Kristian Bush Interview: Sugarland's Other Half Talks Solo Music, Favorite Bands and Bush's Beans Secret Recipe
Image attributed to Dana Tynan
Sevierville, Tennessee native Kristian Bush, one half of the country music duo Sugarland, released his first solo single, “Love or Money,” earlier this year in the UK, and the song was later released in the United States and worldwide to radio stations, iTunes and other digital retailers on October 10, 2013.
Bush is a Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist who started his career with folk rock duo Billy Pilgrim in the early 90s. He founded Sugarland in 2002, and two years later, he and singer Jennifer Nettles exploded into the music scene and haven’t stopped since. They have surpassed sales of over 22 million albums worldwide, achieved 8 No. 1 singles and won numerous awards.
"I’ve been performing solo since I was 12, so it’s not a new decision. It’s what I do every day. Its just coincidence that the way the world came to know me was as part of two different duos in two different decades: Billy Pilgrim and Sugarland. I’m excited now for people to discover my voice in this next chapter."
To date, Bush has won 6 BMI Awards for his songwriting abilities. He made his solo debut in March 2013 at the inaugural C2C (Country to Country Festival) at the O2 Arena in London, and “Love or Money” debuted in the UK and Europe the following week.
The multi-talented artist is the great grandson of A.J. Bush, founder of Bush Brothers and Company, and although the family sold the company, his cousin Jay Bush continues as company spokesman. Bush is a graduate of Emory University in Atlanta where he still resides, and he and his wife Jill have two children, son Tucker and daughter Camille. Bush’s brother Brandon is a former member of the rock group Train and also tours with Sugarland as their keyboardist.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Kristian, thanks for taking the time today!
Kristian Bush: My pleasure!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I love the single “Love or Money.” Why was it released commercially in Europe first?
Kristian Bush: Circumstance. I’d just written the song, recorded it that same week, and then I left for a month-long tour of Europe. I started playing it for the first time on that tour, and it got a great reaction. And then, in a twist of fate, I got the chance to send it as a “thank you note” to all the ticketholders for the first inaugural C2C: Country to Country festival at the O2 Arena in London, which was the last date on my tour.
A bunch of people in the music business over there were so excited about the song that we decided to go ahead and release it to iTunes and radio stations in the UK and Europe the following Tuesday. It was really a case of me just saying, “Yes,” every time an opportunity came up.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why the remix for American fans?
Kristian Bush: I feel like “remix” is more semantics than a real truth. The version we released in the UK was essentially the demo we had at the time. I always meant to go back and revisit it, but I didn’t have the chance until now. I always like to tinker with songs and mixes until I find the heart of the song. I still believe in the art of recording.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me the story behind the song and your co-writers. Will you be writing with them again?
Kristian Bush: I wrote this song with my good friend Jeff Cohen and my new friend Matt Thiessen. Matt plays in a band called Relient K, and he had just moved to Nashville. When you sit down to write with someone new, you spend a little time getting to know each other’s stories. I asked Matt, “What brings you to town? Love or money?” And then we all kind of looked at each other, and it was like, “Oh, we’re gonna write that song now, aren’t we?”
Jeff and I write together constantly. He is an incredible artistic force, and I’ve known him for 20 years now. I definitely look forward to writing more with Matt. We wrote two on that first day. I’m sure there’s more where that came from.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Where do you find inspirations for lyrics?
Kristian Bush: My inspiration for lyrics comes from everyday conversation. I’m inspired by how people describe their lives and how simple phrases can take on complex meanings. I’m also inspired by the rhythm of how people speak. I try to combine those two things and begin songs that way. I have a few apps on my phone that allow me to tap out beats. I commonly will start just singing to the beat and find melodies that match words that match rhythms.
I don’t need a quiet place to work. I’ve been known to write songs in the carpool line, in line at the deli, while people are writing other songs, or even while someone is actually standing in front of me and talking to me. Thankfully I have not yet started writing songs while in the midst of performing other songs, but it’s probably just a matter of time (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): That might be a bit awkward (laughs). Will there be a new full-length album coming out in the near future?
Kristian Bush: I hope so. Someone just needs to come over here and help me sort through these hundreds of songs to get the pile down to 10 or 12.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How and when did you decide to try your hand at performing solo?
Kristian Bush: I’ve been performing solo since I was 12, so it’s not a new decision. It’s what I do every day. Its just coincidence that the way the world came to know me was as part of two different duos in two different decades: Billy Pilgrim and Sugarland. I’m excited now for people to discover my voice in this next chapter.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Has it been scary to sort of get out of that “comfort zone” and perform solo at this time in your career?
Kristian Bush: I love both. I love the joy of singing with people and the joy of singing alone. The wonderful thing about working with Jennifer is the second nature, almost psychic connection we have as writers and performers. It’s a little like that twin thing. She’s my creative twin in a lot of ways.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Kristian, did you always want to be a professional musician?
