On Their New Album, Sugarland Ask: ‘Where Does It Hurt?’
"Tuesday’s Broken" is a song Sugarland wrote in response to shootings across the country, but it’s much bigger. Kristian Bush recalls dreaming up the words on an airplane after reading about a school shooting in the northeast. He’d later tell Jennifer Nettles that they definitely should not write it.
So, of course they had to. "She is a person who gives me courage on things that I don’t have courage on," Bush says of Nettles when asked to recall a very emotional co-write.
The first verse responds to shootings in cities like Parkland, Fla., while an equally powerful second verse is a portrait of modern day teenage bullying. The question, "Where does it hurt?” is something Nettles brought to the song after reading about black social activist Ruby Sales, a woman whose life was saved in 1965 when a white seminarian named Jonathan Myrick Daniels died taking a bullet for her. Along with two others, this pair of civil rights workers had just been arrested for protesting in Fort Deposit, Ala. Nettles learned Sales' relatively unknown, but undeniably powerful story through a Twitter account called Brain Pickings.
“I loved taking the onus off of the action," Bush says, in this case referring to the violence, "and giving it to the emotion of the person. My children cry listening to that song because nobody asks them the question, the right question. It’s not empathy. It’s asking the right question.”
Where does it hurt?
At their best, Sugarland subtly salve the heart with uplifting lyrics about life and love. It's almost a mission statement, "but we’ve never been a band that’s political, and I maintain that," Bush told Taste of Country in February. "The politics of the heart I will pick up and I will put on a friggin' flag. Politics of politics, that’s your problem."
"Tuesday's Broken," the next-to-last track on the duo's Bigger album, might be as close as they've come to the line that separates. It's socially aware, but after Las Vegas, Parkland and a growing list of city names that have become labels for tragedies instead of quiet map dots, how can they not be? Even with a rushed timeline that the duo admits makes them very nervous, they found time to dig deep into old wounds that had begun to scar.
“It was just a beautiful moment to (take) all of these different horrible headlines (and) to address the human heart of that, the human spirit of that," Nettles says. "To say what is the heart politic of this, not what is the government politic of this."
At one point during songwriting, Nettles did something Bush couldn't remember her ever doing. She took his notes and worked alone at a piano for 45 minutes and returned with a bridge and final chorus that left him in tears. This is the "Where does it hurt?" part — lyrics that point Nettles' outside interests, character and focus as much as any they've penned (an interview with Sales titled "Where Does It Hurt?" can be found at the deep-thinking On Being Project). A familiar and quick volley of song craftsmanship followed. The second verse is as personal as a first verse that at its core finds Bush and Nettles asking how to discuss modern day tragedies with their kids.
“My daughter is in the seventh grade,” Bush says. “She’s right in the cross hairs of this stuff. And I’m watching her and she is a resilient, beautiful person that has a little more defenses than most, because she’s so self motivated.”
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Did it work? Did a song that was written to start a conversation actually start one? Nettles' son might be too young, but Bush says yeah, it did.
“If my kids can hear it and they’re 15 and 12, I can talk about it and I can show them the lyrics ... that’s just a chance to communicate with your child,” he says, becoming emotional. “Any opportunity to communicate with your child, no matter what it is, as long as it’s not a fist or a screaming match, is absolutely OK in my book.”
Bigger will be released on June 8. The "Still the Same" singers will begin the Still the Same Tour on May 4.
Watch: 5 Reasons We Need Sugarland In Our Lives Again