From the Atlanta underground scene, Sugarland was first brought to life by former member Kristen Hall. In 2002, Hall contacted Kristian Bush about the possibility of creating a band together. Hall had herself released a half-dozen assorted solo projects and Bush had found some success with the duo Billy Pilgrim, but both were now eyeing the country music umbrella as a release for their music. When the two decided they needed a powerful female lead voice for the songs they were writing together, they immediately thought of a spunky blonde also making waves on the Atlanta club scene with her own band. Jennifer Nettles had herself been busy fronting Soul Miner’s Daughter, a folk-rock, garage-band type outfit, and later The Jennifer Nettles Band before releasing 2 solo albums. Nettle agreed to jump on board and the Sugarland trio was born.
Within a few short years, the band had a deal with Mercury Records’ Nashville office. Their first single, a frank look at the ups and downs of a fledgling musician, shot to #2 on the country charts, and the pair were on their way. Two more singles from that album reached the country top 10 and a fourth landed inside the top 20, while the album went on to sell more than 3 million copies. During the chart run of the album’s third single, Kristen Hall abruptly announced her departure from the group, citing the desire to concentrate on songwriting as her primary reason for quitting. Three years later, Hall would file a lawsuit claiming she was owed a percentage of all the group’s future royalties. The suit was settled for an undisclosed amount earlier this year.
Now a duo sans Hall, the group’s second album, Enjoy The Ride, hit shelves in November 2006, propelled by the lead single, the smoking hot ‘Settlin’. Both ‘Settlin’ and ‘Want To’ hit the top of the country singles chart, but the album’s fourth top 10 hit would prove to be Sugarland’s signature so far. Jennifer Nettles plaintive delivery of the plight of the other woman with little more than her aching voice and an acoustic guitar instantly connected with a wide-range of audiences, and in addition to its #2 spot on the country chart, the song hit the top 40 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the U.S. Pop chart. It would also be the duo’s first platinum-selling single.
2008’s Love On The Inside continued their run of country success with 3 consecutive #1 singles, a double platinum certification, and another round of industry awards. 2007 saw them dethrone long-running champs Brooks & Dunn for the CMA Vocal Duo of the Year award, a slot they’ve since repeated in 4 years running. Love also found the pair stretching their musical muscles as they ably incorporated 80s rock, girl-band pop, and the best of modern Nashville, all to dazzling results. Unfortunately the same can’t be said of their most recent release, the arena rock-influenced The Incredible Machine. Still, the album’s first single, ‘Stuck Like Glue’, went to #1, and they’ve just released its best track as the follow-up single.
Irresistibly catchy melodies, simple, positive lyrics, and the throaty twang of Jennifer Nettles make up the basis of Sugarland’s distinctive and identifiable sound. Kristian Bush adds milk and toast harmonies that more often than not, perfectly compliment Nettles lead. The pair are also responsible for writing or co-writing nearly every song they record. Their influences run wide, but their general sound found root in country music, and that allowed me to discover their music. Keep reading this month as we look back over the past 6 years of Sugarland transitioning into the top duo in country music.