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Sugarland pushes boundaries of its country music
Kristian Bush says he’s come to a realization in the 21 years he’s been making music on a national level — first in the rock band Billy Pilgrim, and since 2003 in the country act Sugarland.
“The music business gives you three albums,” Bush, 41, notes.
"If you get the first three and they kinda grow, you get grandfathered into the next three. So we keep having high expectations for ourselves and hope folks around us expect the same thing."
Bush and Nettles leapt into “The Incredible Machine,” in 2009, while also working on their holiday album “Gold and Green.” Co-writing all 11 tracks, early entries included “Little Miss,” which was commissioned for the U.S. 2010 Winter Olympics team, and “Wide Open.”
But, “most of the songs were written closer to the actual recording, and a couple of them were actually written during the studio process, which was new for us,” Nettles says.
Among the latter was the first single from “The Incredible Machine,” “Stuck Like Glue,” a collaboration with Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin that went to No. 2 on the country charts and which Nettles considers “the levity flag-waver” of the album and disarmed fans with the reggae flavor of its bridge section.
“I think it’s fresh and it’s fun and it’s something different,” Nettles notes.
“It wasn’t a conscious, ‘Hey, let’s go reggae!’ We wanted to do more of a spoken-word breakdown, and I think that style lends itself to being a bit more tonal than actual rapping. I don’t call myself a rapper, so consequently it gave me something melodically as a singer to hold onto while still allowing for that spoken, breakdown style.
“And it’s fun. It’s just fun to suddenly be like, ‘All right, you’re in the middle of this and, wham, it’s a left turn.’”
“The Incredible Machine” has more than a few left turns, many thanks to the varied influences Nettles says she and Bush were able to slip into the songs.
“In ‘Find a Beat’ there’s a little bit of a Blondie-esque homage,” she says. “And I like to think that somewhere in the song ‘Tonight’ (the album’s current single) there’s a little bit of (Pretenders’) Chrissie Hynde or a little bit of Robert Smith of the Cure. They definitely have that vibe to me.”
Shooting that far afield from traditional country can be risky, of course, but Nettles says she and Bush are braced for any backlash.
“From an industry standpoint and the gatekeepers, we’ll have to see what happens,” she explains.
“There are different kinds of artists in every genre, I think. There are those who stay on a middle path, and then there are those that play in the margins and push and stretch and bring other people in the genre and bring the genre to new people and new fans.
“And the kind of fans we attract are those people who come up to us so many times and say, ‘I don’t like country music, but I love what you do and now I listen to country music.’ So I think that’s really where we like to play is within those margins.”
And, Nettles adds, it’s that willingness to experiment that keeps Sugarland interesting, both for the duo itself and its fans.
“You know, my goal has always been to do what I need to do in order to continue to be a musician,” Nettles explains. “It was never to do what I need to do to be famous. It was always that I want to continue to do this for as long as I can, because I love it. And I know Kristian does as well.
“So I think my goal would be to continue to do this, and I think the way to do that is to continue to reach as many people as broadly as possible and continue to be able to speak to people, whether the music changes their lives or changes their days. Just hopefully they can relate to it.”
Sugarland and Sara Bareilles perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 9, at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township. Tickets are $60.50 and $46 pavilion and $30.75 lawn. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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