When the country duo Sugarland went on hiatus in 2012, singer Jennifer Nettles knew she wanted to use the break to make a solo album, and this year released her solo debut, That Girl.
Her Sugarland partner, Kristian Bush, was far less set on a plan. So he did what has always come naturally. He started writing songs. Then he couldn’t stop. And that created a problem.
“It’s crazy,” Bush said. “I mean, it’s usually like one (song) a month normally. And that’s been going on since I was 20. Suddenly it was one every other day. I didn’t know what to do.”
Bush will be the headline act for the 21st annual Border Bash on Friday, Sept. 12, at Augusta Common. The event celebrates the football rivalry between the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Georgia Bulldogs. Tickets are $10 advance or $15 at the gate with ages 12 and younger admitted free. Advance tickets are available at BorderBash.net, Communigraphics and area Circle K locations. VIP tickets are $50 for adults and $10 for children online only at BorderBash.net.
Bush, in an early August phone interview, said he’s still coming up with songs at an unprecedented pace and has written more than 300 since starting his break from Sugarland. The dilemma was what to do with this embarrassment of riches.
“Early on I thought maybe I ought to change jobs,” he said. “I thought oh wow, what if I’m just a writer? Should I try to get other artists to sing these songs? I write with other artists for their albums all the time. So I went through that process, and I kind of reached out to my friends who are artists and they said ‘Oh yeah, send us songs. We love your songs.’ So I would send them, and in a number of cases, I got phone calls back saying ‘Oh my gosh, we love your song. We recorded it, and it’s just not better than yours. You just sing it better than we do.’ And I thought to myself, ‘Really? Is that true?’ And I guess it’s just part of the story. So I kind of backed myself into the truth that I ought to be singing these.”
Another person who came to that conclusion was Byron Gallimore, the producer of Sugarland’s albums.
“I sent him one of the songs to mix,” Bush said. “And he called me, and he said ‘Kristian, oh my gosh, man, you can really sing.’ And I said ‘Well, thank you.’ And he said ‘Do you have any more of these?’ I said ‘Well, yeah, I’ve got like 299 more of those.’ ”
Gallimore rang Bush back after about a week and told him he needed to make a solo album. Bush hesitated.
“I said ‘Well, I don’t know about that because Jennifer’s just put a record out,” Bush said. “I love this band (Sugarland). It’s what I do. It’s my thing. And I don’t want to get in the way of any of that.’ And he goes ‘Well, Kristian, no one’s ever heard you sing. So I don’t think you’re going to get in the way of anything. You can be on the radio at the same time that your band is on the radio and no one will ever know the difference. It isn’t like you have to substitute one for the other.’ And I was like ‘Ah,’ sort of the light bulb went on and my head exploded.”
It didn’t take Bush long to collect his faculties and consider the idea of doing a solo album.
Trailer Hitch, the first single from Southern Gravity, is out now and it probably won’t be long before a release date for the album is announced.
Bush said Southern Gravity won’t be a major departure from the pop-edged country style Sugarland has fashioned over the course of four albums (all of which have gone platinum) and notched five No. 1 country singles.
“It is very much what you would expect from Sugarland in the grooves and the instrumentation,” Bush said. “If anything, it leans maybe a little bit more country. There’s a lot of pedal steel on this record. But I’m using it in a way that’s different than maybe you expect to hear it.”
Bush is introducing his solo songs, while also fitting in a few Sugarland tunes and even a song or two from his pre-Sugarland group, Billy Pilgrim, in his solo shows.
His touring band includes the duo Larkin Poe – sisters Rebecca (guitar/mandolin) and Megan Lovell (steel guitar), who will release their first album as Larkin Poe in October – Bush’s brother, Brandon (who played keyboards in Train from 2003-06), drummer Kent Aberle and bassist John Webb. All are Georgia-based musicians.
“There’s a lot of country music that’s coming from Georgia right now, from Brantley Gilbert to Luke Bryan to you know, Sugarland, all the way to Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town,” Bush said. “I thought to myself, well why wouldn’t I lean in a little bit more to also the players who actually play this music in Georgia?
“This band, I’ve tried to put it together so I’m the worst thing in the bunch,” Bush said good naturedly. “It makes it so if I have a good day, we’re awesome.”