Kristian Bush: When I was 12, I thought I was going to work in the family business and that I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. So playing music for me then was just something I was good at and enjoyed, but I was told it would never make me money. That it wasn’t a “real job.”
As a teenager, I certainly didn’t want to believe that. I fought it and started making records at 14. So yeah, I guess you could say this has been my dream for most of my life. I feel incredibly lucky and grateful to have had a record deal for the better part of 20 years straight.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who were your early influences growing up in Sevierville, Tennessee?
Kristian Bush: Dolly Parton, of course. Kenny Rogers, Eddie Rabbitt and anyone else they would play on that AM station. Occasionally if the clouds were right, the radio signal from the University of Tennessee would bounce into the valley, and I would hear strange new sounds like The Smiths or R.E.M. or the dB’s.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You touched on this earlier, but how much support has your family (parents, siblings) given you throughout different stages in your career?
Kristian Bush: My mom put me in violin lessons when I was 3, and she and my father gave in when my brother and I started to buy and trade for more and more instruments. Mom always said, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” Dad always said that I needed something to fall back on. My brother has recorded every record I’ve ever made with me, plus a bunch of his own with other artists and bands. I love that man, and I love the way he plays music.
My kids support me in this stage of my career by being my A&R department and my biggest fans. They remember lyrics I’ve already forgotten. For Christmas, they asked for an iPod with every song I’ve ever written. It took me almost a year to dig them all up. I’m aware now more than ever how responsible I need to be as a parent for my kids’ dreams even if they’re as crazy as mine were to my parents.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Congratulations to you and Jennifer on the 2013 CMA nomination! Did you expect the band to achieve such success within just a couple of years with the multi-platinum debut album Twice the Speed of Life?
Kristian Bush: As a recording artist, you always hope for that kind of success, but I’m not sure you ever expect it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What is your favorite Sugarland song and why?
Kristian Bush: That’s like asking me to choose between my kids! Right now it’s “Stand Up.” I am humbled by how far that song has traveled. Just the other day, my friend Tim sent me a video from his phone of the kids at his daughter’s school. They’re in elementary school, and they were singing “Stand Up” as a choir arrangement. That’s awesome to me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Did you and Jennifer have to get used to each other’s “idiosyncrasies” being on the road together all the time?
Kristian Bush: The best part about relationship is learning to love the idiosyncrasies of another. For whatever reason, Jennifer and I have idiosynchronicity. I think I just made that word up.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who has the quickest temper?
Kristian Bush: We’re both slow to boil.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you enjoy interacting on social media?
Kristian Bush: I love it. I love hearing the stories of people who are drawn to our music. And I love watching their lives play out with our music as a soundtrack. I was just at the Texas State Fair and met two young ladies who have been supporting me and Sugarland on Twitter for several years. They’d been rained out at a show in Oklahoma City last summer and were so excited to see me play this weekend and get the show they missed. I wouldn’t have known how much it meant to them if it weren’t for Twitter. And that’s really cool.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Jennifer has said that she will not put up with negativity on Twitter. What are your Twitter policies?
Kristian Bush: Be kind. Be generous. Remember that thoughts become things. Choose the good things. #unnecessary
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Who are your top 5 favorite artists?
Kristian Bush: The Police, R.E.M., Elvis Costello, The Clash, Bruce Springsteen.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your other interests besides music?
Kristian Bush: Parenting, men’s fashion, good pencils, bad sci-fi, my new electric skateboard.
Melisa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are Tucker and Camille interested in following in their dad’s professional footsteps?
Kristian Bush: Right now, I think they’re just interested in their dad, but Camille has a real knack for songwriting. I plan to encourage it for as long as she loves to do it. And if they want to run off and become accountants, I will not hold them back from their dreams. But I will tell them they need something to fall back on.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me about the Shugabush monster!
Kristian Bush: This was the craziest thing – Tucker showed me that game (My Singing Monsters) on Father’s Day. I mentioned on Twitter how much I loved it, and the next thing I knew I was on the phone with the game’s creator talking about how we could collaborate. That is another reason why I love social media.
My kids watch me create things and chase dreams all day. It was really special to have created this dream based on a game that Tucker discovered. He’s a part of this story, so I’ve kept him in the story and in the decisions as they’ve been unfolding. He’s even been in the studio while I’ve recorded the music and vocals for the monster, and I always make sure my work is up to his standards.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Kristian, is it possible that the closely guarded secret family recipe for Bush’s baked beans has been handed down through the generations to you?
Kristian Bush: It’s possible. There may or may not be an index card in my grandmother’s handwriting in a safe deposit box somewhere in Atlanta.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have a mantra that you attempt to live by every day?
Kristian Bush: Leave it better than you found it.
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