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November 01, 2005

THREE'S COUNTRY-Sugarland

By Jon Bahr

SUGARLAND is Country Music's Breakout Success Story of the Year

sugarland

One plus one plus one usually equals three. In the case of breakout trio Sugarland, it equals one million records sold. Sugarland is a country group consisting of three very successful singer/songwriters: Jennifer Nettles, Kristen Hall and Kristian Bush, each with a wealth of experience and their own triumphant careers. The Atlanta-based band's sound is fresh and optimistic, standing out on the thriving country scene. What started out merely as a writing session between two of the songwriters has turned into one of the most successful debut albums ever.

Twice The Speed of Life, Sugarland's debut, has sold over one million copies making it certified Platinum. When their first single, "Baby Girl," rocketed up the charts, it became the highest-charting debut by a country group in fourteen years. Although never reaching number one, the song's reign on Billboard's Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart is astounding with a record breaking 46 weeks on the chart. That song and their other hit, "Something More," which also peaked at number two on the country chart, both cracked the top forty positions of the Hot 100 chart.

All three members co-wrote the album's eleven songs. Conversations with the two women of the group, lead singer Jennifer Nettles and Kristen Hall, reveal how Sugarland has approached songwriting in a collaborative format. Hall was the lone member of the group that had a lot of experience with co-writing. "They had never co-written before and it was really important to me that the three of us as a band write together," Hall remarked. "As the one who had done it before, I encouraged them to get out every idea. I always tell them that the only bad idea is the one that you don't share because sometimes it isn't the right idea, but it helps you get to the right idea."

For Nettles, though, co-writing brought challenges which she has now put behind her: "I was very nervous to collaborate the first time because songwriting for me was a very personal, vulnerable thing. You may tell me you hate this idea, or I may tell you I hate that idea. So I was nervous at first as far as how the rhythm of collaboration was going to work. But now, we seem to have really established our own recognition of our different strengths and weaknesses where songwriting is concerned. So everybody has different talents that they bring." For example, Nettles added that "Kristen is really good at not only hooks, but also the economy of words," which has helped Nettles grow as a songwriter. Hall commented that "the more you co-write with certain partners, the better you get. It isn't about egos or getting your feelings hurt, it's about getting a good song written. It's a negotiation but it's really for the good of the song."

In terms of how Sugarland varied from their members' previous work, each woman has had a different experience. Hall said, "I don't feel like these songs stray very far at all from what I've always written. It's really the instrumentation that took it to a different genre. Where I might normally have put a cello, there's now a mandolin." For Nettles, the change is more present: "My personal songwriting process, before Sugarland, was very much for personal, emotional expression and growth with more autobiographical issues that I wanted to explore. For the most part my solo writing was more of an emotional, cathartic act. Sugarland is much more pointed; you're more capable of stepping outside of yourself. It's storytelling. It's not necessarily telling your own story, but parts of each of your own stories brought together to, hopefully, relate to the listener."

Going from being solo performers to working in a group setting has thrust Nettles into the spotlight as the front woman and lead singer. She is a natural in this role. For Hall, Nettles' relationship with the songs is paramount. Hall noted, "The thing I feel strongly about in writing with Sugarland is that it's really important that Jennifer understand what she is singing about and has a heavy hand in feeling the lyrics. They have to feel good to her because she's the person who goes out in front and sings them. I think the audience believes her because she means it." Nettles added, "It's really important as a lead singer, as a front person, that you take it and you make it your own. If it's not your own, and you don't believe in it, it won't come off as genuine to the audience. They won't believe in it."

Award nominations for Sugarland have been streaming in just as fast as major television, radio and concert appearances. With each member comfortable and confident in his or her roles as they have risen to stardom, there is no telling what Sugarland can accomplish.

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