Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush have gone for the gold — and the green — with their first-ever holiday album. Mixing secular and inspirational classics with material written specifically for the project, Gold and Green offers a few surprises for the duo’s fans.
During a recent interview with CMT Insider’s Katie Cook, Nettles and Bush talked about what it takes to record a holiday album.
CMT: Gold and Green is really going to get people in the holiday spirit. When you were in the recording studio, did it kind of get you in the mood like, “I want to go shopping”?
Nettles: I don’t know about that, but we did a few things to help us get in the mood because we recorded it in July. It was very warm.
Bush: It’s very Christmas-y in July.
Nettles: So we had Christmas lights put up and Christmas decorations in the studio. We burned the Christmas tree-scented candles. I have a video of a Yule log burning, and we put that on the monitor. It helped.
Did you go in with a specific plan about what a holiday album is supposed to sound like, or did you kind of just let it all unfold?
Nettles: We had fun experimenting and writing it.
Bush: I think that we brought our experience of holiday music and our experience with music, in general, to the record. … I think you’ll hear things that are classic — or intended to be classic — that will last over time, that aren’t dated one way or the other. And then I think you will find reinterpretations of things. I like to use that word, “reinterpretation.”
I would imagine it gave you a chance to feature instruments that you don’t normally get to use on a Sugarland record.
Nettles: Oh, yeah. When we went into not only the writing but also the recording of this album, we knew that we were going to try to write Christmas classics. And, hopefully, if we wrote a few of them, maybe one of them might really stick in a certain way and resonate in a way that old Bing Crosby [recording of “White Christmas”] and classics did. And when you are trying to capture that kind of classic, retro Christmas sound, then you get to play with string instruments. We’ve played with string instruments before on an album, but it’s different. It’s a different sound, a different kind of arrangement. It’s a different kind of song. It was fun to get to experiment with different sounds that way.
Is it kind of wild to think that people are going to be baking cookies and opening gifts and trimming the tree while Sugarland’s music is going to be in the background?
Nettles: I love that. I think it’s very special. And we love to make our music resonate in the lives of our fans and the people that listen to it. So, hopefully, this will resonate in a way that definitely feels like holiday and feels special and feels like family and feels like memories that either you already made or are going to make. I think that while the context of Christmas is limited to a certain amount of time, the emotional themes are pretty universal when you think about celebrating or when you think about crazy family madness or even when you think more of the sacred side of it. You think about what it is to come together, to be with each other, love each other and give gifts in celebration of that love. Or even in the concept of redemption, all of those are themes that play throughout your life regardless of the time of year. So put it in that setting and, hopefully, you come up with a good Christmas song.
How do you do that and keep a Sugarland spin on it all?
Nettles: Well, that’s easy. We just do what we do.
Bush: We just wake up.
Nettles: We don’t know how to do anything else, so it’s pretty easy to keep that when you are just being yourself. And we love to experiment and to explore and to stretch in any way. … Our fans have come to expect that and anticipate it and get excited about it, so it’s fun.
You put a slightly different twist on “Silent Night.” You sing some of it in Spanish. Was that difficult?
Nettles: No. Fun.
Bush: It’s difficult for me not to fall like madly in love with her while she is singing in Spanish. I just love her accent. … She is such a great linguist and … is not just fluent in Spanish but graduated with a degree in Spanish.
I did not know that. That was my next question.
Bush: So, yeah, this is an unfolding, but it’s such a beautiful thing to hear your voice kind of take on the roundness of that accent and then to deliver it with the emotion of what “Silent Night” is. It kind of makes my knees weak.
Nettles: The whole song, in and of itself, is very regal, and then the Spanish is very regal in its roundness. But I do think it’s fun when you talk about it because people always make comments about how Southern I am. … Obviously, when I am singing Spanish, it sounds different, and some people are maybe like, “Well, wait a minute. What’s real, and what’s not?” But when you hear the Beatles or when you hear the Rolling Stones, they are British, but they don’t sing like they are in the musical, Oliver. … The way you sing is different from the way you speak sometimes, and sometimes it’s not.
Finally, have you talked to Santa? Does he have plenty of copies of the CD to put in everybody’s stocking?
Bush: Yeah, we’ve been shipping to Santa for a while.
Nettles: We’ve been shipping since October because Santa starts early … because Santa says, “You know what? It’s the fourth quarter.” We might as well send it out now.