For a decade, Kristian Bush built his reputation as one half of the multi-platinum, Grammy-winning country duo Sugarland. He wasn't the group's lead singer -- that role went to his big-voiced partner, Jennifer Nettles -- but he steered the ship in other ways: playing multiple instruments, singing harmonies, co-producing the group’s platinum-selling albums, and co-writing an award-winning catalog of songs (including five No. 1 singles and nearly a dozen Top 10 hits) about life and love in the American South.
On Southern Gravity, his first release as a solo artist, Bush occupies the spotlight himself, juggling the roles of vocalist, songwriter, bandleader and producer. The new album draws on the 300+ songs that Bush wrote during the past two years, after Sugarland embarked on an open-ended hiatus. Included in the mix is Southern Gravity's lead single, "Trailer Hitch," written with Tim Owens and Bush's brother, Brandon.
"That song starts in your hips," Kristian explains. "It makes you dance, but after a few listens, you realize it's got something to tell you, too. The image in the chorus — I’ve never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch — is hilarious. Why do we collect so many things? We don't need them… and we can't take them with us when we go."
Anchored by a mix of groove and twang, "Trailer Hitch" rustles up memories of Bush's past hits, including the double-platinum Sugarland smash "Stuck Like Glue." Southern Gravity isn't a side project, though. It's a parallel project, a natural move for a songwriter who's been making records since he turned 13 years old. For the first time in his career, Bush is singing his own songs without a duo partner by his side, giving fans an unfiltered view of an artist who's always shared the spotlight in the past.
"This first album is my nametag," says Bush, who recorded many of the songs in his own studio, often the same day they were written. "It basically says, 'Hello, my name is Kristian. I'm introducing you to my voice, even though you've heard it all along.' For more than 20 years, I've been someone co-creating with someone else. This time, I'm launching my own voice into the world."
Bush kickstarted his career in the early '90s, when he formed the folk rock duo Billy Pilgrim with Andrew Hyra. Together, the two released a pair of critically-acclaimed albums (1994's self-titled Billy Pilgrim and 1995's Bloom), enjoyed regular rotation on VH-1, and earned multiple Top 5 hits on the AAA charts. Bush's success continued with Sugarland, a coed country duo that formed in 2002 and sold more than 22 million albums during the ten years that followed. Along the way, Bush and Nettles launched five No. 1 singles, earned a well-deserved induction into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and took home trophies from the Grammys, AMAs, ACM Awards, CMT Music Awards and CMA Awards.
Although the writing sessions for Southern Gravity were sparked by Sugarland’s hiatus, they coincided with a period of intense, industry-spanning activity for Bush. He founded the music publishing and songwriting collective Songs of the Architect in 2011, kicking off a series of production/songwriting collaborations with artists like Rita Wilson, the dBs, Lucy Hale, Ellis Paul, and Natalie Stovall. He teamed up with his brother, Brandon, to score the music for a Turner Classic Movies network promo. He even contributed music to the popular mobile app My Singing Monsters, making an appearance in the game as a furry, fedora-wearing monster called "Shugabush."
Southern Gravity will be released by Streamsound Records, an independent label co-owned by Jim Wilkes, Tim McHugh and Bush's longtime friend and collaborator, Byron Gallimore. The producer of Sugarland's last three albums, Gallimore encouraged Bush to record a solo album after coming across the 300+ songs Bush had written during the band's hiatus. And despite a songwriting journey that took him around the globe from Los Angeles to Stockholm, Southern Gravity is an album steeped in the sounds of Bush’s adopted hometown: Atlanta, GA.
"This is southern roots rock," he says of the album's earthy, old-meets-new sound. "We're part of a generation of people facing forward, but looking back. You can hear the town's influence on this album. It's got that barbecue on it. You'll hear stuff that sounds like the Allman Brothers, stuff that sounds like Drivin' N' Cryin', stuff that sounds like modern country. People ask me to explain Atlanta, to tell them why the food is so good, or how the women are so beautiful, or what makes the culture so vibrant. I don't know how to answer that, but I can try to write it into a song."
On an album filled with some of the best songs of his career, though, the real highlight of Southern Gravity is Bush's voice, a lived-in baritone that sounds both new and familiar... like the pen pal you've been writing for years, only to finally meet in person.
"I love it when a song can be two things at the same time," Bush says, alluding again to the hip-shaking, heart-expanding message of “Trailer Hitch.” “This album feels the same way,” he continues. “People know me and they know my music, but they don't know it like this. I've had a record deal since I was 22, and it's been the dream I always wanted, but never believed in my wildest imagination that it would really come true. Somehow, it keeps coming true. Southern Gravity is one more wish, one more hope to keep the dream moving forward."