We were able to catch up with Kristian Bush to ask him a few questions about his music career and performing at the Runwell 4 Life event! We are so excited to watch him perform at the event on November 8th and so thankful he took the time out of his busy schedule to chat. Listen to the whole interview with Kristian Bush or read the transcription below!
How did you get into music? Was it a particular person, band or song that made you want to play?
There are two ways to answer that question. I was actually an experiment; my mother saw an advertisement in the paper for an experiment at the University of Tennessee and the paper, it was for kids to sign up for something called the Suzuki Program. The study was to learn, if you teach children music at the time when their brains were learning language, would they learn music as a language?
And how did that work out for you?
Well, I’m bilingual! And I am also a musician for a living, so I’d say it worked out well. I don't ever remember not playing. I started with violin and wanted to play guitar when we moved to Knoxville.
I grew up in Sevierville, Tennessee, little tiny town in the mountains. When we moved to Knoxville when I was 13, and Knoxville was the 'big city', I was embarrassed by carrying around the violin, kids made fun of me because guitar was the thing. I begged my mom to let me play guitar. To her chagrin at the time, she let me play guitar.
I had never learned how to read music - I played by ear. So it took a season playing in the youth symphony before I could check 'guitar' as an instrument. That was the year I started writing songs and asking musicians for a record deal.
I heard a lot of 'no' but eventually got a yes. My second 'yes' was Sugarland - and now I have another 'yes', a solo career.
With Sugarland you made it big – real big. Millions of albums big. What is it like to step back from that kind success and take a gamble with a solo career?
It feels a little bit like the wish that people put into all sorts of books and movies - if you could go back and do something again with the knowledge you know now, would you do it. That's kind of what's going on - I'm starting out as a brand new artist, all the people that I'm working with now, they know me. But very few of them have heard me sing. So they're hearing a voice they haven't heard before so there's the energy of a new artist there.
it also has another level - it's in the background but it's becoming more in the foreground - these people, fans, business, they're seeing me not give up and they're seeing me chase a dream, and somehow inside them they feel like it's inspiring to see me do this. I do hope it lights those kinds of fires and becomes a catalyst, a spark, a reflection of 'hey, you can do this, if you love it, why wouldn't you?'
Does the songwriting process differ? How so?
Not deeply. By nature, you're working on the energy
When Jennifer (Nettles) and I write together or when I'm writing with another artist, you're working on the energy exchanged between the two of you - it's totally unique - your fingerprint and their fingerprint and combining the two is completely unique. It's different in that I'm aware that I'm writing for a male voice - as opposed to in Sugarland, I know I'm always writing for a female voice. Jennifer is such a great singer, and writer, she emotionalizes music really well and it's inspiring as a writer to have all those paintbrushes in your pocket.
It's been fun figuring out how many colors I have with just myself, I have a lot more than I ever thought I did. I love it. I wake up and make music, and that's been true long before Sugarland. It's what I do and I am unbelievably humbled and grateful that I get to do it again as a solo artist.
Were you really giving money away in the video for 'Trailer Hitch'?
I don't know any of those people. We wanted Chicago to be the backdrop. It was very guerilla, most people don't know who people are talking about when they see my name. But you say '...yeah the guy from Sugarland...' and they say 'oh yeah! I totally know that guy' and then the next thing people usually say is, 'wait, can he even sing?'
So we thought it would be a good thing to have people see me. In my hat, they would recognize me. It was an idea to fill the case with money and give it away. I met the police officer and I was lucky because he was a Sugarland fan, he went and spoke to all the other performers, I wanted to make sure they knew I wasn't trying to encroach on their space - it wasn't a social experiment - I just thought it would make the video more unique.
You come from a wildly successful family and your hard work and talent made you a very successful musician. I mean you sold millions of albums when nobody was selling albums.
When did the pay it forward aspect for trailer hitch come to be? When did you realize the need to give back was a stronger, more satisfying pursuit than the quest for material things?
I'm not sure it was a particular day. But two pieces feed into the existence of Trailer Hitch - the first piece is the awareness that I try to maintain when i write a song about the message that's in the song, what I'm saying - if I'm asking people to listen to it, what I'm hoping they're going to feel when they listen to it, and that's true if I'm writing for Sugarland, another artist or myself, I've always been the kind of writer that is interested in putting a little bit of something in there, music has saved my life so many times, it was the one thing I could always depend on, it spoke to me, if I'm asking people to give me a record deal, I want to say the things that people need, like ‘hey, today's going to be alright,’ or 'hey, get up and try again' or whatever it is.
