2022 is a big year for Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist KRISTIAN BUSH, with a whole set of new music releases on their way throughout. Cait Watters spoke with Kristian recently to talk all about the new project…
When Kristian Bush turned 52, instead of merely enjoying a slice of birthday cake, he decided to release 52 new songs.
These 52 songs are to be released as part of four different albums, the first of which was the absolutely fantastic 52 ATL x BNA that released in March. The next is 52 In The Key of Summer, which is just around the corner with a release date of June 24. It may have been his birthday but it’s us that are getting a constant stream of gifts.
I was delighted to have some time to chat to Kristian about the project, discussing the first volume in the series while also hearing about what’s to come!
It’s such an honor speaking to you today! Sugarland were actually one of the first bands that got me into the genre as a whole so I’m a big fan of your work. The fact you’ve not just put out an album but are, also, putting out three other albums over the course of the year is very exciting! Why did you decide to go this route as opposed to just releasing one album to commemorate a milestone birthday?
Two reasons, really! First was that I felt kinda weird that I had turned 52. In Covid, I had turned 50 and 51 and my rule with everything in the outside world was ‘Well, it’s during Covid, it doesn’t matter’. It all felt like everything was so upside down.
The other reason was because I am a musician that creates almost every single day. There’s a lesson I’ve learned: the longer you go without actually sharing what you’re doing, the more pressure builds up. That kind of pressure can break a heart. I figured if I can start to get this music out, it would probably be the best gift that I could give myself.
I intended on putting it all out on one day, literally on my birthday. Scott Borchetta, who runs the record label, said ‘Hey, slow down! How about we put it out in four pieces so people can actually digest all of it?’. You want all these songs to get out into the world and get some oxygen and have lives. To give it the best shot you can, let’s cut it up into four sections. I’m really grateful for his suggestion because it has given me the opportunity to really think about how to group them together.
I weirdly realized I’ve been putting albums out my whole life, this is just what I do – why wouldn’t I put out four in a year? They said ‘Isn’t that too much?’ No! Even in Sugarland, the Bigger record, we wrote it in February, recorded it in April and put it out in June! It was crazy! I could easily do that four times in a year!
The pandemic gave you that nudge to do this but what was quarantine life like for you overall? Anyone that follows you on social media can see you’re a very busy person, always doing something, somewhere. Was it hard for you to have to slow down?
You know, I’m secretly an introvert even though I have a very extroverted job. I was in heaven for about ten months. I was like ‘This is amazing, I have to talk to no-one, I can sit in this room and be quiet’. I loved being on the phone, I could pick up my guitar…it was almost like freedom [because] I had been touring for twenty years. This was like my first vacation. For a little while, it was beautiful.
Then there’s another layer to that, especially if you’re looking at my age. I’m a parent. I was parenting my son and daughter and they’re going through milestones in their life that they couldn’t experience the way I had because they were locked in. I had my son graduate school and go to college during Covid, and my daughter turned old enough to get a car. It was all a real challenge. I felt all of that sort of group sadness.
And then, of course, I live in Atlanta. I don’t live in Nashville. I [got to] watch this beautiful awakening of the world, of people who don’t look like you if you’re a white person. It was really awesome to watch the world acknowledge their neighbors. I think you can never replace that, and that affected the music.
The music business is already crazy so it was no crazier than it was years before. It’s a weird business to have your life and your vocation in, anyway. You kinda should be prepared for rainy days and, thankfully, I was.
What has the recording process been like for the project? Is it all wrapped up, waiting to go? Or is it very much an ongoing process?
The first one, 52 ATL x BNA, was finished the week before Jennifer (Nettles) called me and said let’s put Sugarland back together. That had been sitting there for a while, so when I cooked up this opportunity, I said ‘First things first, let’s get this thing out’. It was a beautiful idea of what happens when you take Nashville songwriting and these incredible craftsmen and you bring it to Atlanta, and bring those songs to these incredible RnB recording craftsmen and ask them to record these songs with you.
In Atlanta, the players are more performance based because performance is what gives you your emotion. In Nashville, the song is what gives you your emotion – the music is somewhat emotionless, the singer is supposed to be emotional. I thought what an interesting experience to have lived here [Atlanta] my whole career as a country musician who writes in Nashville. This was a great way to start.
