When Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles sings her emotional hit “Stay,” her eyes sometimes tearing up, she is that “other woman,” beseeching the man she loves to stay with her instead of going home to his wife.
Her audiences, like the one that will fill the World Arena on Saturday, often tear up with her and speculate who that special man was — or is.
“As a storyteller, I take that as a compliment,” said Nettles, 36, from her Atlanta home, as she prepared for “The Incredible Machine Tour.” “Fortunately, it is not my own story, but as a songwriter I enjoy writing as a storyteller, exploring characters and telling other people’s stories.”
The mistress in her story, she said, is a complex character who says, “I am worth more.”
This story and the tune have certainly been embraced by fans.
“I love to sing ‘Stay’ every night because people sing along. And, they do sing along — loudly! I can stop and the audience will take it from there.”
Her three tattoos tell another story: “Believe” on her wrist, a heart with wings on the inside of her upper right arm and a flower on her hip she got when she was 18.
“People tattoo for different reasons,” she said. “I use a tattoo as a marker of time, to be reminded of a time in my life. It is something special and personal. There’s a lyric in my song ‘Take Me as I Am’: ‘We all live with the scars we choose.’” She said, “Some scars are given to us and some we choose.”
An online Nettles hot topic for the last couple of years: Jon Bon Jovi. They recorded a duet of the Bon Jovi/
Richie Sambora song “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?” and soared to the top of the country charts, snaring awards and nominations along the way. The electricity between the sexy, hair-blessed pair lit up the Internet.
Were they lovers, brother and sister, have the same hairdresser, did she write “Stay” for him … ?
“None of those are true,” she said. “I don’t know if it’s fortunately or unfortunately.” And she laughed.
“We got acquainted through this song. I had his ‘New Jersey’ posters on my door when I was in the seventh or eighth grade. It made me nervous because the last thing I would want is to ruin a Bon Jovi song.”
The 2006 “Who Says You Can’t Go Home?” was, indeed, intended for a country audience, but as a Bon Jovi/Keith Urban duet to go on the “Have a Nice Day” album. However, they sounded alike and it was decided to replace Urban with a female singer. It worked and they were Grammy winners.
As Sugarland, Nettles’ partner is Kristian Bush. Ignore the bloggers: No, he’s not the subject of “Stay,” either. The Tennessee boy is the happily married father of two sons and two daughters. His brother, Brandon, formerly of Train, tours with Sugarland playing keyboards and accordion.
Kristian Bush (vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica and mandolin) and Kristen Hall founded Sugarland and brought Nettles in for lead vocals. As a trio, in fact, they opened for Reba McEntire at the World Arena in November 2004.
“Oh, my goodness, I didn’t remember that,” Nettles said, laughing. “Well, I’m happy to be coming back!”
Shortly thereafter, Sugarland was blazing its own trail, frequently headlining. In 2006, after an acrimonious split with Hall, who sued Nettles and Bush, Sugarland struck out as a duo.
That’s when they took off, raking in the nominations and awards — including Grammys — and topped the country charts with hits including “Want To,” “Already Gone” and “All I Wannna Do,” and collaborated with Little Big Town and Jake Owen for a cover of “Life in a Northern Town.” They’ll be with Lilith Fair this summer on selected dates as well as on their own tour.
Another sure sign of success: performing with Elmo on “Sesame Street” and a guest shot on TV’s “Yo Gabba Gabba!” (Ask the little ones what that is.)
Sugarland’s local fans should get their rest before the concert because, said Nettles, “people are going to be up and moving. That’s how we crafted this tour — to have a good time. We’ll share a moment, a space, a time. When you go to a show, you want to have fun and if you do have problems, you have an escape.”
A new album comes out in the fall.
“Kristian and I wrote all the material and it’s an evolution; it’s growth artistically. Our fans want this. I have musical ADD or something, and I get bored doing the same thing over and over. I love different sounds, different influences. We are speaking to the human condition and I think music is leaning that way. Music is so much more than what you wear and your hair …”
She almost constantly thinks up music ideas and out comes the ever-present Blackberry to send a snippet to Kristian to see if it might work.
Nettles, a Georgia girl who first put together The Jennifer Nettles Band and lists her first song as the “awful” “He Couldn’t Give Up the Bottle so She Had to Give Back His Name” (at age 17), is using her success to give back. She brought “Common Thread” to Beaver Creek, Aspen and Santa Fe in 2008 , a combination of what’s important to her including music, yoga, eco-consciousness and philanthropy. She sang on “We are the World 25 for Haiti,” and supports Shalom Foundation, Grandfather Home for Children, Thistle Farms, Care: Defending Dignity, Fighting Poverty, Heifer International and voter registration drives.
Nettles was eager to wrap up the interview so she could update her website (jennifernettles.com) and do yet another pre-tour interview, but we couldn’t let her go before addressing one of those topics that drives her a bit crazy.
Yes, she’s divorced. He was a club owner. She was young. “I’m from the South, and if you’re not married early, it’s off to the convent,” she said.
If she’s in a serious relationship, it’s private. For a time, the gossip columnists said it was a musician in Kenny Chesney’s band. However, her lips are zipped.
“I try to keep my personal life personal. People are really interested in this? This is so bizarre. It gets a bit toxic.”
A few more questions about her music, and you could hear the smile in her voice again.
SUGARLAND,â€¨THE INCREDIBLEâ€¨MACHINE TOUR
Opening acts: Julianne Hough and Danny Gokey
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, doors open at 6:30 p.m.
Where: World Arena,3185 Venetucci Blvd.
Tickets: $40.50 and $50.50, worldarena .com, 576-2626