If you know about Sugarland, it’s likely you know fiery frontwoman Jennifer Nettles’ name. Maybe you know she released a solo album called “That Girl” in January.
It’s the other half of the Atlanta country-pop duo who may be less familiar – the affable guy in the hat with the close-cropped facial hair and the guitar. That’s Kristian Bush, the band’s co-founder.
While Nettles’ bluesy twang is all over Sugarland’s sound, Bush’s harmonies, guitar and writing are more subtle.
But Bush is busting out of the shadows in a big way with his own upcoming solo release. He’s currently introducing that sound on tour, playing Charlotte’s Visulite Theatre Friday.
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“People have been discovering what I sound like for the first time because they’ve only known me for Sugarland,” says Bush, who co-piloted the ’90s rock band Billy Pilgrim before teaming with Nettles. “I’m watching people in the crowd look at me like, ‘Holy crap.’ I’m like, ‘Hi, I’ve been there this whole time.’ ”
Sugarland’s hiatus following the birth of Nettles’ son in late 2012 freed Bush to do a solo record, for which he wrote a whopping 300 songs. That number is enough to make even prolific songwriters spit out their drinks mid-gulp.
“Usually I write 12 or 15 and pick 10,” he says. “Instead of ratcheting it down or trying to squeeze it tight, I kept writing and recording. It started to get better. I am sitting with as much catalog in two years that I’d normally have in a decade.”
Given the wealth of material, Bush streams new tracks for fans on his website every Monday. And through the prolific project – as well as through writing songs for artists like Boys Like Girls, Laura Bell Bundy and Matt Nathanson – he’s discovered more of what his signature sound is.
“I’d already done this once without all the record sales,” he says of Billy Pilgrim. “I’d gone around the world. My first big one, Rolling Stone loved it. We were kind of darlings. The music has stayed the same the whole time. The songs that are the pillars that held that band (Billy Pilgrim) up are still the lanes I travel to create Sugarland songs, and to make my solo record songs.”
“It’s finally an identity you can really see,” he says.
He also thinks Nashville is ready for his solo album, whereas it may not have been at one time.
“Country radio has changed a great deal,” says Bush, who with Sugarland introduced CMT to reggae (“Stuck Like Glue”) and Bon Jovi (“Who Says You Can’t Go Home”). “It has opened up where my voice as a singer sits very well now, whereas 10 years ago people would’ve considered me too Rod Stewart, too rock ’n’ roll.”
By the time the Visulite show rolls around, he’ll likely have chosen the road-tested tracks for the album.
“They can only tell you the truth,” he says. “When people start to gravitate toward a song, I’ve really been excited about how passionate they get. That information really transfers.
“I usually tell people your hands are buzzers, use them. I need to know. You’re not going to hurt my feelings if you don’t like a song. There’s 299 other ones.”