The rest of the recordings live in a similar space. I’m drawing from recordings I already have and [thinking] do I want to fix them in any way or were they great when I did them? And am I writing now? Actually, I’m sitting in a studio right now *laughs* trying to convince myself that we shouldn’t put this song on the new stuff…or should we? I’m a kid in a candy store when it comes to making new songs.
You’ve described ‘Tennessee Plates’ as your prayer to start this year of music. Was that song your starting point with this project?
When someone asked me what song should be first, I didn’t know. But I did know that album, 52 ATL x BNA, probably should be. When I listened to it, I realized there was a lyric in ‘Tennessee Plates’. All of it is deeply personal and deeply true, but the saying thank you to the town I come from, and the city next to it that made me want to go to the city, and the people who told me there’s no way I could ever be a musician. To be at the point in my life where I can just write a song, a tasteful song, that says thank you for that, because without it I would never be full of the rocket fuel that I am to do what I’m doing.
These kinds of dreams are hard to find and, even when you find them, they’re hard to hold onto. Even when you find them and you get them, they’re hard to maintain. I’m like an impossible sentence that keeps going. That’s why I think that song worked as the very first song. [It’s] the first thing you should do with any great thing, like a lot of times when you eat a meal, you say a prayer, thanking everyone for the meal; and a lot of times you say it at a church, at a Christening…it’s a universal thing, no matter what religion you’re in. That was how I wanted to start.
Alongside the album, you also launched 52 The Podcast with Cindy Watts. Each episode explores a song on the album and it’s a fascinating and insightful listen. Was an accompanying podcast always part of the plan for this project?
It was a part of the conversation early on, mainly because one of the goals here is to give each song space where it can be itself.
I’ve always maintained that songs have saved my life as a person. There are times in which I’ll put on my headphones, I’ll lay down on my sofa or I’ll sit in a chair, and I’m so emotional or my world is crumbling or whatever, and the song will not let me down, no matter what it is. I feel good, I go to some songs. I feel bad, I go to some songs. What it does, as a creator, it reminds you that every song that you write, eventually, that song is somebody’s favorite song. You just don’t know who that person is. You must treat [the song] with that kind of respect.
That’s part of what the podcasting is about. And let’s reveal a little bit about me, ‘cause sometimes, as much as I think I’m not a mystery, a lot of people are like ‘Man, people just don’t know about you’ *laughs*. I’m like ‘Okay, what do you want to know?’ *laughs*
We thought the podcast would be interesting. Cindy Watts is a famous journalist in Nashville and she’s also from my hometown. She loves songs, and so do I. We get to sit around and talk about one song from 52 and one song from my catalog. It’s thirty, forty minutes and, hopefully, you learn something new and hear a song you maybe haven’t heard yet in a new way; or a song you know very well, you now understand it in a whole different context.
Next up, is the just announced 52 In The Key of Summer. What can you tease about that one?
It’s the largest collection of all four, this one has sixteen songs. One of the things about me is that I love taking it easy, mainly because I work a lot. I value time off. It’s hard for us, nowadays, [because] we work so much that we forget who we are a lot of the time. You combine your sense of self with your job. It’s not wrong but it does take a toll and, for me, it takes a certain amount of time to remember that I’m the person over here who is a human that has this passion and has made a job out of it. And I’m a dad, I’m a friend, I’m a boyfriend, I’m lots of different roles.
Summertime is just this wonderfulness where, as long as you can take the heat, everything gets slower and easier for a minute. It’s a lot to me like Christmas, where we give ourselves a bit of a break. This upcoming stuff is exactly the soundtrack for that. Put this on when the sun comes out. Put it on when you’re by the pool. There’s some songs you can put on at night and make out to. It’s a whole summer! *laughs*
I can’t wait!
You’re a very collaborative artist. Are there some collaborations waiting for us in the future volumes?
There will be!
On ATL x BNA, we didn’t do any features on purpose. The songs themselves, they are what they are. We may do versions of these songs with some of our friends later. There’s a lot of artists that wrote with me on this next set of songs. On volume three and volume four, we are hot on the tail of a whole bunch of collaborations – there’s only so much of me in a row that’s interesting! *laughs*
On that, I must disagree, Kristian…In The Key of Summer can’t get here fast enough for me!