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Interview: Jennifer Nettles Roams Free on Debut Solo Album ‘That Girl’

"There's something else that I think I need to prove to myself and share something different with my fans too."
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By Annie Reuter

After 10 years as lead vocalist in Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles decided it was time for a change. Do not worry, Sugarland has not broken up. In an interview with Radio.com, Nettles discussed jumping out of her comfort zone on her first solo release, That Girl, working with Rick Rubin and whether we’ll hear more solo projects from her in the future.

“Right now I’m focusing on this solo project and am super excited about it,” she told Radio.com during record release week. “At the same time, I love that people have been super connected with Sugarland ’cause I am too. I didn’t want to do a solo project out of a dislike for Sugarland. I love that music, I love what we’ve done in that project. And yet, at the same time, there’s something else that I think I need to prove to myself and share something different with my fans too.”

Related: Jennifer Nettles Says Sugarland Future Is Secure, Nobody Panic

Nettles’ new album, That Girl, is comprised of 11 tracks, 10 of which she wrote herself as well as co-wrote with a diverse group of songwriters including Sara Bareilles, Richard Marx, Little Big Town‘s Phillip Sweet and Butch Walker, among others.

“Musically and sonically, this album is much different than Sugarland,” she said. “If one is going to record a solo album and it sounds just like your ensemble work. What is the point? Don’t just record the same music and put a different name on it, that’s silly. I wanted it to be different.”

Artistically, Nettles was ready to switch gears from Sugarland and enlisted famed producer Rick Rubin (Beastie Boys, Eminem, Rage Against the Machine) for help. She credits Rubin with allowing her to try things in a way she never has before.

“Working with Rick Rubin on this album was liberating and exciting and sometimes terrifying and cathartic and also at the same time, very safe and warm and collaborative,” she said. “I felt really safe with him to be able to hand these songs over and say, ‘OK. How do you envision them?’ That’s a vulnerable place as a songwriter but I really wanted with this album to do things differently and to get out of my comfort zone.”

Related: With ‘That Girl,’ Jennifer Nettles Offers Up a Response to Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’

The album includes lead single “That Girl,” which Nettles wrote with Butch Walker, as well as a beautiful ballad “This One’s For You,” which she wrote with Bareilles. Nettles explained that each co-write happened very organically.

“I was very open. Interestingly enough, Sara Bareilles and I have been friends for a number of years now. When I was writing for this project I reached out to her and said, ‘Hey you want to write with me for my new record?’ It was fun after all these years of being friends. She also introduced me to Richard Marx since they had worked together. He’s great, he’s hilarious and super talented.”

Nettles says this album is her most intimate and personal release. And with that, she was more open to try things differently, including the way she wrote. For example, album opener “Falling,” was inspired by a photograph.

“My friend Sally Taylor is doing an art project called Consenses. It is an artistic version of the game telephone where you all sit in a circle and there’s one message and it gets passed around and you see if it remotely resembles to the original message,” she explained. “She’s doing that with art and all across different mediums. She started with a photograph. The photograph was sent to a songwriter, which is me, and then the song goes to the painter and the painter only listens to the song.”

Nettles said that experience allowed her to get out of her own way and to tell the story that the photograph was telling as opposed to something that she might have wanted to say. As for Nettles, she still has many more stories in her.

“I don’t feel like I’ve said everything I need to say with this album and I’m having so much fun with it as a solo venture that I would love to do some more.”

Jennifer Nettles’ That Girl, is available now.

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