When the first ever Country 2 Country festival in London was announced in late 2012 Kristian Bush was the first name on the lineup. Back then people may have recognised his from his work in the band Sugarland but probably little else. Cut to 2015 and the first Country 2 Country Social was announced with Kristian Bush headlining. Bush was fresh from the release of his debut album Southern Gravity and building up a real head of steam as a solo act. We were lucky enough to be invited the The Brooklyn Bowl in the O2 Arena in London before the show for a chat.
Kristian, it was 2013 when you were here last about to play on the big stage. How does it feel to be back?
Great! There were a lot of big ideas then in those couple of weeks. We’d just done a CMA songwriters series that had ended in Paris and then maybe we were here for 5 days before playing that show. That was officially my first solo show!
One Hell of a stage to do it on! No pressure at all…
Right! Start big and things can only get smaller!
At the point you played here, obviously it was the first solo show, but did you have most of the songs that are on Southern Gravity ready at that point?
I think we did. We had most of them and we played them that night. I was really conscious walking out on stage that everybody was going to go “what?!” because I’m not sure that anyone knew what I sounded like when I sang much less that I could sing. I knew that besides the Sugarland songs that I’d put in the set they were likely to know none of the other songs because they weren’t already released so I was going to be convincing them that they liked them. There was a lot of pressure on the songs themselves and you could tell that they would react to different ones. In retrospect it was crazy what I did! What was I thinking and where did I find that kind of courage! The songs have turned out quite well though and in the end that was the right kind of rocket to start the journey!
Well with a British crowd we will always be polite. There was no need to worry, even if the songs were sh*t we’d still be nice…
So did you expect such a love of country in England? Was it the first time you’d been over or had you been over with Sugarland?
Before I had Sugarland I was in a 90’s folk rock band called Billy Pilgrim and we had been on tour with Melissa Etheridge and our first stop was at the Royal Albert Hall…
You really do just start at the big places!
Just start with the big ones! I’ll never forget that my backstage was the conductor’s room, just two of us in this tiny little room, when we walked out onstage everyone was quiet. I was expecting a rock show where you walk out onstage and everybody screams but it just wasn’t that! It was an amazing place to be accepted for playing songs and at the time it was almost exactly what Sugarland is, it was a different singer but they were songs that you made on your guitar and it was very honest and raw and revealing. Again when we came over with Sugarland and nobody would promote the show, there was no radio station to promote it and they were telling us ‘no way is this ever going to happen’ but somehow we got a show at Shepherds Bush Empire and we showed up, we had no idea what would happen with no radio support or anything in 2008, and it had sold out! It flipped my lid! I had been one of the real proponents in the whole ‘let’s go to Europe’ idea and it was unbelievable. If you take the time and you repeat the experience you will build fans and they will support you. It was just hard to convince anyone in country music and from the beginning of C2C to now I am so excited to see that, not just the bands and the organisations have all decided that it’s valuable and valid, but the fans have arrived. If they’ve been hiding they now identify. If they didn’t know that they were country music fans and suddenly they’re like ‘ok, so that’s country music? I’m totally into that’ but whatever those conversions are they’re happening.
It’s amazing in this country that a lot of people just don’t know what country music is. I was saying earlier that a colleague of mine isn’t a country fan and I showed her Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake at the CMA Awards – it blew her mind! People are like “What?! That’s country music?!”
I know! What did you think it was?!
You were the first act to ever play a C2C stage and now it’s become this Europe wide thing…
I was at the beginning of the wave, now I wanna paddle the wave and then surf the wave!
Do you think you’ll be back for the main festival some time?
I don’t know. It would make sense. It wont happen this year but this is what the C2C socials are all about. Starting the conversation on top of the conversation that’s already going on. Country music in America lives in arenas and for a lot of those acts one of the boundaries for entry is ‘ok, so you’ve got to go and start back at the beginning’ and they all look at you funny like ‘are you kidding?’ well then the answer is don’t go! Because this is about starting and as a person I’m not afraid to start over, I’ve done it many times, you get used to that muscle and I certainly hope that I get to come back and play C2C especially if it does… Can you imagine? If it does what we think it’s going to do? We’re five years from a Lollapalooza.
It’s amazing. The fan base is ridiculous. They’ve taken it to three nights next year and the amount of people who come down is amazing. It’s the one time of year I can wear a cowboy hat…
And not feel funny about it? It’s ok, style will catch up!
So obviously you’ve released the first LP this year in Southern Gravity. How have you found peoples reactions?
People have reacted really well to it! The fans have taken to it and, I didn’t expect this, but the critics have really started to like it. I don’t why but I would imagine the surprise element is a big part of it. People are like ‘ok we know that guy… wait a minute… I have no idea what you’re going to sound like when you start singing!’ That surprise really sets a listener up because they don’t have any expectations. Or if you do I’m not quite sure what they are.
