Wading Through Dark Water

Before going out on the Homecoming Concert Stage, Kristian Bush 92C, prolific artist and one-half of the multiplatinum, award-winning, pop-country duo Sugarland, took some time to talk with EmoryWire about Dark Water, his most recent band, the Venn diagram of country music, and what Homecoming at Emory means to him.

By Elizabeth Cobb Durel

You might know Kristian Bush 92C as one-half of the multiplatinum, award-winning, pop-country duo Sugarland, but did you also know Bush created and hosted Geeked Out, a podcast about secret talents? The subject matter is fitting for an artist as prolific and wide-ranging as Bush.

Bush has touched on almost every creative genre. He’s written songs for the country market, both for Sugarland and his own solo work. He’s the character (and mandolin player) “Shugabush” in The Singing Monsters, his son’s favorite video game. He wrote the music and lyrics for Troubadour, a musical that premiered at Atlanta’s Alliance Theater, and he has two more musicals in the works: one about (now Supreme Court Justice) Brett Kavanaugh’s testimony before a United States congressional committee and another about 1890s Appalachia.

Every time TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress comes across the airwaves, you’ll hear the theme song he wrote. This spring, Bush went out on a joint concert tour with singer and actress Rita Wilson. A frequent panelist and speaker at events for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, he gave his first Tedx Talk on resilience and reinvention in June.

Currently, Bush is deep into writing the next Sugarland album, but his true passion project is his newest band, Dark Water. With his brother, Brandon Bush, on keyboards, it’s an imagining of the music that might have made it onto the Grateful Dead’s classic album, American Beauty. American Beauty was recorded during a three-month time period when the Grateful Dead needed to make cash quickly because the band’s manager had embezzled profits.

“I create at a high rate of speed,” says Bush who decided to explore the magic of creation that happens that fast. “I had to research what those lyrics might have been. What would you see when you were 18 in 1969 and you were looking out your window.” What he found was a time of turmoil, a feeling that “we were never going to get through this alone. We were going to have to find a way to lean on each other.” To Bush, those sentiments resonated with today’s world, so he and Brandon formed Dark Water, and they went into the studio to make a record.  

“I have three or four bands and three or four record deals all happening at the same time,” says Bush, who believes that success in the music business over multiple decades requires constant creation. “Finally the internet has caught up with the pace of my career.”

Behind the scenes at the homecoming concert
Coming back to Emory after so many years is “humbling,” he says, adding that his career and life would have unfolded differently if he had not been a student at Emory College. “It’s hard to say who's in charge here: my gut instinct, the community, or something we can't even see at all. But Emory is a place where you learn to trust yourself because somebody else did, and that’s what homecoming is all about, right?”

Kristian Bush 92C came back to campus for the first time in years to perform at Homecoming 2019. EmoryWire got the chance to talk with him about subjects as far ranging as his ideal band, the Venn diagram of country music, and the underlying guide to his solo career.

The Kristian Bush Rule of Music:

Music should either shake your hips or explode your heart. And if it's not doing one of those two things, then you need it to turn it off.

The Venn diagram of country music:

Country music lives in two places. It lives on Saturday night and Sunday morning. In the Venn diagram of “I want to relax” and “I want to release,” the middle is country music. On Saturday night, what happens, happens. But in the moral structure of country music, on Sunday morning you must apologize and face the pain of what you have done.

On writing musicals:

I think the industry is looking for a change. Up until 1960, one of the attributes of a successful musical was that there was a song on the radio. That's how they advertised it. And, nowadays, as much as I love Wicked, you're just not going to hear that song on the radio.

On his superpower:

My senior year, I started taking my lyrics to my creative writing classes for help to make them better. My superpower is that melody just falls out of the sky for me. I can walk around and make up songs, but I can't always walk around and make up words. It’s not quite the same as poetry. Lyrics happen in fewer lines, usually 17 lines, and four of them repeat three times.

When you think about your time at Emory, what one word comes to mind?

Exploration. Emory has always felt like the place that holds you before you go, like an incubator. It was the safe place for exploration

On Saturday October 26, 2019, Kristian Bush took the Emory Homecoming concert stage to play a rousing set of hits from his solo country music solo career, upcoming music from Dark Water’s soon to be released debut album, and, of course, some of Sugarland’s best. Look out for the full Homecoming recap in the coming weeks. In the meantime, enjoy “Baby Girl.”


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