(CSC) 1. Congrats on your debut single as a solo act, “Love or Money.” How does this song define where you are at this moment in your life musically speaking, and did you ever imagine it would receive such a positive response from the fans and industry?
Musically speaking, this being my second career here in the music business, it is just a regular evolution. You know, for my first ten years in the music business I had a band called Billy Pilgrim. The music was acoustic-based rock or pop, and so moving it towards country was a natural move. Country music is about stories, and I was about telling stories -- not telling your own story, but telling everyone's stories via your own experience. Jennifer and I have really hit a sweet spot -- that's a terrible pun. It’s a wonderful thing that we found with each other as writers, and it has really built Sugarland.
So, "Love or Money" was kind of a natural extension, bringing with me this obsession with groove. The backbeat changes everything. We were just talking about Florida Georgia Line -- that's exactly what's going on. You just can't help but move when you hear it. So, when "Love or Money" happened, it happened very quickly. That song just started resonating with people, from when I wrote it, to when I recorded it and went on tour and then I was in the
(CSC) 2. I understand you’ve even been honored by having your own animated monster created from the hit mobile app, “My Singing Monsters.” So now you know you’ve really made it right?!?
I always told people that I felt like I made it when we made it on
(CSC) 3. What can your fans expect from this new record and when do you hope to have it completed?
I've recorded a crap-ton of songs. I write maybe a hundred-something a year. Only ten of them make it on a Sugarland record every two years, so the rest of them sit on the ground unless I can find something to do with them. I just need to pick ten and go. That's my biggest challenge. As a result of this process, I started a thing called “Music Monday” on my website. I was like, "Well, I have enough songs to last for four or five years if I put one out every week, just for people to listen to, regardless if you can buy it, or download it or anything.” There's so much. I feel fortunate to be prolific at the moment. I don't know how to get the business to catch up with me yet, creatively, so I'm just gonna trust the smart people around me will do that. In the meantime, every Monday I am gonna put a song out. You can hear or pass it on to your friends. You can't keep it, but you can come back and listen to it whenever you want.
(CSC) 4. You’ve been very involved in performing at the CMA Songwriters Series all over the country and in Europe. What fascinates you about these shows and the opportunity to be a part of them?
I love watching people discover songs they already know like they're brand new. All of a sudden the songs take on new dimensions, and they appreciate them in a whole new way. And I'm watching fans that may have come in for just one of the four of us. They start to understand and appreciate music in a whole different way and the writing process in a whole different way. Then you can start to really see the emotion of the writer and the intention of the song. When you hear Matraca Berg sing “Strawberry Wine,” you can understand what Deana Carter heard that inspired her to want to sing it, which is six times cooler. It's not just the story behind the song.
(CSC) 5. Being a veteran songwriter, do you feel like these shows offer you the chance to expand your talents as a writer being alongside other great writers?
Absolutely. I've learned more during these shows than what a class could teach me. I've written with all the writers on the stage tonight, which I think is a first one for me, to say that I've written with everybody on the stage. But Matraca most recently, we've just become friends, just started writing together. I think I’m going to play one tonight that we just wrote recently. I think that I grow as a writer and I really grow as a listener and a performer. Because you have to be on your toes, we don't know each other's songs, we are making it up. It's like what a Jazz musician would do except you're a song writer.
(CSC) 6. You grew up in East Tennessee, and were part of a duo in the early 90’s called, “Billy Pilgrim.” Your band mate Andrew is the brother of actress Meg Ryan!! How did you two meet and what distinct traits did you two learn as up and coming musicians?
We met at an Open Mic Night in Knoxville, Tennessee in 1992. He and his other sister, Annie, were hosting it. I came in and signed up and I played a song. Then the person who was third didn't show up, so I played again. Then Andrew and Annie sang after me. I heard them and I was like, "Holy crap, you guys have no idea how good you are." I had already made four or five albums by then. I was lucky enough to learn the skill of album-making at a young age. I immediately said, "Andrew, do you guys want to make a record? Because I can make you a record, I'm making one for me, and I can just stop at a certain point and you can have the rest of my time, because you all are great." We ended up playing on each other's stuff, and that eventually became our first Billy Pilgrim record.
