In the second half of our interview with Jennifer Nettles, the vivacious singer-songwriter talks about performing in intimate venues, singing loud when she needs to and putting Sugarland on the back burner — for now.
In a conversation with CMT.com about her brand new album, That Girl, Nettles says, “I think it’s teethy. I just think it’s got a lot of marrow in it. I think it’s got a lot of soul and spirit in it. And it definitely plays musically to who I am, as a musician. You hear country, you hear gospel, you hear R&B and you hear ’70s radio. When my little musical tapestry was being sewn inside me, that’s what I was listening to and what I heard.”
CMT: On the new album, right after “Thank You,” which is a quieter song, you’ve got “A Good Time to Cry,” where you stand back and wail.
Nettles: Yeah, I have a friend who is still going through a challenging time. I wish for her that she could get over the hump. She was really an inspiration for me in that song, at least as a jumping-off point. It sounds to me like that last slow song of the night at the bar, you know? You put it on and everybody gets their slow dance in, then you go home together — or alone! (laughs)
Do you enjoy it when you can really open up your voice on a song like that? I respect the fact that you don’t do that on every song.
I don’t do that, because serving the song is most important. On a song like “Thank You,” you don’t want to be that. It’s intimate. You want to draw them in and be face to face. … But in that emotional well, in that release, do I love singing that way? You bet! It’s fun! It is that release. I liken it to either a horse or an engine. It’s fun to just get out there and burn it out sometimes.
Have you always been able to do open up your voice like you do on “A Good Time to Cry”? Or did you discover that talent later in your career?
I’ve always been able to do that. And I think what has been the discovery is the maturity of nuance. Because those kinds of emotions — that wailing, screaming, yelling — that can be in the angst of being a teenager. That can be going through your Messiah complex in your 20s. That can be all of these things!
And yet the nuance of subtlety is something that’s more mature and something that I have come to embrace and that I love exploring. And you have to balance it out both ways. Sure, it’s fun to sing that way, but if you had a whole album that was that emotionally explosive, to me it would feel imbalanced.
You’ve been performing professionally for a while now, in Sugarland as well as your previous bands. Are you approaching the solo tour differently?
I am, but much like everything else, it’s all about the music. And the music will lead the temperature and the tone of what a show is. This album is much more intimate and personal and nuanced in ways than I have ever recorded. So I want the room and the space to support that kind of intimacy. So I’m going out to do the theaters and the music halls that I haven’t played before. Though I love the energy of an arena, I want to be able to enjoy the delicious richness of those kinds of venues.
What is it about those venues that you’ll enjoy? Just the fact that everybody’s listening?
Yeah, I like having it intimate that way because it supports the music, first and foremost. But it’s also fun for me because if you’ve seen any Sugarland shows, regardless of the fact that we’re in this humongous space, I’m still engaging for as far as I can hear and see. I talk with the audience. I like to banter. I have a feeling that the more intimate space will lead to more of those exchanges between me and the fans. I am excited for that.
You mentioned your fans and the people who have come to the Sugarland shows. Is there anything you’d like them to know about your solo career?
I would love for them to discover something new about me that they like. I hope they say, “Wow, she is a way better singer and a way better songwriter than I ever knew.” Especially if all they knew about Sugarland is what was on the radio. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do this solo project.
When you add success to art, many times it’s super easy to become a caricature, where they say, “Sound just like this, but bigger! Now, don’t change it — but get bigger!” I think everything can get distorted in that way. And I think it can also stagnate.
Have you kept that door open to do a Sugarland tour down the road?
I have. I’ve described it this way before in saying that I didn’t want to do a solo project out of not liking Sugarland. It’s really a couple of things. As I said, I wanted to prove some things to myself. When I do anything, I do it wholeheartedly. I’m going to throw myself into this solo project with as much dedication and inspiration as I did with Sugarland.
I can’t be in two places at one time, consequently. And I don’t want to! I want to be able to focus on this and to see where it will take me. When that time comes for us to come back and do something again as Sugarland, then it will, and we’ll be better for it.
I know you’ll get asked that a million times.
Yeah, but it’s the first solo album, you know? I hope that I’ll be able to do another one, and if I do, then I hope people will have gotten the picture that this is a “both/and” — not an “either/or.”