Editor’s note: Sugarland’s new album, Love on the Inside, will be released Tuesday (July 22) as a limited edition featuring bonus audio and video tracks. The regular version of the album will be available July 29.
In the days before Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush made albums in the typical singer-songwriter tradition with everybody gathered in a studio, rehearsed and ready to roll. Now that they’ve sold a few million albums together, their strategy remains intact — to make a homegrown album at home.
For instance, you can hear Nettles’ deep breath before singing the first note of “We Run,” and if you turn up the volume, you’ll notice Bush cracking up at the end of “Steve Earle,” a tongue-in-cheek song inspired by the lovelorn troubadour. And they recorded the whole thing in less than a month.
“Having been in bands for so many years, that’s how we always did it,” Nettles tells CMT.com. “Everybody plays at the same time and everybody’s there for that kind of experience. I didn’t know until I came to Nashville that people did it any other way.”
During a recent interview at CMT’s offices in Nashville, the duo talked about writing songs from someone else’s perspective, the book that inspired several of the new songs and one thing they desire the most on the road.
CMT: What do you remember the most about making this album?
Jennifer Nettles: That we did it at home, which was awesome. We did it in Atlanta. We were lucky enough to have our wonderful producer Byron Gallimore, who came down from Nashville, wonderful Nashville musicians and musicians from L.A. and all over. They were in residency that whole month, for us to be able to do that. … Really, for this record, it’s the most that we have planned in a while. We planned ahead of time. We set aside the time. We started early on the writing. We started early on the demoing. We tried to do it in a way that would give us time to really experiment.
A lot of songwriters draw on their own life experiences, but on this album you often write from an outsider’s perspective. Why is that appealing to you?
Nettles: I think regardless, as good writers, you write autobiography. It may not be strict autobiography, but you put yourself and your life and your observances and things around you in your songs. As a good writer, that’s what you know. However, if you’re a storyteller, and you write stories and you write songs that have characters, you are given a different freedom for which you are not judged for what you say.
For example, with “Stay,” I have never been the other woman, but many people think that I have been — because of that song. In this Sugarland record, we gave these characters a lot of names. There’s Joey, there’s Genevieve, there’s Maggie Durant, there’s Steve Earle — who’s a real person. You know, there’s the old woman who doesn’t really have a name but who’s on “Very Last Country Song.” So there are all these characters in there that you can tell stories, without them being necessarily in your first person.
There are a few mentions on this album of God and spiritual topics. Do you spend a lot of time thinking about spirituality?
Nettles: Yeah, I’m reading a wonderful book called The Life of Meaning. It is a collection of essays and stories by journalists, theologians, scientists, politicians and activists that talk about our life, our doubts and our faith and how we live it. Some parts of it talk about religion, parts just talk about life experiences — lonesome, suffering and what we feel is God and all those things. We put a whole lot of that into analogy for the album.
Kristian Bush: Life in itself, things in themselves, don’t have meaning. You have to give meaning to them. For instance, when people get married, you walk in and the marriage only has as much meaning as the people give it. I think that spirituality is the same thing. You’ve got to look at things, and in this case you’re looking at music. It has as much meaning as you’re willing to give it, and we decided to try to be unafraid of giving it meaning.
When things get frustrating, do you have a mantra to get you through?
Nettles: I think “mantra” is a good word. We definitely draw on yoga. We do that a lot. That’s pretty centering and grounding and stable in a job where your life changes. We’re in a different city every day. You wake up in a different city and the effects of that are so cumulative. By the time it reaches you, you’re lying on the floor like, “What happened?” It’s very subtle and sneaky, so we try to do things that really keep us breathing.
I’m always impressed with how you maintain that level of energy during the show. How do you keep yourself at that level of conditioning?
Nettles: A couple of things. Yoga is good. We try to work out in general. We try to eat right. We have a caterer that we bring around with us, even at festivals. She’s got a little trailer. That’s one of the best gifts that we’ve given ourselves, as far as living in such a way that is holistic and helps serve what we’re doing. Also, much like cigarettes in jail, sleep is currency out on the road. So you will trade for it, sleep with somebody for it, you’ll do whatever you’ve got to do to get some sleep. We really try to get as much rest as we can.
What can we expect from your upcoming tour?
Bush: This will be the first time that we’ve been able to really think it out. When we recorded this album, we were thinking and had this conversation that not that much stuff makes it out of the speakers in these giant arenas. So if you’re trying to do something kind of subtle, it’s just not going to transfer. So, let’s just lose that. If you’re going to put something in the song on the recording, make it so you can turn it up. Otherwise, don’t put it in. What we ended up with is an album that’s presented in a way that’s really simple, so I think it’s going to be really fantastic to hear it come alive.