In the five years since country music phenomenon Sugarland’s debut album, Faster Than the Speed of Life, was released to the masses, the group has gone through a number of changes.

From losing a member (the trio became a duo when Kristen Hall departed in 2005 to pursue a solo career) to selling two double-platinum CD’s to headlining sold-out stadium tours the world over, the duo’s love and dedication to their fans hasn't faltered.

Hailing from Atlanta, both Kristian Bush and the stunning Jennifer Nettles got their start in the same burgeoning music scene of the late '80s and early '90s that gave birth to seminal acts like REM and the Indigo Girls.

The two were a part of separate bands before they ever collaborated. It was this thoroughly unique musical environment that would later influence their work as Sugarland and lay the groundwork for what would become one of the strongest, most dedicated and diverse fan bases in the country music industry today.

With a rabid following rivaled only by acts like Taylor Swift, Sugarland has worked hard at cultivating a close, almost symbiotic, relationship with their fans. They have even tailor made their third and newest release, Love on the Inside, for the fans.

Ignoring conventional wisdom that says to release the album first then follow up with a special deluxe edition after the album has charted, this time out the duo has gone in the opposite direction. On July 22, Sugarland released the special deluxe fan edition first opting to wait a week later to drop the regular version of the album.

The deluxe edition features five more songs—two live tracks and three more songs meant for the album that didn’t quite make the cut. The duo wanted to reward the fans who support them by making the limited edition available first instead of releasing the album and then forcing anyone who wanted the extra material to purchase another entire album in order to get it.

For those who don’t care about the bonus material: fear not, because Love on the Inside is packed to the brim with some of the strongest work the duo have released thus far—which, considering the mass appeal of songs like “Stay”, “Settlin’”  and “Want To,”  is really saying something significant.

Already climbing the charts is the maddeningly infectious “All I Wanna Do” released earlier this year, but that single is by far the weakest track on the album. The real magic kicks into high gear with tracks like the high spirited “It Happens” and the endearing “We Run” which both set the tone of the rest of the album.

Other standout tracks include the angst ridden break up song “Joey”, the beautifully delivered and heartfelt twang of “Genevieve” and the hilariously raucous tribute to the many wives of “Steve Earle”. The album closes with the tear-jerking ballad “The Last Country Song” which evokes the power of “Stay” without being a carbon copy.

Nettles vocals are stronger than ever and the duos chemistry is amazing. Love on the Inside has all the makings of an ACM Album of the Year and will no doubt draw the group a nod if not the award.

Recently, Kristian Bush took time out from Sugarland’s relentless touring schedule to talk with O&AN about Love on the Inside.
                
O&AN: Congratulations on the new album! It is simply amazing how much you have upped your game between Enjoy the Ride and Love on the Inside. When the two of you were working on it, what was going through your heads? What was it that you most wanted to convey with this release?

Kristian Bush: Thank you so much! We’re really proud of this album. We’ve worked really hard on it, and I do think it represents the best work that we have done to date. We started writing this record pretty quickly after finishing Enjoy the Ride. If you add all the days up together we had about two weeks to write it so it was really done under a lot of pressure. We didn’t have a lot of time to record either.

All the recording was done in-between tour dates and press stuff. So we got really worried about doing the next record and we decided this time we were going to have to prepare better. It wasn’t our third record in our whole lives, but it was our third one together.

We knew we were smart enough and had made enough albums in the past to understand that this was going to take some pre-meditation in order to get this done so we started writing on it pretty early on. We actually blocked out February of 2008 to do the recording so there was a lot of intention from the beginning.

O&AN: The theme of love runs heavilly throughout the songs on this release. Why did you decide to do an entire album of love songs and songs about love?

KB: Pretty early on we had been talking about the glut in country music of making an album of love songs. The concept of love in a modern context is one that isn’t all valentines or even very Romeo & Juliet. You are talking about a very three dimensional topic that is a very complicated thing. The emotional range of love lost, love found, new love, self love and the list goes on.