Some of the songs on there such as Light Me Up and Make Another Memory make it seem like the record came from a very positive place…
Yeah. Strangely there were a lot of not very positive things happening in my life whilst I was making it but those are the ones I gravitated towards. I love playing them because the song lifts you up and then the crowd sings with you and they’re just by accident lifting you up.
It’s a record I put on when I need a lift. The amount of times I go into work singing Flip Flops…
Haha! That’s so good!
Do you think it’s surprised a lot of people that the guy who was almost mute in Sugarland…
Suddenly does that! It’s a good feeling that it’s still surprising people. I’m so grateful that I’m still getting the benefit of the doubt to at least come and see the show or at least listen through the album. That’s the most you could ever hope for as an artist regardless of what band you came from or what band you’ll join later. If you can get that attention just for a minute it’s gold. If you’re willing to go with me then I will take you somewhere and I promise I will do my best.
That’s the great thing about an event like this. A lot of people will come for you and a lot of people will come because it’s C2C and they enjoy the festival so it’s a great opportunity. We were laughing on the way here that they still bill it as ‘Kristian Bush (of Sugarland)’ at some point they’ve got to get rid of that…
Haha! I’m sure they will! I don’t mind, I love my band and I’m proud of my band so whenever they decide to do whatever with that is fine with me.
Are you looking forward to getting back with the band at some point?
Yeah! I’m sure it’ll be fun. I think a lot of people have been asking me recently, I don’t know a timeline but I am excited to figure out what that sounds like.
You could even open for yourself…
Haha! Great! This is a really weird life for me so nothing is out of the question!
Is the solo thing something you’d always wanted to do?
I’m not sure it was ever a priority for me. I was very satisfied in my bands, I’m a collaborator, I love working with you. It did come as a surprise once it started to come true. Once I started sending these songs off to people and listen back to them and go ‘huh, this is starting to sound like a record and I’m singing!’ It started to dawn on me because I’ve been making records for so long that I can tell you that we’re getting close to one when you’re starting to capture recordings that transcend time a little bit, they don’t sound like just those three minutes. It makes you nervous and doubly so when it’s your own voice!
Do you have a favourite song on the album?
It depends where I am in my day. There’s a song in the middle of the album called Feeling Fine In California and there’s these sisters Larkin Poe in Atlanta and Rebecca and Meghan sing on that song with me and there’s this harmony that we grab in the middle of the song that always feels good!
I didn’t realise Larkin Poe were on the record. They’ve toured the UK quite a bit…
Yeah! They’re all over that record. They were actually in the band at C2C.
I think Walk Tall is my favourite on the album. It was the first one I’d heard when I’d watched videos on YouTube. It was part of the performance you did at the Opry…
Right! That was our first performance of it!
Again, everything’s a first time!
That’s so awesome that you’ve said that! Everything’s a first!
It is. Write a song about it, put my name on it…
Haha! Pay you a couple of pounds…
I never said that! So do you have any material ready for a follow up record?
That was a firm answer!
Definitely yes! You’ve got to remember that for the first record there are still songs sitting there that people are very upset didn’t make the record because I overwrote for that record – I wrote maybe 300 songs. There are multiple albums sitting behind that record. We just started up again last month and I’m twenty five songs in. We’ll see. I’ll just keep going. I just love to make it better and better. It isn’t the song that got left behind that I think is the one, it’s the one that you’ve finally sorted through and said ‘that’s the best one!’.
Do you know when it’ll be roughly?
I have no idea. I’m never the one that knows! I’ll be the last one they tell!
Is there any music at the moment that you’re getting excited about?
I’ve got to hear this Justin Timberlake song that’s coming out. I’m interested to hear how that plays on country radio. I like Kelsea Ballerini. I’m a big fan of Canaan Smith.
You’re in his new video aren’t you?
I am! He was in mine too. If you go through Trailer Hitch he’s actually a zombie! We’re playing a little game of sneak yourself into each others video and see how many you can do as cameos!
His album is brilliant…
It’s awesome! Michael Ray is another artist I really like a lot. I’m a big fan of a lot of these younger and current artists. They have the energy of new which is what I’m doing so I feel very akin to them.
So what are your plans for the next twelve months?
Keep going. More of the same. I’m writing music now and recording as it goes – they sound very exciting. They sound very new! We start next year at Stagecoach in California and then keep playing. A lot of people are discovering my music through the live show and that’s unique. The show has become something really fantastic.
We’d like to thank Kristian for taking the time before his show to have a catch up with us. Kristian was truly one of the most engaging and friendly people we’ve been lucky enough to chat to.
Southern Gravity is available in stores and on iTunes now. Read our review here.