It’s no surprise that three successful singer/songwriters
(Kristian Bush, Jennifer Nettles and Kristen Hall) with years of experience
can make an album filled with solid, intelligent music. But even the members
of Sugarland themselves are slightly shocked by how fresh-sounding and
unfailingly optimistic the songs they make together are.
Within minutes of getting together, the trio clicked,
creating something completely different than anything any of them had done
before. The songs are rootsy and lyrically sophisticated, but still catchy
and accessible. Somehow these niche artists have found themselves making
mass-appeal country music. Four months after getting together, Sugarland
played their first gig and were astounded by the audience reaction. By their
fourth gig, they were selling out 1000 seat venues. Two weeks later, they
signed a contract with Mercury Records. Epiphone’s Don Mitchell recently
spoke with multi instrumentalist Kristian Bush.
EPI: Hey Kristian,
congratulations on your success with Sugarland this past year. What’s
going on right now with the band?
KRISTIAN: Well, this week was even better than
last week. (Laughs) We found out we have three CMA nominations which is pretty
mind blowing and we start the Brad Paisley and Sara Evans tour in about a
week so we’re trying to get our arena rock on right now!
You guys started this all out of Atlanta, right?
KRISTIAN: Yes. Sugarland actually started as a
writing appointment between Kristen and I. She had just moved back from Los
Angeles where she had been honing her skills as a pop song writer, and had
been quite successful. She came back home and said you know what, people
in Atlanta are just as talented, I don’t know why I have to be in L.A.
So she moved back, canned her publishing deal and set out to write with her
friends in Atlanta and I was one of the first she called. Almost immediately
we knew we had something pretty cool. As a writer, when you can’t figure
out who wrote what line, you’re doing really well. You’ve kind
of melded your minds together. So it worked well and Kristen suggested that
we form a band. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure that’s what I
wanted to do but I finally agreed. About two months later we decided we needed
a singer that wasn’t one of us and Jennifer was one of the first we
talked to. At the time she was doing really well in Atlanta so we were a
little surprised when she agreed to try it.
Did you know each other prior to this?
KRISTIAN: We knew of each other because we had
all seen some success throughout the southeast on our own. My band “Billy
Pilgrim” was signed to Atlantic Records and we had toured the world
a couple of times. Kristen had sold hundreds of thousands of albums like
we had and Jennifer was kind of in the generation behind us. While I was
out on the road Jennifer kind of happened. She had gone from the person that
opened for you to the one that headlined to the one selling out theatres.
That’s about the time we caught up with her.
I think it’s cool that you were able to put this together in your
KRISTIAN: That was very important to us because
we knew what we didn’t want to do. When we started piecing together
what we did want to do, the choice was Sugarland.
Tell me about your early musical development.
KRISTIAN: I started writing music as a kid with
my brother Brandon. He’s now the piano player for the rock band Train.
We started making homemade albums when I was about twelve so we were pretty
well versed in studio stuff by the time we were teenagers. I think by the
time I was seventeen I had already recorder five or six albums, real albums
in studios. I was a huge Charlie Sexton fan at that time because he pulled
it all off when he was seventeen. He was my hero because he proved to me
that you could be taken seriously as a musician at a young age.
What was your first instrument?
KRISTIAN: I started playing the violin when I was
three years old. I was in the Suzuki method but I made a deal with my mom
when I was eleven. I wanted to stop playing violin because everyone at school
thought I was a nerd. (Laughs) She asked me what I wanted to play and when
I said guitar she just kind of went, Oh my gosh! But she made the deal with
me. She told me that if I’d play one season in the youth symphony then
she’d let me quit playing violin and start playing guitar. Now you gotta
remember, I was a Suzuki method kid so I couldn’t read music! I would
go to these rehearsals and fake it the whole time. Then I’d come home
and stay up the next two nights writing the letter names over the notes!
I did this for an entire season! Sometimes I’d take my Walkman to rehearsal
and tape the guy next to me so I could listen to it over and over until I
learned it! It was enough pain that I figured I’d earned my guitar and
she agreed. When I finally got a guitar I went to my teacher and told him
the first thing I needed to do was learn a Van Halen song and an REM song…
otherwise I couldn't consider myself cool! (Laughs)
You play a lot of mandolin in Sugarland.
KRISTIAN: Yes, I have a Gold Flake
and it’s awesome! I’ve only been playing mandolin for about three
years and I’m loving it. It’s amazing how many people don’t
know about mandolins! I have people come up to me after shows all the time
asking about the mini guitar I play! I guess I am probably a traditional
mandolin players nightmare. It’s all still pretty new to me and I’m
running the acoustic and electric mandolins through a pretty tricked out
pedal board. I fully endorse the Gold Flake Mandobird! I’m not sure
I’ll be remembered for anything other than being experimental with the
mandolin, but I still try and take it seriously. I have a mandolin teacher
and I practice every day.
Speaking of the Gold Flake Mandobird… I understand you used it on
CMT’s Crossroads with Bon Jovi. What was it like to share the stage
with Bon Jovi?
KRISTIAN: Well first of all… HOLY CRAP, BON
JOVI! I’m not sure what expletive I can use on-line but….In the
words of Richie Sambora, “Rock Out With Your C*** Out”! So yeah,
I’m on stage with Richie Sambora, playing a Mandobird and I’ve
got it jacked through a Tube Screamer and a Fender Twin turned up so loud
its making the bottom of the stage shake… and I got to play
“Livin’ on a Prayer” with him. I mean jeez, that’s a
fifteen year old dream right there!
Was Bon Jovi an influence on you as a youngster?
KRISTIAN: Put it this way. The producers of the
show send you a CD and a note that says here are the songs you need to learn
of the other band. I looked at it and I was like OK, I know all these! (Laughs)
I mean, these are all songs you played in every high school band you were
in. If you were alive and playing at that time you were playing those songs.
What I didn't know was how to play them on a mandolin.
What was it like to hear them play some of your songs?
KRISTIAN: It was amazing! They told us they
hadn’t rehearsed in fifteen years. For people who are in bands, you
kind of get the impact of that. You know, they’ve been playing these
great songs that they wrote for years so they’re not going to forget
them or change the way they do them. Now they are getting together to learn
new songs. When is the last time Bon Jovi learned a cover tune… and
imagine it was a Sugarland tune! How funny is that? They were really nice
and in my world Richie was unreal. Not only is he this extremely talented
musician, but he has this genuine joy for music. He’s just one of those
guys that loves to play and it was awesome to share that with him!
You guys have been on a pretty fast trip to the top. How has the
“Spotlight” affected your personal life?
KRISTIAN: You gotta remember we live in Atlanta
so unless your Ludacris, there is no spotlight! (Laughs) I’m still trying
to convince my friends that I’m successful.
So being in Atlanta is a good thing?
KRISTIAN: Oh, it’s a great thing. ..I love
the people there and my friends there. I invite them over once in a while
and point to the platinum record and they are like, HOLY CRAP, what are you
doing. I try to tell them… no, no, turn on CMT and check it out.
That’s us with Bon Jovi to which they respond, whatever! (Laughs). Maybe
by the time I get home for Christmas they’ll get it!
Oh I think they will! You’d have to be under a musical rock to miss
you guys at this point! Thanks for taking the time to chat and we look forward
to seeing that Gold Flake Mandobird on the road with you and Sugarland!
For more information about Kristian visit