The country-music duo of Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, known as Sugarland, have just released their sixth studio album. The group made it big back in 2004 with the hit "Baby Girl." After eventually releasing solo albums, they have now reunited to make Bigger for Big Machine Records.
Bush was born and raised in Tennessee, and attended Emory University in Atlanta. He began playing in a band there and eventually co-founded Sugarland. He has now won six BMI Awards, formed a publishing company and released his solo album Southern Gravity in 2015.
Windy City Times: Hi, Kristian. I'm from Tennessee just like you and I heard you opened for Dolly Parton years ago.
Kristian Bush: I am from Sevierville. I grew up way out. My grandparents owned a cannery in a tiny little town. They would do a concert there every year to celebrate all the hard work of the people there. It was pretty much everyone that lived in the town and worked at the factory.
I was the oldest kid and they had taught me a weird Japanese way of learning music. I was a party trick. As a young kid they would put me up in front of everybody to play.
Dolly Parton was the most memorable of those. I always giggle because I was just tall enough to be hugged by her and make me think the music business was awesome!
WCT: I once asked Dolly what was the craziest thing a fan brought her. Do you have a story about a fan moment?
KB: There are some awkward moments. I learned to not eat the home baked goods they bring you. Country music is a lot like Nascar. It is a full contact sport. You are able to touch the people you are a fan of. Part of being a country artist is being available to that.
They will ask me to sign their baby. I will sign a T-shirt, but not a baby!
WCT: Can you talk about your cover of Patty Griffin's "Tony?" The lyrics describe the struggles of the LGBT community and you seemed very emotional in the video.
KB: Well, part of that is because we are educating audiences. It's a beautiful and confronting song. It gets right up in front of you.
Country-music people say that it's their favorite song, but rarely do they say it's there favorite singer. The songs are the things that connect you. The song is what you sing along to on the radio and becomes a part of your life.
Sugarland came out of the Atlanta music scene, so we are the gay friendliest country act you are going to get. We get name checked on Indigo Girls songs. It's fun!
I know people are looking at the screen behind us and seeing the statistics. They are listening to a song that they may know nothing about. If our demeanor is super cheerful then something would be off. Jennifer and I don't get serious that often. We try to bring a little levity to the world around us. The times we do get serious matters. It means a lot to me and Jennifer. Don't mess with kids. Stop it!
WCT: You must have thought about your 13-year-old daughter?
KB: Yes and I have a 16-year-old son. My kids don't know any different. My son's middle school headmaster was married to a third grade teacher that's a man.
It is our job as parents to do what we can do. I am excited that we put this online and people that weren't at the show can still witness it. We hoped the message would go further. Don't be scared, people, let's celebrate Pride!
WCT: How was working with Taylor Swift on the song "Babe?"
KB: We hadn't really done this before so it was anxiety ridden. Once we put it all together and sent it to her, we asked her what she thought. If she didn't like it then we weren't going to do it. We had never had a conversation with another human being about this before, much less Taylor or a peer. She was a big fan so I didn't want to let her down either.
She loved it and wanted to be a part of it. Managing both voices was tricky with Jennifer having a big voice and Taylor having such a recognizable, expressive voice. She can push back at you in a recording like you wouldn't believe. Jennifer has a cannon of a voice. You have to place them at all the right places.
One of the things I do in the band is produce the records. I wanted a person to listen and not know what it was. To think, "Is that Taylor Swift?" I wanted the reveal to happen another 40 seconds later.
Music is the most exciting when you discover it. When you do it sticks with you for the rest of your life. It is like finding a penny on the ground or a sand dollar on the beach.
WCT: Why did you call the album Bigger?
KB: That's the title track. What we found out as we got into writing it that some of these topics remind us that not only is the band bigger than the some of its parts, now that you have witnessed our solo life and life together, but the message is bigger than us. It is not about us. We have never put our faces on the covers of albums and there's a reason.
Sugarland was never supposed to be about us. It is about a place we made that is better than where we were.
WCT: What is something about Jennifer Nettles that would surprise people?
KB: Just about everything. She is pretty surprising. I don't people think grasp how deep her accent will get when she is talking to her momma or when she has had a little to drink. She will flip into a South Georgia accent in such a way that you won't be able to dig yourself out of that swamp!
WCT: It's like another language?
KB: Well, when she graduated college it was with a degree in linguistics for Spanish. When she whips out the other side of it your brain just goes sideways. She is not just fluent but innovative. It is a beautiful thing to watch.
WCT: How many hats do you own?
KB: If I was in the closet right now, about 200!
See Sugarland at Ravinia in Highland Park on Thursday, Aug. 23, at 7 p.m. with tickets at Ravinia.org and SugarlandMusic.com .