Hands down, Kristian Bush is the busiest man in music. One half of the country music juggernaut Sugarland, one third of the brand-new Americana rock trio Dark Water and 100% his own solo artist. That doesn’t even take into account his pre-Sugarland, kind of defunct/kind of idle/somewhat rekindled folk-rock outfit Billy Pilgram and the other handful of projects we’re not at liberty to talk about yet.
The world may have come to a grinding halt in recent months but that doesn’t apply to Bush. Though he may be confined to his Atlanta digs, the man hasn’t slowed down one bit as he hasn’t stopped creating, writing, and recording. Now on top of that, he’s got a re-release of his debut solo album Southern Gravity (The Complete Collection) with seven brand new songs.
While it’s not entirely accurate to call the rechristening of Southern Gravity a happy accident, it wasn’t entirely planned. At least not the way it ended up playing out.
“This album was supposed to come out later this year. But as soon as this shut-into-your-houses happened, we all got on our regular weekly meetings and I said guys, it looks like there’s going to be new Billy Pilgrim music this year, new Dark Water music and new Sugarland music. I have a new solo album ready to go, when do you want to do it? Do you want to hold off on it, what do you want to do?
“As we were talking it through somebody suggested Southern Gravity was five years old this year, so why not put that out with another new song? I was like, holy crap! I have a bunch of new songs for that, does anyone have those? We were able to find them and one of them brought me to tears. I was like, this is supposed to be out.”
When Kristian refers to new music, there’s no telling what he’s referring to. The man is a songwriting machine. A song he wrote this morning might be new today, but by this time next week he’ll have already written twenty-five more. So in the interest of clarification, the new songs being added to the re-release are new to us, but they were written and recorded in those original sessions five years ago.
“I had written this gigantic amount of songs for that record because it was going to be my first solo album. I wanted to make sure I was doing my due diligence of writing a crap-ton to figure out what do I really want to say and what do I really sound like and do I like myself? Do I like my voice? Will this work for country radio? How do I do this?”
Though the songs didn’t make the cut to be on the album originally, the universe seemed to be at work. Given the state of the world today, songs like the first single “American Dreamers” are more poignant and speak louder today than they ever could have five years ago. Very Springsteen or Jon Bon Jovi-esque in both lyrical and melodic makeup, everything about this song seems tailor made for today.
“This may be right on time,” muses Bush. “I had my first fan reach out a couple days ago and say ‘Hey, I tested positive and this is what it feels like. It feels like a Mack truck hit you. You’re sore all over, your whole body is bruised and you have a hard time breathing. I’m not sure how long this is going to go.’ I sent back a note, but I didn’t really know what to say. I was like ‘Hope you’re ok’ and I sent this song. I told them, just listen to this over and over again and see if it helps.
“There were actually two versions of this. One was a big radio version with drums and all this stuff. Then there was a moment in the studio where I was like ‘…just humor me for a second. Somebody bring me my mandolin, let’s do an acoustic version of this and y’all just play along.’ We just recorded it once and that was it. When I was going through the catalog, the big rock radio version was what was going to go on the vinyl, but I heard this acoustic version and thought man, this is heartbreakingly cool.”
The obvious question is why? Why pump air back into Southern Gravity with so many new tracks when he could have just as easily packaged it as its own entity? The answer to that is clear.
Southern Gravity is so much more than just a solo album to Kristian. This album is his first really deep dive into himself. Additionally, as a man who always shared the stage as part of a duo or group, for better or worse this was him stepping out alone into the spotlight and allowing himself to be vulnerable. Because of all that, it wasn’t the chart success or the sales that mattered (though they would be nice). He wanted to create that one capsule of magic.
“I want Southern Gravity to have given you the true colors you can use. The DNA that you can use to look at all the other things I do and go THAT’S Kristian. This is the part that he plays. Rarely in your favorite bands do you get to pull the ingredients apart and look at them.
“One of my favorite albums of all time is by a band called David & David called Boomtown. It’s the only album they ever did and to this day, I still go back to it. I listen to it and think, God if I could make an album like this that says so much in such an interesting, comfortable way. I’d give anything to do that and I think that’s what I was trying to do with Southern Gravity.
“I think that’s its intention. It’s to be something you go back to for a reason.”