Kristian Bush has a voice.
And after more than a dozen years as the creative yet largely silent force behind Sugarland — the Grammy, CMA and ACM Award-winning group he formed in Atlanta in 2003 — the Tennessee-born singer-songwriter is ready for you to hear it.
On his debut solo album Southern Gravity (out April 7 via Streamsound Records), that voice is undeniable.
Southern Gravity is a joyous and inspirational album, yet it was born out of tumultuous, even tragic, change. As such, it is a purging of all that Kristian has weathered since 2011 — the year that the stage rigging collapsed during a storm prior to Sugarland's show at the Indiana State Fair. That horrific accident was the first of many challenges, both public and personal, for the heart-on-his-sleeve artist.
Over its dozen tracks, however, Southern Gravity became Kristian's musical assurance that everything was going to be okay.
"These songs are like post-it notes that you might put around your house as inspirational reminders," says Kristian. "I listen to them for that reason sometimes — to remind myself that no matter how hard it gets, you can make things out of the pieces that are smashed."
It's testament to Kristian's gift for writing perfect country-pop hooks that Southern Gravity turned out to be, as Country Weekly puts it, “the feel-good album of the year.” Whether it's the narrator who gives away his worldly possessions in lead single and Top 20 hit "Trailer Hitch," the brokenhearted soul who seeks solace in the Golden State in "Feeling Fine California," or the guy who celebrates the elation of being in love in "Light Me Up," the voices of the record unfailingly live in the moment.
"Music sometimes looks back, and that's what most of us do. But this album is all present tense. It's not I was feeling fine, it's I am feeling fine. It isn't you did light me up, it's you do light me up. It's all happening here," Kristian says. "And I needed to hear that as much as anyone else."
Still, the man who was content to quietly steer the ship in Sugarland and cede the spotlight to the world-class entertainer that is Jennifer Nettles knows what you're thinking: "This guy can sing?"
The answer, in short, is damn straight. "I think people might be very surprised; they may even have low expectations, like, 'I didn't think you had it in you, man!'" Kristian says with a laugh.
But while he knew he could sing — and command a stage, as he did with revered cult band Billy Pilgrim in the Nineties — Kristian wanted to be certain he could write not just serviceable songs but great songs for what would be his debut solo project. To find the honest answer, he posed an ego-testing question.
"I asked myself, 'What if people have been yessing me for the last few years? Maybe the songs aren't that good. How in the world will I ever know if I was getting away with mediocrity?'" he recalls. "So I went wandering."
He traveled to Los Angeles, Stockholm, London, and Nashville — eventually purchasing a home in Music City to more fully immerse himself — writing with some of music's most creative minds across all genres. Finally, he returned to Atlanta, where he recorded the heart of the album's twelve songs. The journey took commitment, as well as the courage to further the Sugarland narrative he started over a decade ago.
"I needed to continue the story of Sugarland, and I didn't know how this would fit in," he says of Southern Gravity. Ultimately, Kristian says, the album became an extension of his country-pop band, which to him felt entirely natural. "This is me continuing the message in my music," he says, predicting that listeners will detect a similarity to Sugarland albums like Love on the Inside. "As people look back through those records, it'll all make sense."
To be sure, tracks like "Light Me Up," the breezy "Flip Flops" and the defiant "Walk Tall" evoke the sing-along anthems of Sugarland, fitting in perfectly on country radio. That, Kristian says, was his intention from the get-go — as well as something to be celebrated.
"I chose these songs to communicate with as many people as I can," he says. “Country radio has an incredible reach and is such a powerful thing. It is unprecedented in our culture. I want to be on the radio because I want people I don't know to hear my music. I've been pestering the ones I do know for years — it's the stranger that I'm interested in.”
Produced by Kristian (a self-confessed studio geek) with help from long-time friend and acclaimed engineer Tom Tapley, Southern Gravity is a true headphones experience, a listening event meant to be explored and savored. Throughout, you’ll find plucky mandolin, resonating guitar, and layer upon layer of delicious harmonies. Empowered by honest, uplifting lyrics, it all adds up to one of the year's most satisfying — and cathartic — releases.
For fans of authentic, transformative songwriting, it will be hard to resist Southern Gravity's pull.
"Writing a happy, inspirational album can be very difficult, and to do it while you're crawling out from the mud is doubly difficult," says Kristian with a been-there smile. "But when that muscle awakens, there's nothing more powerful."
AWARDS AND ACCOLADES
2012 Named Distinguished Alumnus, Avon Old Farms School
2011 CMA Awards Vocal Duo of the Year - Sugarland
2011 CMT Music Awards Duo Video of the Year - Sugarland, "Stuck Like Glue"
2011 ACM Awards Top Vocal Duo - Sugarland
2010 CMA Awards Vocal Duo of the Year - Sugarland
2009 CMA Awards Vocal Duo of the Year - Sugarland
2009 CMT Music Awards Duo Video of the Year - Sugarland, "All I Want To Do"
2009 ACM Awards Top Vocal Duo - Sugarland
2009 Grammy Awards Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group - Sugarland, "Stay"
2009 Grammy Awards Best Country Song - Sugarland, "Stay"
2008 CMA Awards Vocal Duo of the Year - Sugarland
2008 CMT Music Awards Duo Video of the Year - Sugarland, "Stay"
2008 ACM Awards Single of the Year - Sugarland, "Stay"
2007 CMA Awards Vocal Duo of the Year - Sugarland
2007 CMT Awards Duo Video of the Year - Sugarland, "Want To"
2006 ACM Awards Top New Duo or Vocal Group - Sugarland
2005 American Music Awards Favorite Breakthrough New Artist - Sugarland