Sugarland books two-night stay at Fallsview Casino, drops new studio album
By Joshua Maloni
When Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush agreed to take a break from their band, Sugarland, little did they know "BIGGER" things would await them.
In the five or so years that followed, Bush would release his first solo album, "Southern Gravity," while honing his producing skills. He also recorded music for Turner Classic Movies and headlined "NHL All-Star Friday Night: Live in Music City."
Nettles was married, had her first child, released three solo albums (including "That Girl," which went to No. 1 on the country chart), continued to host "CMA Country Christmas" on ABC, and starred in both the NBC film "Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors" and its sequel, "Dolly Parton's Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love." She also made her Broadway debut in February 2015 as Roxy Hart in the Tony Award-winning musical "Chicago."
Though Sugarland fans were happy for Nettles and Bush, they longed for a reunion.
The band obliged in 2017, pairing with a new label - Big Machine Records - on their sixth studio album and performing at high-profile events such as "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve with Ryan Seacrest."
In April, Nettles and Bush participated in the revival of "American Idol" on ABC, mentoring both Layla Spring and finalist Gabby Barrett. At that time, judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan both lauded Nettles for her vocal prowess and overall musical talent.
On June 8, Sugarland releases "BIGGER," an album featuring 10 songs Nettles and Bush co-wrote, along with one track, "Babe," penned by upstarts Taylor Swift and Pat Monahan of Train. A video trailer for the song debuted at Wednesday's CMT Music Awards.
The album's first single, "Still the Same," is active at country radio.
Sugarland is touring in support of "BIGGER" and will perform two nights at Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, Ontario (July 6-7).
When the duo arrives, it will have fresh music plus a bevy of hits - including "All I Want to Do," "Stay," "Baby Girl," "It Happens," "Just Might (Make Me Believe)," "Settlin,' " "Something More," "Want To" and the two-times-Platinum hit "Stuck Like Glue" to work into the set lists.
Nettles recently chatted with NFP about reuniting with Bush, creating new music, touring and working with "American Idol." A Q&A follows.
Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. (Photo by Shervin Lainez)
JM: Sugarland was part of the new "American Idol" on ABC. You were mentors. What was that experience like - and what do you think about Gabby? I mean, she seems like a superstar in the making.
Jennifer Nettles: Well, I definitely think Gabby is a superstar in the making and she, you know, she has so much poise and so much talent, and she has, you know, I think a bit of a life and experience, as well, so that what she performs always feels authentic. So, she has not only the chops, but she has the emotional landscape, I think, to back it up, which is a wonderful combination.
And then, you know, always any chance that I get to mentor or to help at all, I always want to do. This is a very unique and interesting business and there are no real books out there that say "Hey, here's how to do it." And there are lots of people who, you know, have their own interests in mind with whom you will come across and with whom you will work throughout the time that you're there. So, really, artist to artist, I think, is, is such a valuable, valuable exchange of information. So anytime I'm able to be a part of something like that, I enjoy it.
JM: Like you said, there's not really like a handbook for this; and now you're right back in the mix of all of this fun entertainment and industry stuff. You've got a new album, you've got a tour, you've got TV appearances. How does it feel to be thrust back into the center of things?
Jennifer Nettles: You know, it feels thrilling, and one of the beautiful parts of taking the hiatus that we did over the past five years, six years, is that we've been able to do other things and come back with our cups filled. And we've been able to go and be inspired and to learn different things from, you know, from all that we've done from. Kristian did a couple of solo albums that he produced with other artists. And I was doing Broadway and movie and acting world. And we were able to really, I think, come back together with a lot of new skills and a lot of new tools for how to be storytellers, and for how to be artists, and for how to be musicians. So being able to be put back into sort of the Sugarland mix and come back together with new inspirations is thrilling.
JM: When I speak with singers who are in a band or a duo and they're trying their hand at something solo or something different, you know, they always tell me that they have to try to sort of calm their fans down, let them know, you know, "No, we haven't broken up." So for you, what was the dialogue like with Sugarland fans? I mean, was it inspiring to see their passion for the band, or did it in some way put more pressure on you to get back to it?
Jennifer Nettles: It definitely didn't put more pressure to get back to it in the sense that the decision to go on hiatus was one that was a creative impulse. And so was the decision to come back together, which is a creative impulse.
I mean, I feel so excited at the amount of connection that our fans feel. But there's a difference between connection and ownership. And what they really want more than anything is for us to be able to speak to them authentically as artists - and what I hope to do is to help people feel seen. That being said, the best way to do that is to be able to live our own most authentic, artistic lives.
So, I never felt pressure in that way, but I definitely am always happy at the connection that people feel to anything that we do and was happy to be able to sort of be at this place in our careers - the arc of our careers - that we are able to do different things and then come back together as the time is right.
And that was the message that we offered from the beginning. You know, that, "Look, this is not a breakup." I mean, people, many times, they love a sensationalist story, but there was really nothing to be said other than, "Hey, we want to go and do other things, and when the time is right we'll come back and do this again." And I hope that they see that that's what we did.
JM: I've been listening to "BIGGER." Great tracks, great album - and awesome name, I have to tell you.
Jennifer Nettles: Yes!
