Jennifer Nettles Talks Solo Debut: 'I Want People to Be Moved'

Jennifer Nettles

James Minchin III

Jennifer Nettles has been dreaming about the release of "That Girl," her debut solo album, out Tuesday, for quite some time.

"By the time the record comes out, I will have been writing for it for about four years," she tells Billboard. "For me, it's been liberating, and a lot of things -- all of which you experience when you release your debut solo album."

Nettles said the timing was right for the album. "A lot of times, my creative brain is way far ahead of my intellect -- as far as where I'm going to be in my life," she says. "I think my creative self knew a long time ago that I was ready to do a solo project, and with having a baby, it just seemed that it was the right time in a lot of ways and for a lot of reasons."

The lead single and title track currently sits at No. 50 on the Hot Country Songs chart, was chosen recently as one of the best ten country singles of 2013 by The 615. Nettles worked with renowned producer Rick Rubin on the project -- recording at his legendary Shangri-La Studio in Malibu. They tracked 21 cuts live in the studio, and she said she couldn't imagine doing it any other way. 

"To me, it's almost ridiculous that we have to [say] that this album was recorded live. I don't know how I could have done one otherwise. As a singer-songwriter, and being who I am as an artist, the idea of walking into a studio with a collection of tracks with musicians whom I have never met –- that never occurred to me. That's not the way I would want to go about it."

She admits it's an old-school approach, but everyone being at Malibu together made for a more intimate experience. 

"From the beginning we were tracking everything I was singing because those are the moments that if you catch them, they can be super special," she says. "But, if you miss them thinking it's just going to be a scratch take, that would be the take you wish you had. You can hear the human elements, and that's what I wanted. On 'This Angel,' you can hear Matt [Sweeney] and Smokey [Hormel], the guitarists that are playing on the track, you can hear their chairs squeak, and you can also hear one of their intakes of breath. That to me is raw human emotion, and it says this is real people playing real instruments. That feels so much more organic to me. I'm so proud of how it turned out."

"That Girl" runs the emotional gamut from the sensual yearning of a track like "This One's For You," which she co-wrote with Sara Bareilles. She said the sound of the song was very unique to her. 

"The way that I approached this whole project was with a spirit of openness," she notes. "I did a lot of sitting at the piano, and seeing what would come. From a chord perspective, that song was so different for me than anything I had written before. I had gotten to a point where I was stuck on the chorus, and Sara was coming into town. She came over to helped me finish it. It brings to mind Carole King a little bit."

Then, there is the '70s, 'AM Gold'-feel of "Jealousy." Of the latter, she said "There's something so yummy and decadent and unapologetic about it. I want to wear a scarf, have a drink, or be on a yacht somewhere. It's such a fun song."

Nettles can't wait for her fans to get their hands on the album. She hopes they like what they hear, and that it will strike a chord with them. "I want people to be moved by it. All art -- if it's good -- connects us not only to each other but to parts of ourselves, and helps us process things that are either challenging to us or helps us celebrate moments. I hope that fans across all of music connect with it."