Sugarland’s ‘Inside’ Goes Outside the Box
Pop, R&B, '90s grunge, '80s rock -- music genres run the gamut on Sugarland's new CD/DVD box set, 'Live on the Inside.' Chalk it up to yet another risk that will undoubtedly pay off for the superstar country duo.
Pearl Jam's 'Better Man,' the B-52s' 'Love Shack,' Beyonce's 'Irreplaceable,' and two hits by R.E.M. are some of the songs Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush perform night after night onstage and have now recorded. But this isn't Sugarland doing their best Eddie Vedder or Michael Stipe impersonations -- they've sugar-ized these songs, if you will, to make them their own.
The Boot caught up with Kristian about his favorites on the project, which will be featured in an ABC television special this Monday, Aug. 3. He also tells us the funny story of a near-'Spinal Tap' moment and talks candidly about the decision to let him take over the mic a little more often.
The live CD has seven cover songs, while the DVD has two. How did you come up with a formula for balancing your own songs with your versions of songs by other people?
The process was a little funny -- it was going to be all covers. And then they were going to just take the audio from the DVD and put it on the CD. But that's not going to help anybody! As much as I love the Police, I'd get bored if they gave me a CD/DVD box set of the same stuff. The fans want something different, and a band is partly defined by its cover choices.
Which covers did you personally campaign for to be on the record?
I wanted 'Better Man' and [Kings of Leon's] 'Sex on Fire' on there real bad. With the Pearl Jam song, I love the idea of a woman singing about that topic. It's one thing with Eddie Vedder singing it -- it has a different connotation when a man is singing about a woman who is in a domestically abusive relationship. It's completely different when a woman sings it to you. And as for 'Sex on Fire,' I'm just a big Kings fan!
And in addition to changing the translation of some of these songs, you really change them musically to make them your own.
One of the things that we learned coming up in the Atlanta music scene is that you're encouraged to do that. Make your version of the song, but never really call it a "cover." I learned through osmosis that there are three important things about being in a band: One -- you've got to have great T-shirts [laughs]. Two -- you've got to write good songs. And three -- if you do a cover, it has to mean something.
Funny you mention T-shirts, because the last time Jennifer spoke with The Boot, she joked that you were going to have shirts made that say, "Sugarland: We Do Our Own Stunts."
[Laughs] We need to! That's great!
Speaking of stunts, will we see you and Jennifer in those giant inflatable bubbles, crowd surfing on the live DVD?
Yep! The big Flaming Lips balls. I love them! It's on the DVD and will be on the TV special, too.
How in the world did you rehearse that stunt? Since it requires so many people to pull off, did you just wing it the first time?
We did, and it was really awkward! We were playing a truckers' convention in an arena in Kentucky. Our production manager just looked at us and said, "So, do you want to blow these things up and roll with them tonight?" But we hadn't prepped security or anybody for it. So he was like, "Well, let's just try it. What's the worst that could happen? It looks like there are some really strong truckers who can help!" And it was a full house -- several thousand people -- but we decided to try it. And it was like jumping out of an airplane! But the best part was the way our band looked at us afterwards, like, "Y'all are nuts ... crazy loons."
Well, I got their perspective a couple of weeks ago when the zipper broke on mine. I thought I could duct tape it, but there were just too many 'Spinal Tap' possibilities there. So I was telling Jennifer through the bubble wall, 'You go ahead. Mine is broken!' And when I saw her leave the ground in that thing, I just about lost it. I couldn't believe what it looked like. I was like, 'Oh my gosh, we are crazy!'
We hear your voice more than ever before on this 'Live on the Inside' CD. How did you and Jennifer decide to use more of your vocals?
It was a creative step, but fans have been really supportive of it. Actually, Jennifer was the one who was really encouraging me. A lot of the downfall of bands in any genre is not knowing who you're listening to. I love Little Big Town, but sometimes I can't tell which person I'm hearing. And some of my favorite Police songs are the ones Stewart Copeland sings on. We've always had that dynamic, too. And I was a singer in my other band (Billy Pilgrim). But I don't have what's considered a traditional, rich country voice. It has much more character and scraggly edges. Jennifer was just like, 'No one sounds like you. You've got to sing!' It was like me saying, 'You ought to play lead guitar, Jennifer!' [laughs] It's an awesome thing. It makes our formula more powerful. We're recording a Christmas record now, and you'll hear me a lot on there, too.
Do you know if Michael Stipe or any of the guys in R.E.M. have heard your versions of 'Nightswimming' and 'The One I Love'?
This is the most exciting part ... I wanted to send copies of these covers to all these bands, and I don't necessarily want them to endorse us, but I just want to ask. And I knew the guys in R.E.M. had been contacted about us doing the songs. Apparently, they think it's great! And apparently the Kings [of Leon] guys got asked in an interview the other day how they felt about having a song on an upcoming country CD. Of course, there were a lot of expletives, like, 'That's the f---ing greatest thing I've f---ing ever heard!' [laughs] I'm still waiting on the Pearl Jam guys ... I don't know any of them, but I admire them so much. So I kind of don't want to know if they don't like it!
You're in elite company to have a major network television special -- Elvis, the Beatles and not many more have those bragging rights! Tell us about getting the call from ABC.
We dreamed about this, but there are so many naysayers in the industry right now. They'll say, 'You can't sell records. Country radio stations are this, and record stores are that ...' But everywhere we go, either we're the most blessed band on the planet or there really is more music around than there ever has been before. So when we made this DVD, we thought it would be great to have it on TV. We thought maybe CMT would pick it up, but we never thought network television would happen! Still, we threw it out on the table, and the label thought it was a great idea. But we thought, 'Yeah right, like y'all know anybody!' [laughs] And when they told us ABC wants to do it, our jaws hit the ground.
You've had to cancel a few shows this summer because of Jennifer's doctor-ordered vocal rest. That's got to make you just as sad as your fans!
It's so sad when someone that I love to hear talk can't talk! It's a horrible thing -- it's like playing that game with my kids where I go, 'OK, no talking for ten minutes.' And the moment you tell them that, that's the one thing they want to do!