I didn't even know his sister was Meg Ryan until a year later. He told me and I was like, "Holy crap, can she make us famous? Can she put our songs in movies or something?" He said, "I would really like to do this without leaning on her." And I respect that. We never told anybody. I went out and got us a record deal with Atlantic Records and didn’t tell them. Once we signed and our record was about to come out, we disclosed it, and they freaked out. They wanted to use it in the press. I felt good about the integrity line that we kept on it.
What we learned [in Billy Pilgrim] is that if you can write a song and it's compelling with just you and a guitar, that is a sure sign that it will work both on a record and in front of an audience. But if it's not good enough just sitting here, if it doesn't move you or move someone else here, if you can’t hear a pin drop or your hair stands up or you start bouncing because you're so happy, don't play it.
(CSC) 7. Tell us about the music publishing company and songwriting collective (Songs of the Architect) you founded in 2011. Was that done specifically to house all your productions and projects?
One of the things I learned being in Atlanta and being in the songwriter scene is how important it is to pass the torch. The Indigo Girls did it for me and Billy Pilgrim, and then I did it for Shawn Mullins, and then we did it again for John Mayer, and then Jennifer [Nettles] was next. It's really important to me to keep Songs of the Architect in Atlanta to keep fostering more of this because it fostered me.
(CSC) 8. You and your brother Brandon also share a special bond as brothers and artists; tell us about your musical collaborations and the important role he plays in your life.
My brother is the most talented man I know. He and I were both in the Suzuki program when it first started in the U.S. in 1973. We were guinea pigs. It's a Japanese method of learning music. It was an experiment that Suzuki did, he was a doctor. His experiment was, if you teach children music at the time they’re learning language, will they learn it as a language? That was the hypothesis. And we did.
Because of that we've always been deeply connected, musically; it was the way we talked. It's like twin speak or something. When we started making records together, I was thirteen, and he was eleven. We split all the instruments in half, he played half of them -- we didn't actually cut the instruments in half. (Laughs) I played bass and guitar, and he played piano and drums. We just started learning how to make records.
He plays on almost every album I produce or I make. He was in Train for eight years. I didn't get to play on his records, which I was like, "Come on." But our collaboration is second nature. It's silly how easy it is. Now I prefer his playing so much that I fear for anyone who tries to come in and play piano or organ on anything.
(CSC) 9. Obviously everyone knows you are the better half of Sugarland, and you personally founded the band in 2002 with Kristen (Hall). Looking back at the early days as a trio, and now as a duo… what do you treasure most about your personal and professional relationship with them?
It was really important when we decided to put that band together. We all had bands already, but Sugarland was our band of choice. It’s like family you’re born with versus your grown-up family that you choose. When you get to a certain age you're like, "These are my people. We belong to each other.” So that's what this band was about. It was a choice. It was, “We are gonna make this matter. Our songs are gonna matter.” It was important to us because we had already had our hearts broken [by the music business].
(CSC) 10. Where would you like to see your solo adventure head next, and do you have plans to embark on a Sugarland album/tour in the near future?
Yes! The Sugarland adventure will continue. Jennifer has adventures right now -- a new mom, that's a whole brain space that you gotta get into. I'm looking forward to whatever it is we make when we make it next because I love writing together.
And I'm really looking forward to how people connect the dots in discovering me again. ‘Cause most of the fans that are Sugarland fans, they always react when I would play, like, "Oh, I didn't know you could do that?" I'm excited to have this experience, like I’ve been hiding in plain sight. I get to sing again. I feel lucky that lightening keeps striking, and I'm just standing out with a rod with no fear.
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