Sugarland on Recording Reunion Album: 'We're Not Allowed to Phone It In'

Shervin Lainez
Sugarland

Sugarland is back. And, for the record, both Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles point out that they always said it was a possibility.

“We never said that we wouldn’t,” Bush told Billboard before their performance at the Big Machine lunch in Nashville at the Country Radio Seminar. “That was very intentional. You can audit everything we’ve ever said with a fine tooth comb – and I think that everybody did – and we never said it wouldn’t ever happen.” Nettles agrees, saying “We always said that door was open. People always want drama, and there wasn’t any.”

The duo is watching as “Still The Same,” their first single for Big Machine, climbs the chart – currently sitting at No. 48 on the Country Airplay chart. Nettles says the excitement that the industry has shown them about their coming back together is rewarding.

“That kind of validation is always exciting and appreciated. It does feel really good. I tend to not be much of a watcher to see where it’s going,” she says of their first climb on the singles chart since “Tonight” hit No. 32 on the Hot Country Songs chart in 2011. “I’ll check in every now and then to see where it’s at, but I just want it to still be going. We got some good advice when we started – to not watch it. It’s like stocks. If you try to watch the numbers every day, you’ll go crazy. What I will say that it represents is a level of excitement for this returning, and that’s a beautiful thing to get to see what we have created thus far, and for what we are going to do next.”

In the past six years, Nettles has released three solo projects and began an acting career, while Bush has remained viable as a recording artist with “Trailer Hitch,” which peaked at No. 21 on the Country Airplay chart in 2014, and has enjoyed success as a producer with artists such as Lindsay Ell. The time apart has been a period of growth for both, but particularly for Nettles.

“I’ve not known Jennifer as a mother. So that’s an incredibly significant change," Bush says. "I remember becoming a parent when we started the band. So I’ve not known her that way. There’s also this next level of prioritization that I’m catching off of her in terms of priorities are different in how you look at some things,” he says, admitting that the creative spark between them is….still the same. “We can create and figure that stuff out without anyone around us. It’s a weird experience to have with someone that has such a high degree of successful decisions – whether it’s that word or this chord. To have that simpatico is incredible. And, that hasn’t changed. If anything, it’s gotten stronger.”

For Nettles, she says she has a deeper appreciation of both the total ingredients of the duo – as well as the sum of the parts. “I think that we are owning those parts of ourselves in such a way that - maybe it’s because we’re older and the level of experience that we’ve gained over the past five or six years – but I feel that we know what is important,” she says. “I think all the other noise of the business is a lot less now, and we are a lot more focused on the creative piece. I think what we do bring to the table and have discovered from each other is more of our own confidences in what we each do based on what we have done. Kristian has produced records, which is his piece of storytelling that he tells in the records he’s made, and for other people, and the writing he’s done. For me, there’s the writing piece, but also the emoting of that, as well as the acting I’ve done both on stage and on film has also informed me as an interpreter and a performer. The way that those circles intertwine to carve out a creative piece is what we each bring that is appreciated. Let’s create.”

And Sugarland is doing just that. They are in the process of finishing their upcoming album for Big Machine, and Bush finds the adrenaline infectious. “It makes it feels like a first record. There’s no noise, and all you have is creating. It’s the only thing you have to lead with,” he says.

Bush said the freedom that the band has always has had in the studio is just as present as ever, something both he and Nettles are grateful for. “I have to give out high marks to Scott Borchetta, who like our record label presidents before, for leaving us alone and letting us make what we do. Us making things is what makes it Sugarland.”

The reunion doesn’t just extend to the studio, as the pair will embark on the Still The Same tour this summer, with support from Brandy Clark, Clare Bowen, Lindsay Ell, and Frankie Ballard. Nettles says she can’t wait to hit the stage. “The first time we toured, nobody knew who we are,” she recalls. “There was nobody there. But, this time, we’ve got all this fresh music and energy, and hopefully what will be rested and excited selves coming in each night. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Sugarland is in a unique spot career-wise. They are recording new music, while also carrying a successful track record. With eleven top ten singles, five number ones, and each of their four studio albums all having been certified platinum, the duo hears stories from newcomers about how songs such as the heart-wrenching “Stay” or the eternally sensual “All I Want To Do” have influenced them. How does it feel to have gone from a place of trying to create your own space to becoming revered by a new generation? “It’s an honor. I still listen to the band that changed the way I think about music,” admits Bush. “Many times I go back to those records to remind me what that energy sounds like and what it feels like.” But, Bush stresses that the new music has to have that same spark as their classics. “I think that we have to embody that same energy on what we make now. As much as you carry yourself in grateful thanks that those artists are referencing us, there’s going to be an artist in ten years that I hope is referencing the record that we’re making now. We have to pay attention to as much as attention to that as we paid to the other one. We’re not allowed to phone it in. We’re just not allowed. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have been the band that made those other records!”

The Still The Same tour begins May 25 in Augusta, GA. For a complete itinerary, visit www.SugarlandMusic.com.

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