He's the dude in Sugarland, country music's latest dynamic duo. He's also a dandy of a mandolin player.
You can see Kristian Bush, 37, strumming and singing next to lead vocalist and fellow songwriter Jennifer Nettles. The Atlanta duo began performing together in 2003 and earned the Country Music Association's Duo of the Year award in 2007.
The group makes its Florida Strawberry Festival debut March 9. This week, tbt* pulled Bush away from a long day of recording to talk about his favorite festival indulgence and the truth about his famous name.
So you're performing at the Florida Strawberry Festival. Do you plan to eat any strawberry shortcake?
Yes, as many strawberries as I can get in my body, via shortcake, via cream, via milkshakes. Bring it on.
Are you a biscuit or cake guy?
I'm a biscuit man.
What's your favorite fair ride?
It's the really inappropriate bungee thing that shoots you straight up and you think, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe this thing actually drove on a car." I totally dig it. I also like the thing that spins you in the air and the floor drops out from under you. I think it's called the Gravitron.
What about a favorite fair food?
I had a deep-fried Snickers this past year, and I really wish I was back in college with a really high metabolism.
Having the last name Bush, do people ever associate you with President Bush?
Sometimes they do and, usually, it's only for dinner reservations. It can be awkward but it sometimes gets you better reservations. They say, "Bush, family of four," and everybody looks around. They're like, "Are you related?"
Where does your Bush name come from?
My grandfather and my great-grandfather started a company called Bush Beans, the canned baked beans. Our family sold the business in the mid '80s, so there's not any Bushes there. I was a child of Appalachian privilege for a small amount of my life. I thought I was going to grow up and run a cannery.
I've read that you're new-agey, that you wear prayer beads, drink green tea and do yoga. What's that about?
Our job is an interesting one. I liken it to an extreme sport, because you're traveling a great deal, you're working 20 hours a day, you're sleeping in a little tin can of a bus and you're jumping around like a wild man for two hours a day. Adrenaline-wise, it's a real extreme sport. The science of the mind and body are both things I'm interested in, because I have to be.
Tell me about the "Bob Marley Shower Hour."
(Laughs) Sometimes the only time I have to myself is when I'm sleeping or in the shower. I'm a huge Bob Marley fan, and I'll put him on. I love the way he deals with a message without you knowing it. Everything feels so good. I've always admired him as a songwriter.
Your middle name is Merrill. That doesn't sound like a hip country star. Where does that come from?
Even Kristian with a K isn't very country. My family is from the hills of east Tennessee. Imagine my mom in 1970 thinking Kristian with a K was progressive. Merrill was a family name. I had a great-grandmother whose name was Merrill.
Your hit song Stay hits hard on a subject that's sensitive to a lot of people (adultery). What's that like?
Jennifer and I find there is a diverse age group that associates with that song. There's a guy that came up to us the other day, he was in his late 60s. He said, "You know what? I lived that song 40 years ago." And then you also have a 14-year-old girl say our song helps with boys.
Do people assume that you and Jennifer are speaking from experience?
There's all sorts of stories. So many people come up to us and say, "Oh man, that's my story," or "I can't believe that happened to you cause it happened to me, too." You don't want really stop them and say, "Actually, it didn't happen to me, but I'm glad you connected with it." It's a beautiful thing that music can do that.
How is it traveling with a female bandmate.
I love it. Everything smells so much better.
Isn't Atlanta more known for its traffic than its country music?
Yeah, well, the good thing about Atlanta traffic is that everybody's sitting in their cars listening to country music.