As Sugarland's Kristian Bush steps out from Jennifer Nettles' shadow, he's been met with one resounding response: "Who are you?"
"Most people don't know my name," he admits to ETonline. "People are looking at me funny – I think they have low expectations."
As one half of Sugarland, Bush has sold more than 22 million albums worldwide, nabbed five No. 1 singles and won two Grammys. On his own, Bush has scored six BMI Awards for songwriting and established his own music publishing company and songwriting collective. (Who has low expectations now?!)
Bush's sunny, impossibly catchy debut single "Trailer Hitch" is steadily climbing the charts and on Monday, the 44-year-old performed the song on Today while announcing his "Give It Away" charity initiative with Goodwill.
ETonline has an exclusive look behind the scenes of his zombie-themed music video (watch above) and got Bush on the phone to reveal secrets surrounding his new album, future plans for Sugarland and what he really thinks of Nettles' new album.
ETonline: I LOVE THE ZOMBIE THEME OF YOUR VIDEO – PERFECT TIMING FOR HALLOWEEN. TELL ME ABOUT COMING UP WITH THAT CONCEPT.
Kristian Bush: Blake [Judd, director] came to us with the concept, and it was in the wake of a very successful lyric video that described the song very well and had a little bit of a social experiment in it. All the video treatments we got were kind of reinterpretations of that -- ways to look at the song from the positive message of it. Blake's was totally sideways. I kind of loved it, because it just came out of left field. [Sugarland] had such success with the 'Stuck Like Glue' video when it came out, it basically turned a love song into a stalker song, so I just applied the same attitude to this. If it's interesting and fun and it excites you to do it, then do it!
ANY PLANS TO ACTUALLY DRESS UP FOR HALLOWEEN?
Absolutely. We're performing here in Nashville on Halloween. I'm thinking about being the O.Z. – the Original Zombie.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN BREAKING OUT AS A SOLO ARTIST?
Getting people to believe I can sing. Most people are looking at me funny -- I think they have low expectations. That's been the most challenging, to actually say, 'Hey, do you know who I am?' Most people don't know my name.
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR DEBUT ALBUM, SOUTHERN GRAVITY?
This record has been a great journey to go on. Being my first solo record, the initial challenge was how do I want people to hear my voice? Most people in the last 10 years, if they're fans of [Sugarland], they've heard my songs and my voice, but you've only heard me as a background singer. You haven’t heard me in the foreground. The topics and language that I've used to write from a female perspective is different from a male perspective. This is as much an introduction, a nametag -- Hello my name is Kristian Bush -- as it is a very comfortable declaration of how interested I am in what it means to be from the south today as a young person. I was the product of REM, plus The Allman Brothers, plus The Indigo Girls, plus The Black Crowes, plus Dolly Parton. I'm that kid. These are the musical influences that were grown in the mountains of Tennessee and the red clay of Georgia. It's a great, fun record. I realized at some point that music better make you shake your hips or explode your heart. This has a little bit of both.
WILL ANY OF YOUR PREVIOUSLY-RELEASED MUSIC MONDAY TRACKS BE ON THE ALBUM?
During my writing process, one of my outlets was to post a song online every Monday. In the last four weeks, I posted them to Taste of Country and if you really are looking close, you can find songs from this album. Not the whole album, but there are interesting things out there if you go digging. There's a song called 'Light Me Up' that I've been performing live, and I don't mean this to be a weird metaphor but it is catching fire. There's a song I put out called 'American Dreamers' and it’s haunting me. A song isn't a hit when you write it or record it, and it's not even a hit when they play it on the radio...
SO HAVE YOU BEEN GAUGING FAN REACTION TO THE SONGS BEFORE PUTTING THEM ON THE ALBUM?
Absolutely. The best way to gauge a song's success, to me, is to see whether it's communicating clearly. If it's a song about getting your heartbroken, and the song communicates heartbreak, well then it's connecting to people. It's evident to me when people go to your show and they listen to your songs. If they don't like it, they'll go to the bathroom. If they do like it, they'll start singing it back to you or you'll see their phones start to pop up. I can see it from where I stand and, in the case of the Internet, from where I sit.
WHEN WILL THE ALBUM BE RELEASED?
It doesn't have a release date yet, but I think in the beginning of the year. I'm the artist, I'm the last one to know.
I THINK IT'S SUCH A TESTAMENT TO SUGARLAND THAT BOTH YOU AND JENNIFER NETTLES HAVE BEEN SUCCESSFUL INDIVIDUALLY. HAVE YOU DISCUSSED WHAT THE FUTURE MIGHT HOLD FOR THE BAND?
We haven't spoken about the timing for anything yet. I anticipate that any kind of success each of us has, it all feeds back, just like it would in any team, to the greater good.
GIVE ME YOUR HONEST REVIEW OF JENNIFER'S SOLO ALBUM.
I loved it. This is exactly her. She's one of the best singers on earth, are you kidding me? The interesting part as a fan is that you’re getting both of our solo records within a year of each other, and you can really hear the DNA of our band.
Follow Sophie on Twitter: @SophieSchillaci