We decided to tackle it by having a theme running through these songs as we were writing. We got to write a lot more songs this time around and really whittle them down to what we wanted to use. We wrote about 20 songs for the album and then when we got the chance to release the deluxe album it enabled us to use three more songs than we would have otherwise.

O&AN
: Your decision to release the deluxe version of the album first is sure to be a hit. What was the deciding factor that sent you in that direction with the release?
 
KB: I love the idea of a deluxe edition of an album because I’m a music fan myself and all of the albums that I am a fan of I wish I had a deluxe edition of as well. In my early 20s I got the chance to hear the outtakes for the Police’s Sychronicity because I was working with their producer at the time.

It really blew my mind the stuff I was listening to and he wouldn’t let me have a copy of it. I’ve always wanted to know things like that. What’s happening as the song is fading? What didn’t make it to the album?

So the opportunity of being able to reveal some of that seems like a natural progression. On top of that I do get uber-pissed when people release the deluxe edition after the regular edition because then I have to go and spend my money to buy the album again to get the extra music.

We decided to release the deluxe edition first and then on top of that to put them out in the stores side-by-side. I think that really shows how much we value the fans and in this day and age if there is anybody who wants to value the fans it’s Jennifer and I. We have some amazing fans.

O&AN: There are very few musical acts today that have the fan support on a level that Sugarland does even in the country music genre where the fans tend to be very dedicated anyway. What is your secret to developing such a strong, diverse and dedicated fan base and why is it so important to you and Jennifer that you have that relationship?
 
KB: I don’t know if there really is a secret, but I think there are a couple of things that feed into it. The history of the environment that we grew up in has a lot to do with it. We both came up in the Atlanta singer/songwriter alternative rock scene of the '80s and '90s. A lot of people don’t realize that, but once you say it outloud you can kind of listen to the new record and you can hear REM and Drivin’ & Cryin’ and the Indigo Girls and all the stuff that was going on back then.

As a part of that, one of the things that we inherited was the fact that it’s okay to have music heavilythat contains messages. They don’t have to have revelations are even statements, but they can have messages. I think that kind of creates an ethos that says, when you are choosing what songs to put on your iPod or what record to play, you are choosing music based on what mood you are in. You can completely connect the messages that we send into the world with that choice during your day.

Music is a very egalitarian experience. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, and you really don’t have to speak the same language in order to come together in a room, or a field if you are me today, to enjoy good music. I really don’t think it matters where you are from.

I am very proud of the fact that we draw a large diversity of fans to us, but then we come from Atlanta which is a while different side to creating music than if you got your start in Boston or Nashville or even L.A. There are more different nationalities in Atlanta than there are in any other part of the U.S., so to reach out to as many people as possible is really the dream. That’s who we are.

O&AN: When Enjoy the Ride was released there seemed to be an overwhelming feeling that Sugarland had really outdone yourselves. That feeling is even more evident with this release. As good as Love on the Inside is, how will you ever top yourselves again?
 
KB: The first or second week after we had finished the album and turned it in, I was terrified about how we were ever going to do better than this. We just started writing music for the next record last week and we got halfway through a song and I was totally floored. We knew immediately that we had the makings of our next record. I can’t say much right now, but I can say it is music that is guaranteed to bring people together and pack the stadiums and rock their faces off.

O&AN: You will soon be starting your tour to support the album alongside Ashton Shepard and Kellie Pickler. What was it about their respective acts that drew you to invite them on the road with you this time out?

KB: Jennifer and I both think that Ashton and Kellie are truly authentic voices in country music. I personally like the fact that there is a female headliner who is not afraid of having another female in the act. Also, apparently I’m a glutton for hairspray. I get my little hairspray contact high and have to be careful not to light a match. *laughs*

We will definitely be working on a number with Kellie and Ashton thrown in the mix like we did last time with Little Big Town and Jake Owen on "Life in a Northern Town". We can’t help it. If there are a bunch of singers around we definitely want to hear them sing with us. All I can say is stay tuned. I can’t tell you what it is but it’s going to be great.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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