A funny thing happened on the way to this article. We were going to start with an interview with Sugarland singer Jennifer Nettles: a discussion about her years in the music biz and an ice cream named after the band.
Then, at the last second, we got an unheard-of conference call from the folks who run William Morris Agency Nashville: Rick Shipp and Keith Miller. They had something to say about Sugarland. Actually, they had a lot to say about Sugarland.
"This is one of the most exciting things I've seen come along in a long time," Shipp said right out of the gate.
OK. But Shipp was serious. He doesn't normally do interviews, but he and Miller wanted to make sure Pollstar understood this Sugarland thing had rejuvenated them, and they couldn't stop talking over each other.
Shipp: It's been literally years since I have seen a totally unknown act come into this town, set up and do a showcase with hardened, jaded music industry veterans in attendance, and turn the room on its ear.
Miller: Rick and I have been doing this for 14 years now and this is one of the most exciting things we've seen come down the pike ...
Shipp: ... Tinti (Moffat), Keith and I were standing side-by-side in the front-row balcony at 12th & Porter when they did that showcase and I'm telling you, halfway through the first verse, we're looking at each other just going, 'Ho-lee shit.' ... I wish somebody from Pollstar could see this band because it would be a different article...
Miller: ... Yeah, it would. You've got to catch the magic of these guys here. You hear that all day in this business, but I'm tellin' ya, when you see it, you say, 'Oh yeah. Now I get it.'
That's not all. Nettles will be the one that future generations of country singers will emulate, Miller projected. The band will be headlining and selling hard tickets very soon
just watch, Shipp said. Promoters who have seen Sugarland are calling WMA wanting to know how to get in on the action.
"Are you sensing our enthusiasm?" Miller asked.
Moffat, Shipp and Miller are all working on this project
a band that has already seen the highest-charting debut single by a country group in 14 years, matching Diamond Rio's first track.
Sugarland comprises Nettles, Kristen Hall and Kristian Bush
the latter a mandolin player who saw some major-label success in the duo Billy Pilgrim and cites The Replacements and R.E.M. as influences.
Hall has collaborated with the Indigo Girls and is a well-known Atlanta-based songwriter. Nettles is the former lead singer of the Jennifer Nettles Band and Soul Miner's Daughter.
With Hall taking the lead, the three songwriters began collaborating, then named their band after Hall's hometown in Texas. Soon, they hooked up with manager Gail Gellman, who used to work with Joan Baez. WMA's Ben Bernstein played go-between, connecting the manager to the Nashville agency. That led to the showcase and a signing with Luke Lewis and Mercury Records.
The night prior to the showcase, Sugarland was sleeping at the city's Red Roof Inn, next to a steel mill. When they got off stage, they learned their belongings had been moved to the ritzy Loews Vanderbilt.
"That was done by William Morris along with our lovely manager Gail Gellman," Nettles told Pollstar. "I think it was out of celebration. I'm not sure, but it was a sweet gesture nonetheless. Very few of us slept the night before. I don't know if it was the nerves or the noise... It was a symbolic gift."
Nettles is married to the owner of an Atlanta club she and the other two members frequented often, Eddie's Attic, and has had a good 10 years in the biz, as do the other two member of Suglarland.
"From my past mistakes, I'd say keep a big eye on your money and let as few people handle it as possible," the singer said of her tribulations so far. "It's a lesson that's hard learned but fast learned, you know what I'm sayin'?"
Nettles was 13 hours into her phone interviews, getting ready for the band's national tour. Still, she said it was an easy day for her
relatively, of course.
"We just did a show at Wal-Mart. At first it seems kind of odd, but it's a huge deal.
That's just one example of the number of things we've been doing promotionally for this record."
But enough of this business stuff. What the hell is the story about an ice cream named after the band?
"Isn't that ridiculous? Isn't that crazy?" Nettles said. "It's just so fun and surreal. It's called Sugarland Swirl and there's a company
I like to call it a boutique ice cream company
out of Atlanta called Jake's Ice Cream. They approached us before we released the record and said, 'Look, we want to do a big celebration for this and we want to do a big push.'
"We were the flavor architects. White chocolate ice cream is the base, then blond brownies
I call them 'blondies'
white chocolate-covered pretzels and a fudge swirl. It's good, we've tried it. And you can order it online! If there's anything we can do in this band, it's eat. We love food."