Trailer Hitch and Sugarland songs have that in it - I want you to fall in love with the melody and dance but not know why you're dancing. Maybe a month later I want you to say 'wait, what?' then understand. Similar to the joy I got when I finally realized what Bob Marley was saying. I've been in love with this song for five years without even knowing what he was saying, then when I find out, I'm like 'whoaaa' - I want that to happen to people when they listen to trailer hitch - and the other thing is
The more I travel and the more I live out of a suitcase, you start to realize how few things you need. I need a toothbrush, but I can get another one. and I like this t-shirt but I could get another one if I wanted it - there are very few things that I really need. what I really need are my friends, and my kids, those are the things I really need. and, really dinner, I need dinner. chasing down all those things becomes like being on a treadmill. I don't have an iPhone 6 yet, but a few weeks in, I kinda want it. But I barely use the thing that i have.
I went to put on a belt, and I was choosing from 4-5 belts. Either your pants are going to stay up or they're not. You need a dress belt and a regular belt. Trailer Hitch, I love it because it doesn't answer the question, it just asks it.
I always tell people that you may not know about Goodwill, but you can go there and get rid of all that stuff.
For me the funniest things are the boxes you haul around. From apartment to apartment, house to house. You don't even know what's in them anymore because you haven't unpacked them. There should be a rule where they come and take them from you as a penalty.
Speaking of giving back, Linda Quirk and Runwell cannot thank you enough for joining forces with us for the Runwell 4 Life event. Bringing people together to open up about their experiences with addiction and help raise money to help those suffering from addiction is important.
Being a musician you probably have witnessed the ravages of addiction first-hand, how does that play into your involvement with Music that Moves?
What Runwell is doing is so important. If the very smallest thing for someone to hear out loud whether they're involved with someone that is in the grips of addiction or whether they know nothing about it and they can just be exposed to hearing, ‘it's not the person, it's a problem.’ It's not the person's personality, addiction isn't ingrained into who you are to such a degree that you can't reach a solution. The way I found my way into music that moves was out of love for one single human being. I love Thad Beaty - he's a guitar player in Sugarland, he auditioned for the band and I loved playing with him immediately. We spent the better part of six years before he decided to start this - and it was inspired by a sickness of his mother's - he was trying to find ways to be healthy. And there aren't a lot of ways to do it. Especially when you work so hard and there's very little time in our days. Thad decided it was worth it.
You can see him now and you can't believe that there was ever a version of him that wasn't this healthy version of him. The past fades, he made a change, small changes, and I was there on the bus and I saw it happen and his challenge to musicians is to become the healthy person you always wanted to be.
Music that Moves is a powerful testimony - it isn't a button you can hit - I will follow Thad to the end of the earth. When he called and said 'I'd like for you to do this' I said 'Ok, tell me more' and this is why I'm here.
Are you much of a runner?
Normally I say I run from women and fires. But I don't consider myself that runs distance well, but it doesn't stop me from trying.
In Florida, country music is everywhere. My family loves country. I have friends that love country. I am a fan of classic and outlaw country. Country is a bit different these days. From your perspective, What does country music in the USA have to say right now?
It's a living, breathing organism. It changes and it moves through time. I think when Willie and Hank and Waylon were working, they were questioned as much as you're questioning me. I think it's always that way, people think 'that's not grandma's country is it?' The same sentence just keeps getting repeated. Country music moves depending on where it is and the culture. and right now there's a huge movement to the youth - the messages they're looking for, the battle cries, the struggles, the falling in love, struggles of life, happening in country music just like they always do. I heard someone say this and I liked it: country music right now is a lot more saturday night and a lot less sunday morning than it had.
There's a lot less consequence of the party the next day. That's not good or bad. Some songs are going to change your day, and some songs, Jennifer and I say this all the time, will change the world. And it's ok for it to change your day, that's totally fine. If the next three minutes are some time off from the rest of your day, I've done my job as an artist.
I'm really excited about where country music is - I've been very lucky to have been part of the conversation for close to ten years now. I've felt the convo move from one side to another, I've heard people tell us that we're pushing the boundaries, and I listen to our records and I'm like ‘Really? I guess someone has to?’ I'm so excited for the acts and the writers and the stations that are pushing country music forward. It wasn't broken, and we're not trying to fix it, we're just trying to wake up tomorrow and write a song.
What are you listening to these days?
Well, U2, because it showed up in my inbox.
The new Counting Crows, Somewhere Under Wonderland.
Canaan Smith - new country act.
The new Magic! album, DON’T KILL THE MAGIC is a guilty pleasure.
Just bought the new Tom Petty album
We're really looking forward to seeing you at the Runwell 4 Life event!
I'm very excited for the Runwell 4 Life event. Some things can be educational and some things are experiential. Some things you learn because you read it and other things you learn because you did it. There's a lot of literature you can read about addiction but none of it matters if you don't experience someone that's said 'I've stopped' - it's as powerful as me seeing Dolly Parton make it out of Sevierville, Tennessee as a country singer, thinking to myself ‘So what you're saying is there's a chance?’
Thank you so much for your time Kristian!