Sugarland ‘Incredible Machine’ tour hits DTEWritten by Alan Sculley | | ASculley@toledofreepress.com
Going into the making of their fourth album as Sugarland, singer Jennifer Nettles and multi-instrumentalist Kristian Bush felt they had gained some license to be fearless about the music they created for the CD.
“What’s happened is every time we’ve stretched, people said the one where you stretched the most, that’s the one (the song) we like the most and sold the most records,” Bush said in a recent phone interview. “I don’t know how many bands ever get that experience. So I think it would be a shame to be afraid of that.”
A prime example of Sugarland’s willingness to risk hitting a sour note with fans was the song “Stay” from the group’s 2006 sophomore CD, “Enjoy The Ride.” A gentle acoustic tune, it was a departure from the frisky plugged in sound that had become the duo’s trademark.
But “Stay” ended up being a big success. It reached No. 2 on the Billboard magazine country singles chart and won a pair of Grammy awards (including “Best Country Song”).
Bush is promising that Sugarland will sound bigger and bolder than ever on its fourth CD. Entitled “The Incredible Machine,” it won’t be out until October, but Nettles, Bush and their backing band have been on the road since spring, making a big point of featuring new songs in their headlining set. To say the least, this is an unconventional move considering that tours almost always follow the release of a new album instead of being used to create anticipation for a CD that, in Sugarland’s case, is still a couple of months away from its release.
“The music business is upside down and no one can decide how to promote a record anymore, no one can agree,” Bush said. “So we were like ‘Well, how about this? How about we go play all these songs for people, and then sometime in October they can buy them?”
The band has created a whole new stage set for the tour, which is being called “The Incredible Machine Tour.” The show, Bush said, feels like an “exponential” step up from the production Sugarland had for its headlining shows in support of the 2008 release “Love On The Inside.” The tour rolls into the DTE Energy Center on Sept. 18.
“Production for this show is like nothing I’ve ever done before. I’m so excited about it,” Bush said. “In a lot of ways, the production itself has a lot of relationship to the upcoming album.”
That said, he didn’t rule out the possibility that he and Nettles will retain one signature of recent shows — riding over the crowd inside clear plastic spheres — a stunt borrowed from The Flaming Lips.
“You never know when you might want to roll across the top of somebody,” Bush said.
Still, the emphasis on “The Incredible Machine Tour” will be on the new. The willingness of Nettles and Bush to perform new songs fans haven’t heard in concert says a lot about their confidence in “The Incredible Machine” CD.
Bush, in fact, went as far as to suggest it could be a career album for Sugarland.
“This album really could be the one everyone looks back and says, ‘well, that was the one that shot them to here’,” he said.
On an artistic level, Bush certainly made it sound like “The Incredible Machine” could be a major leap forward for Sugarland. Although words only go so far in describing how a CD sounds, Bush offered some clues about the music and the mindset he and Nettles had in creating it. For one thing, it will be a predominantly uptempo album, full of what Bush described as anthems. And it also figures to be more purely the vision of Bush and Nettles.
“I think there’s only one true ballad on this album,” Bush said. “And Jennifer and I, I think, minus one or two outside writers on one or two songs, we wrote the whole album just the two of us. So you’re getting a lot of courage and bravery, and kind of a raw inspiration that’s going on here — and very authentic.”
What also defines the CD is an attempt to make the music itself as emotional as the lyrics of the songs.
“How do you capture joy, how do you capture energy on a recording? These are questions we went into the record asking,” he said. “So how do you make the music as emotional as the narrative? Well, you start with an incredible narrative, and then you add an interpreter, Jennifer, who can not only bring it to life, but take it to a place that’s almost magic. Then you try to fit music that’s going to change you, based on that … So everything that got added to it (the lyrics) is supposed to bring the romance and the beauty and the love and the pain and the lust and the hope of what music is about.”
Bush is acutely aware of his good fortune to not only be in a very successful group, but to feel he isn’t limited in the kinds of songs he can write and record for Sugarland.
“It’s really neat. It’s like having a career you always dreamed of as a musician, where when you do something new your fans go ‘Yes!’,” he said. “It really is an encouraging and dreamy experience as an artist.”