As one half of country megastars Sugarland he’s never been the real focal point. Jennifer Nettles superb vocals have pushed them along and grabbed the headlines whilst the humble and understated Bush takes his place by their side. Although Sugarland are still very much alive and well both Nettles and Bush have now taken the time to go their own ways with solo projects. Southern Gravity is the record that Kristian Bush has brought to the table. Released a full two years after his solo debut at London’s O2 Arena this is the first chance a lot of people have had to hear the voice behind the guitar. Around this we have seen appearances at the Opry and a tour. We were lucky enough to get a chance to catch up with Kristian recently…
You grew up in the same Tennessee town as Dolly Parton, did this have any influence on your music?
I think it influenced my dreams more than anything else, to know that someone who came from the
same few square miles as I did could grow up to write, record, and sing their own kind of country music, and be successful. That dream was always present in my community as a kid. Musically, I don’t think there’s any way to escape East Tennessee. Something about Appalachian music makes its way into everything you write, whether you’re Dolly or myself.
We read that you once played the violin but gave it up for guitar, do you ever have the urge to play some fiddle again?
Not often. You have to remember that I was playing classical Suzuki violin – the fiddle is a completely different attitude on the same instrument. I was never allowed to “let go” while playing the violin, so I give my guitar all I’ve got now.
Who were your biggest influences from when you were starting out right through to now?
The biggest influences are the bands I listened to when I was actively learning to write songs: R.E.M., The Police, The Replacements, Indigo Girls, Bruce Springsteen, and many of my peers in the Atlanta music scene.
Your first solo show was at the Country 2 Country festival here in the UK, what kind of
reaction did you feel from that show?
It was a very warm embrace from the UK crowd, listening to songs they’d never heard before, in an arena. It was validating and encouraging and immediately made me want to do it again as soon as possible.
The O2 Arena is one heck of a stage to start a solo career on; that must have been daunting?
I thought it was going to be daunting, too, until I stepped on stage and remembered I’d been playing arenas for 10 years. Then it felt like home.
When you’re playing with Sugarland you have Jennifer Nettles front and centre with you, how does it feel being the centre of attention?
It feels good, though I don’t get to run around as often as I like to, because I have to stay on the microphone. It’s obviously a lot more singing, and a lot more conversation with the crowd. I love discovering how to tell a story with my own voice.
Are we likely to see you back in the UK any time soon?
I hope so!
You recently released your debut solo album Southern Gravity – how did it feel to finally release something with just your name on it?
It feels great! I can’t believe it took me this long.
Had you been writing these songs for a long time or was it all written specifically for the album?
The songs were written over the course of about two and a half years. When I started writing, I didn’t know they were going to be for an album with my name on it – I thought I was writing songs to pitch to other people. But those people kept telling me that the songs sounded great with me singing them. And at some point, my friends convinced me to put them out as my own.
With tracks like Flip Flops, Make Another Memory and Light Me Up there seems to be a very positive mood about the album, was this intentional or is it just the place you’re in?
I sorted through nearly 300 songs for this album, and I’m as surprised as anyone else that so many of the ones I chose turned out to be so positive. I’ve compared it in the past to the sort of post-it notes you might put on your mirror or the walls in your house, to motivate yourself or cheer yourself up. Each one of these songs is a different post-it note for my life, and I hope for someone else’s, too.
Does it feel like this album and the positivity surrounding it is a fresh start for you?
This album is hopeful. It has lots of wishing in it. Hopes and dreams are a great way to start anything.
We love the almost Hawaiian beach sound on some of the tracks which really adds to the laid back vibe of the album. Have you been spending a lot of time by the sea or has it always been an influence?!
Growing up in the mountains, you always dream of the ocean. I’ve been busy for so many years, and I’m trying to learn to relax. Maybe if I put a beach vibe into the universe with my music, the beach will find me.
The first song we heard from the album, Walk Tall, when you performed it at the Opry took us aback. This song feels like it has a deep meaning for you personally?
It does. “Walk Tall” speaks about integrity. I imagine when I perform it that it is advice I would like to give to my son, who just turned 13. I can’t always be there for him, so I hope that this song will act as a compass.
The album is incredibly laid back and positive with a whole host of radio friendly tunes. How have you found the reaction to it in general?
I’ve felt radio embrace the album, and I’m deeply excited by that. I love being on the radio. It’s a goal I’ve had my whole life, no matter what band I was in. I’m thrilled to feel that support, and to have access to the airwaves to reach people with my music. The reaction from fans has been excitement at the sound of my singing voice. It had been there all along, they just didn’t know they were listening to it. I love watching them in that process of discovery.
Light Me Up is the next single from the album and comes out on June 1st. After the tough times that preceded this album is this a defiant message?
It’s more of a celebration. It celebrates how I feel as a man when I am loved. For the past 12 years, I’ve been writing love songs to you through the voice of a woman. I’m proud to sing this one from my voice as a man.
There is a lot of talk about the ‘bro country’ movement at the moment but your album is the perfect antidote to this. What are your thoughts on ‘bro country’?
What I love about that music, whatever you may call it, is how rhythmic the lyrics can be when they come out of the singers’ mouths. I want to pull that style forward. And what I love about country music is there is room for all of us in the format.
You’re well known as one of the best writers in country music. There seem to also be influences from the likes of Zac Brown to Jason Mraz on the record, would this be a fair assessment?
I’ve never written with either of those guys, but I enjoy their songs. I think we’re all living in a time where melody and rhythm are coming together to create our soundtrack. Maybe Zac and Jason and myself are all pulling from the same threads.
Has it been a conscious thing to move your solo sound away from that of Sugarland?
The most significant difference between the two is simply the fact that I’m singing. It’s the same music, messages, and attitudes I’ve been writing and recording into albums for 20 years, whether in Sugarland or even Billy Pilgrim before that.
It’s a rare thing that you’ve always written your own music (or co-written) do you think it’s important that artists still do some of their own writing?
I think it’s important for ME. But whether they’re mine or somebody else’s, the words I use are choices I make as a singer. I tried to record some incredible songs written by other people for this album, but they didn’t feel as true to me as my own.
It will surely mean your career has longevity in that you can write your own tunes and influence the sound you’re making?
I don’t think it has to be your own songs or sounds to evolve your career. I take the job of recording artist seriously. Progression, evolution, and reinvention are all parts of that job.
What are your plans for the next year?
To take these songs around the world and play them for as many people as I can.
Are you already thinking about the next album?
Country 2 Country 2016 will be over 3 nights so there is plenty of space on the bill, is there any chance we will see you back?
I hope so!
Do you know much about the country scene that is building over here?
I’ve been exposed to some of it from the songwriting side, and I’m excited about what I’ve heard. Because I’ve had the privilege of spending so much time with Bob Harris and his producer Mark Hagen, I feel like I get the UK updates and love being a part of that community, even just as a speaking voice on the radio.
A lot of the American acts seem to be making their way over, for instance Eric Chuch, Darius Rucker, Kacey Musgraves, Little Big Town and more have all been in the last year. Does the UK seem like a good option now for big American acts like you?
Yes, but it always has been for me. I enjoy that more and more new acts are seeing the UK as a place where great country music fans live.
We’d like to thank Kristian for spending some time chatting to us. His debut solo album Southern Gravity is out now with the current single being Light Me Up (Video above)