While he’s always been an integral part of Sugarland, most people equate the duo’s sound with Jennifer Nettles’ powerhouse vocals.
In the ‘90s, he recorded and toured as part of a folk-rock duo, Billy Pilgrim, but with this week’s release of his debut solo album, Southern Gravity, Bush is ready for his voice to be at the forefront.
CMT.com recently talked to Bush about his album and those never-ending (but welcomed) questions about Sugarland.
Watch the video for “Trailer Hitch,” then read the Q&A.
CMT: Let’s start with the album’s debut single, “Trailer Hitch.” Do you feel it’s a good representation of what fans can expect on Southern Gravity?
Bush: Absolutely. I mean, I would say “Trailer Hitch” has the grooves and the fun and the stories and the kind of underlying meaning that you’re used to hearing from my work in Sugarland. So I think it connects the dots. I think the thing that’s very different about it is that I’m singing it. … One shocker at a time.
In the liner notes, you mention going through a period of change when you did this album. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Yeah, I think the distance that you travel in any kind of reinvention has to contain within it the 10 years that you would have used to write your first record. So when you hear a band for the first time with their debut release, they’ve been working on it in a garage for a long time. And maybe you’re just hearing what they’re doing now, and it took them a long time to get there.
And I just compressed all of that into two years’ worth of writing and recording. And it’s my third first record, which is kind of cool. (laughs) Not many people get that. And I’m very grateful. And I sit here very humbled and excited and very happy. I do think that positive songs are the hardest things to write without them being hokey. The reason that they’re so hard is because I feel like the sadness that connects us together is very different because all our troubles are very different. But when we start to let that go, the things that we have in common are the things where we start to smile.
What on this album are you most excited about — and what are you most nervous about?
I think the answer is exactly the same for both questions — which is for people to hear my voice. I think I’m most excited about that, but I’m also most nervous about it. … It’s like showing up for school after an entire summer of being away and people go, “Who’s that?” You know? (laughs)
How are the songs you’ve written for this album different than the ones you’ve written for Sugarland?
I think the obvious piece is that instead of writing them for another voice, I’m writing them for me. Or at least I’m writing them to be performed with my voice. Which means there are some authenticity corners to it that are irreplaceable. They’re kind of baked in because I wrote that. So, of course, when I sing it, it’s believable to me. So I think that’s the first piece.
But I think that the other piece … there’s been a lot of messaging within Sugarland songs that kind of pulls through into this. This is a unique space, I think, by you asking that question. Culture and timing have allowed us to have two solo records by people that are in an active band. Like, you actively heard our last record and you’ll actively hear whatever our next one is. And you’ll be able to see the DNA of the band. Like, really, not just look at it but also hear it.
I imagine what it might be like to be a fan and listen to my record and then go, “Oh,” and look backwards at the Sugarland catalog and start to see the images and shadows and how it all lines up like tracing paper and be like, “Oh, my gosh, I didn’t know.” It’s like people when they come see me perform, the first thing they do is they report back to me and say, “Man, I went back and binge-watched all your videos. And, oh, my God, you were there the whole time!” (laughs). And I’m like, “Yeah!” But it’s kind of fun.
Kimberly Schlapman of Little Big Town sings backup vocals on “Waiting on an Angel.”
I had been wanting to work with Kimberly on some stuff for a while … and we’re all friends. They opened up our shows for four years straight, almost. So we kept bringing out Little Big Town with us as openers as often as we could because we just genuinely liked them. And I love their music. I love how they live. I love who they are.
They were getting ready to launch their Pain Killer tour, and I had found myself in a situation where I really wanted a distinct female voice to show up on “Waiting on an Angel” because the song itself is about waiting on this angel to walk in through the door. Kimberly is as close to heaven as you can get. And I couldn’t think of anyone else other than her to be the perfect conversation in this. And so she is. And, I mean, she sounds great. And in a weird way, suddenly when she shows up, my brain just goes to Little Big Town, and I’m like “Ah! It’s like they’re singing on a song!” Even though it’s just Kimberly. (laughs).
I will spare you any questions about Sugarland’s next project, but how much of your time is spent reassuring fans about the future of the duo?
Well, out of 10 questions, it’s always one. (laughs) … I think for whatever reason — I don’t even know why this is true — but when Jennifer put out a solo record, nobody blinked an eye about the band’s existence. But somehow when I do, everybody is like 200-300 percent more worried. (laughs). I’m like, “What are you talking about? We’re doing great!”
I think the difference for me is that my career here as a solo artist is not a side project. It functions more like a parallel project. … It’s more to me like I have two jobs, like I’m working two jobs at the same time. And I can do that. My kids are older. I feel good about that. And I have the interest and the energy for it and the love for it. I mean, this is what I do when I don’t do this.