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Solo work brings excitement, intimacy

Jennifer Nettles will perform Sunday night at INB Performing Arts Center. (Associated Press)
Jennifer Nettles will perform Sunday night at INB Performing Arts Center. (Associated Press)

Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles explores new territory

Jennifer Nettles found enormous success with the country group Sugarland.

Enormous success. Grammy Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards, Country Music Association Awards. Collaborations with everyone from Bon Jovi to Elmo. Gold and platinum recordings.

But that didn’t stop her from wanting to extend her wings beyond Sugarland, at least for little while. As Sugarland has gone on hiatus, Nettles has launched a solo career. In January she released her first solo album, “That Girl,” and will perform songs from it in Spokane on Sunday night.

“I’m having a blast. I’m loving it,” Nettles said of her new solo career in a recent telephone interview. “It’s really, really exciting to be able to play this new music live for fans. That has been a real joy.”

It’s not that much different from what she was doing with Sugarland, which began life as a trio but has been a duo since 2006, with Kristian Bush. “My job is the same, which is to write and record and then go out there and be a frontwoman and sing,” she said. “What feels different is the music style, in that it is much more intimate, and more nuanced, and consequently more personal.”

She said a solo project had been on her wish list for the last four years that Sugarland “was out together and touring. About the time we put ‘Incredible Machine’ out, I was already starting to creatively feel that I wanted to turn my ship in that direction.”

Duos are by their very nature intimate partnerships, and she and Bush had been working together for about a decade when Sugarland took its break. “From a writing perspective, (Bush) and I had written together for so long … there are things that you instinctively start to know about the other,” she said. “We were definitely at that place with writing with each other.

“I don’t know all the things that I miss (about that partnership), but I do know the way Kristian and I wrote together was such that it was very familiar, and that obviously now is different.”

So bringing in others to work on her solo material has been a great new experience, she said. Among those she got to work with was a “big-time music crush,” producer Rick Rubin, who’s worked with everyone from Johnny Cash and Adele to Jay Z and Black Sabbath.

“He’s a lovely, lovely person. He is as kind as he is talented,” Nettles said. “The diversity of that roster of artists is something that I was so attracted to. I love that about him and I loved that about this experience. I loved being able to start from a clean slate.”

When she’s in Spokane this weekend, Sugarland fans will be happy to know they won’t be left out in the cold: Nettles will be bringing those songs along with her, albeit with different arrangements.

“Obviously the focal point is ‘That Girl,’ and I play the whole record,” said. “But interspersed in there are some Sugarland songs and some random covers peppered in there as well.”

Once this tour wraps up later this month, Nettles plans to spend some time with her family – she and her husband have a 2-year-old son – and get to work on another solo record. She’s not sure yet what shape that record will take. She just knows it’ll be different.

“You don’t know sometimes what you want to do until you start doing it,” she said. “I’ve learned a lot from this record. The way I really approached this record, well there was no approach. I just went at it willy-nilly. Let’s just see what happens when I don’t try to shape it. Let’s see what comes out, and out of that, let me see what I enjoy, and what I want to continue and take forward with me. Now I think is a wonderful time to then start to actually work with and write with more intentional concept of what I want to do.”

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