Sugarland’s Kristian Bush Talks New Band, Dark Water

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Nashville Southern rock trio Dark Water is not a side project for its members, whose careers are rich with other musical endeavors. Nor is it a super group, which band lyricist (and one half of hit country duo Sugarland) Kristian Bush asserts with self-effacing logic: “that would imply we were super,” he says. The group’s self-titled debut album arrived last Friday.

“This was not an intention,” he continues. “And as a result, it means that this isn’t a side gig … It’s like how people fall in love. It can happen immediately, and in the next moment you have to start processing it. We’d known each other for so long, but we didn’t realize what was happening. Then, suddenly, we were looking at each other like, ‘oh my gosh!’”

Bush started Dark Water with his younger sibling, Brandon, and their putative “brother from another mother,” Benji Shanks, after seven or eight years of synergetic music-making. Shanks came into the fold of the Bush brother’s lives-long creative relationship when he joined a Booker T cover band alongside Brandon, who quickly drafted him into several songwriting sessions with his brother.  

Today, the three musicians/producers run a studio together in Decatur, GA. The Dark Water artist project started as an ad hoc, sync (film/television) music collaboration — Kristian would write the words, Brandon and Shanks would write the music. But as the sessions continued, a distinct tone began to surface in their demos and work-tapes.  

“All of our stuff started to sound like it belonged together,” Kristian says. “We were like, ‘maybe this is a Muscle Shoals kind of thing.’ We didn’t really think much of it. But once we started to play some of these things back, it was like, ‘does anybody else hear what I’m hearing?’ It [the Dark Water project] really snuck up on us!” 

What Kristian heard was a sophisticated blend of late 60s rock and modern studio sounds. The LP’s lead single, “Paint It Blue,” kicks off with a programmed train beat loop but quickly turns organic when country guitar infuses the groove with Honky Tonk virility — it’s a square-danceable tune designed for the stage and built on tradition. “Come Out” is another song primed for live settings, with its wah pedal guitar effects atop cheerful B3 organ, bringing to mind Grateful Dead or recent era jam bands like Phish or String Cheese Incident. 

Indeed, the unifying force within Dark Water is the individual craftsmanship of its three members. As Kristian puts it: “I think Benji’s more attracted to my lyrics, and I’m more attracted to Brandon’s grooves, and Brandon’s more attracted to Benji’s tones. When it all connects, it’s like, I’ve never tasted that gumbo before!”

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