set this album apart from its predecessor?
JN: It was a real lesson in flexibility. I’m really a cat, and I like for things to stay the same so I had to get myself into a creative space no matter what the environment is.
The emotion is a little bit different than on our previous work. It’s a little more mature. Now that isn’t to say that there isn’t fun and light and sass and youthful lightheartedness because there is. That can all be seen in the music and the lyrical content as far as the stories are concerned, but there is a real maturity at the same time that shows how we’ve grown. We experimented playing with new sounds, and I’ve really learned to stretch my voice in ways that challenge me to develop richer and deeper vocal textures.
We took some production risks that we hadn’t before but there really isn’t a departure. We’re still the same band only more seasoned than we were before.