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With her solo debut album That Girl dropping on Jan. 14, and with her return as host of “CMA Country Christmas” airing Dec. 2 on ABC, Jennifer Nettles is enjoying her time in the national spotlight. But while she talks about both of these subjects throughout her cover story in the Dec 2013/Jan 2014 issue of CMA Close Up, there’s lots more to discuss about her past and her future at this pivotal moment in her career. We asked her to address a few of them for CMACloseUp.com.
Your new album stretches your stylistic range. Do you still consider yourself mainly a Country Music singer?
“I love Country Music. I love the history and legacy of Country Music. I’m from South Georgia; it’s one of the pieces of the musical tapestry that has made me who I am. And yet, at the same time, I can’t deny the parts of me that are gospel-related, that are singer/songwriter-related, that are ’70s pop-related. They’re all things that make me who I am. But it can be frustrating because people get very territorial.
“I can only do what I do and do it my best, whether it’s singing a Neil Diamond song at a Kennedy Center Honors concert (‘Hello Again,’ 2011) or singing with (Jon) Bon Jovi (at the 2005 CMA Awards, 2005) or one day doing Broadway. Look at Reba: She’s been at the forefront, saying, ‘Hey, this is what I love. This is what I want to do.’ And she’s done it all beautifully. But it can be frustrating. You want to think that people are open and supportive, yet that territorial nature is still there.”
Why was ‘That Girl’ chosen as the first single from your solo album?
“I was surprised when the label came back and said they thought ‘That Girl’ (written by Nettles and Butch Walker) is the first single, because it’s so different from the rest of the album – and so different from Sugarland! But that’s exactly why they chose it. They wanted everyone to know this is a Jennifer Nettles album, not a Sugarland album. I mean, if your solo album sounds like your ensemble work, what’s the point? They wanted a first single that would celebrate and express just how different this music is going to be.”
What is the future of Sugarland?
“Kristian (Bush) and I left things open-ended and haven’t put a cap on ourselves. I want to see how this album does and, if it does well, then enjoy that. Then, when I’m ready to come back to Sugarland, I’ll do that too. The goal for us is to be able to enjoy ourselves individually right now and then, when we come back together, to have more to offer not only to each other but to the music. We’ll just see where our separate adventures take us. Right now, we haven’t put any structure or specific time restraints on ourselves.”
What’s on your bucket list?
“I’d love to do Broadway. I’d love to do something lifestyle-wise too. There are so many things that I enjoy, like food and wine, fashion and maybe something for babies or new moms. I’d like to do some acting – theater. The live format definitely calls to me.
“It’s mostly just a question of time. I’ve been in conversation with my agent in New York who handles Broadway, and there have already been some things that have come my way by people showing interest. But you can’t do everything at once, and it just hasn’t worked out yet with I’m doing in my day job.”
One of the most unusual selections on Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas is the title track, a reinvention of “Deck the Halls” by all the Robertsons, with Jase playing the song on a duck call. “That was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, because duck calls sound like ducks,” he explained. “They were like, ‘Do you think you can use the duck call as an instrument on the song ‘Duck the Halls?’ And I’m like, ‘I’m not sure I should do that.’ But I really worked hard on it. I hope people like it.”
Willie stepped out of his comfort zone by writing his first song, “Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas,’ with Dallas Davidson. “I took to it pretty good,” he said. “Dallas had the title, so we started there and then we just took it and started writing visually what we were seeing and putting it down on paper. It’s what we thought of how Christmas was and is, especially for us in the South.”
The Robertsons’ long friendship with Luke Bryan only helped seal the deal and led eventually to the singer joining Washington Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche and Jason Aldean as partners in the Robertson deer hunting business, Buck Commander.
“I met Luke in San Antonio,” said Willie. “We went down and saw him play in some honky-tonk. We hung out with him and got to be good buddies, and he ultimately joined up with us in the hunting business. It gives us an excuse to hang out together and have fun in hunting camp because they love to be in the outdoors and so do we. Of course, with ‘Duck Dynasty’ getting so big, our schedules are all crazy, so we really cherish those times when we actually get three or four days to just kind of hang out and be dudes.”
Willie, the third of Phil and Kay Robertson’s four sons – Alan, Jase, Willie and Jep – took over Duck Commander a decade ago and turned the family business into a multi-million-dollar empire. “I came in fresh and had a lot of energy and new ideas,” he said. “I got into TV. I thought it would help business. And then Buck Commander came along. Everybody wants to get into deer hunting because there are just so many more of them. There’s only maybe two million duck hunters in all of America, so it’s a small crowd, but they spent a lot of money. And there are, like, 20 million deer hunters.”
For more on the Robertsons’ debut as Country recording artists, CMA members are invited to see the Dec 2013/Jan 2014 issue of CMA Close Up.
Photo caption, top: Business and duet partners Willie Robertson and Luke Bryan join host Jennifer Nettles on “CMA Country Christmas,” airing Dec. 2 on ABC. Photo: Donn Jones / CMA