To hear Jennifer Nettles tell it, its a brand new day in Sugarland. Despite winning multiple Grammy, CMA and ACM awardsand selling more than 8 million recordsthe country-music duo of Nettles and Kristian Bush is embracing a creative rebirth, a musical awakening that permeates their adventurous fourth album, The Incredible Machine.
"We are in a place of discovery," Jennifer says. "It is the essence of who we are as people in this band. There is never a moment where we think, This is good enough. Theres always a place for growth."
A growth that Kristian says has been encouraged by their fans, their record label, and, most importantly, by the genre-bending, all-are-welcome country-music industry. "Its as if the industry and the culture have singled out the biggest risks weve taken on a record, a song like Stay for example, and celebrated those," he says gratefully. "Theyve embraced us at those times. Weve tried to learn from that and this is what weve made."
And what theyve created is a dynamic masterwork. Co-written and co-produced in full by Jennifer and Kristian, The Incredible Machine is a soaring album elevated by sky-high choruses, ringing guitars, and pulsing drums that recall the beating of the albums titular engine, the human heart.
Kristian describes it as a collection of anthemsand there may be no greater understatement. If the duo was searching for the grander side of country on their last record, the double platinum Love on the Inside, theyve obviously found it on The Incredible Machine. From the fanfare of the albums opener "All We Are" to Jennifers sublime piano-ballad closer "Shine the Light," this is an album built for stadiums.
"This record is designed to play in very large places and to communicate with a large group of people," Kristian confirms. "When you have an instrument as powerful and as graceful as Jennifers voice, you dont want to tip-toe in. You really go for it! And those types of songs are often where Jennifer and I intersect musically."
In fact, the pair found shared inspiration in the iconic music and films of the 1980s, their growing-up years. "We allowed ourselves to play with our influences," Jennifer admits. As such, the coming-of-age movies by director John Hughes and songs by Blondie, Peter Gabriel, The Pretenders and even The Clash all helped fire up the Machine. "When we were writing, we asked what if John Hughes were making movies now.... Who would be on the soundtrack?" Kristian says, going on to connect the dots between rebellious country and rebellious rock. "If you dig far enough youre going to see that The Clash and Johnny Cash had a lot in common. I like to live right where those guys meet."