JM: What was the goal for this album? And now that it's out to the world and to your fans, and you guys have sort of had an opportunity to let it breathe for a minute, are you happy with the way it all came together?
Jennifer Nettles: I am thrilled with the way it all came together. We never know exactly, you know, what an album is going to be until you start to see it begin to form - until you start to see this collection.
And when we came back together, you know, the first, the inspiration and the impulse, as I said, was creative, but really the timing, we felt, was a matter of the calendar, in the sense that, "Well, do we have time? Do we have an opening to make this happen, based on everything that we've been doing and everything that we have planned still?"
So, it worked for the calendar, but then what we saw moreover is that when we started to look at these songs and the messages that they had, and really what it was that we had to say, in the specific way that Sugarland does, is that this album, the message behind it, is bigger, and there was a bigger reason behind the timing for us to come together.
And I believe that that is, you hear that in the messages of the songs that are on this album, in conjunction with where we are in the world, and with what's going on in our culture and in our country, and all of these, you know, all of the devise polarization that we see all across the internet. I believe that this album, and the timing of it, is definitely about its messaging.
Kristian Bush and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. (Photo by Shervin Lainez)
JM: You know, as a writer myself, I always appreciate it when musicians write their own music. For you, in light of those feelings and those things that you just described to me, is that why it was even more important to write your own songs?
What can you tell me about your writing process and how that sort of all comes together?
Jennifer Nettles: Well, I mean it really is just one of those things that we've always done, both jointly and separately. You know, we are songwriters; we are singer/songwriters. So, from the beginning of our careers, it is a part of the process that we enjoy.
Now, while it could be fun to possibly do something else and make an album that would be of someone else's songs, initially, you know, and essentially, it's not who we are. The writing portion of that is pretty intrinsically connected.
But the process itself, I mean, it's different every time. You know, sometimes you come with an idea that is a musical, you know, a piece of music - a melody, sometimes. It is something scribbled down in the middle of the night, in your notes section of your phone, that is of a story or a lyric. It comes differently every time. This album and the way that we wrote it was a beautiful, really sort of processing, in Kristian bringing in snippets and pieces with new skills and technology that he had gathered, and then our sort of how we are bigger than the sum of our parts ... my vocal melodies or our lyric ideas and stories are added to that.
JM: As you said, you are writers. And obviously the words that you create are going to have more meaning, I'm sure, than if other people would submit songs for you. We saw on "American idol" Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie both complementing you for being such a vocal powerhouse. We know that you and Kristian, musically, are at the top of your game. But when you take a break, like you said, when you go and you experience life, and you experience these other things, how do those words change? When you're up on stage and when you're singing some of your past songs, do the meanings change? Do the songs change? How do you reassess those words after you've had a break?
Jennifer Nettles: Well, I think, you know, a number of things. I mean, for example - and not a small example, for a big example - over the course of the break, I had a child. I became a mother. So anything that happens in our lives is going to inform our art. Right? And how we write. So even using that as an example, you know, that is a big life experience - a big life change - that permeates everything. There is nothing that becoming a mother has not touched or has not changed. So, it bears to reason that, of course, you may hear some of that in our writing and in my lyrics, or in our lyrics, or in how I emote.
I mean, it's hard to pinpoint some of those things, but it's definitely obvious that those changes, you know, that they do happen.
JM: When you've had the success that Sugarland is had, how do you put together a set list every night? Obviously you want to work in the new songs, but what can we expect to see from you guys up on stage when we see you in July?
Jennifer Nettles: I mean, we put a lot of energy into and a lot of time and thought into the arc of our set list, just like we do into the arc of an album. You know, there has to be a certain flow, and we sort of look at it as three acts, basically, but within one show. So, the arc of that and how we really curate the set is important to us.
But, you can expect some of the older Sugarland hits. You can expect upbeat and to move your body. You can also expect to be touched, I hope, emotionally. And moved. And I hope people leave, you know, feeling transformed. And I hope that the show itself, you know, we put a lot of energy, as well, into the set and into sort of crafting another world that is transportive for people. So I hope that they will feel that way whenever they leave.
JM: With touring, you're on the bus, you're off the bus, you're probably going to have, like, seven minutes of free time over the next few months. But to the extent that you do have a minute to yourselves, is there a place or a thing that you guys are sort of looking forward to that will have a special meaning for you when you're out on the road?
Jennifer Nettles: I mean, you know, there are some, we get to visit some beautiful places and some great venues - obviously Niagara being one of them. (Nettles noted, "I love it up there. It's beautiful.") But also, you know, we'll be at the Greek in L.A., which is a lovely outdoor venue.
Many of the venues that we're doing are indoors and arenas, so many of which we've done before. So it will be fun to be able to get back to those places, and to those fans.
But you know, mostly, it's with the people with whom that we can connect. You know, every night the fans are different, so the show is different. And then we get the chance of seeing people out, you know, our family and friends on the road, that we may not get to see whenever we're at home.
You know, that traveling, while it takes you away from certain people that you love, you also get to see other people that you love. So, it'll be exciting to get to reconnect.
Sugarland brings the "Still the Same" Tour to Fallsview Casino on July 6-7. Click HERE for tickets or more information. Find the band and purchase "BIGGER" at www.sugarlandmusic.com.
Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush of Sugarland. (Photo by Shervin Lainez)