She's the lead singer of today's most celebrated country duo, Sugarland. But Jennifer Nettles is always singing with non-country stars on award shows -- Bon Jovi, Adele and, most recently, Rihanna on last month's Academy of Country Music (ACM) Awards.
It seems the world can't get enough of Nettles' big, twangy voice and movie-star looks. With Sugarland returning to Target Center on Saturday, we reached the 36-year-old country star by phone from her Atlanta home to talk about Rihanna, the freedom her fans give her and that inevitable solo career.
Q How did it end up that you were singing with Rihanna on one of her songs, "California King Bed," on the ACMs?
A We were trying to do something fun for the aACMs and we reached out to her and she said, "I have this great song. I would love to do it with you. It has more of an acoustic base and I think song-wise you'd sound great on it." So I gave it a listen and I was like "Sure, we could kill that." That was a super-fun performance to do. How exciting to perform with Rihanna and to be able to show people -- and hopefully bring some of her fans -- that country music is young and fun and hip and "Hey, c'mon over, jump on in, the water's fine."
Q Fans noticed that for the ACMs your hair was suddenly long again. How long is your hair today?
A Today, my hair's been on a diet. That was my hair on steroids. It's so fun to be able to play with that. Those shows are all about glamour and about having fun in the performance of it. I don't like to wear makeup typically; that's for special occasions.
Q In concert, Sugarland does covers of all kinds of non-country songs -- from Madonna and Britney Spears to R.E.M. and Cee Lo Green. Why does your audience give you this freedom to expand your musical boundaries?
A Because it's authentic to who I am and to who we are. Really, what fans want is an authentic musical experience. I love singing all kinds of music and I have a bit of musical A-D-D. I don't like to get bored or stagnant as a writer or a singer. I like to play around with different textures and colors and parts of my instrument. I have a lot of different musical influences. As long as you're being yourself, the fans learn to respect it and trust it and by doing so, they allow it.
Q Will you possibly sing "California King Bed" Saturday at Target Center?
A That's not mine, that's Rihanna's. That won't make it in the set.
Q For last year's "Incredible Machine" album, Sugarland received mixed reviews for going for a different sound, ranging from reggae to arena rock.
A It was a reach. But it was authentic to who we are. One of the purposes of art is to provoke. I definitely don't make my decisions based on the fact that some people aren't going to like something. You have to have something that people don't like every now and then or else you're living too safely. We were conscious when writing this album of our live show and how we wanted to entertain.
Q Who do you want to duet with next?
A There are so many. My first thought would be Sting. I met him when I performed on the Kennedy Center Honors when I honored Bruce Springsteen. And he was there, as well, for Springsteen.
Q We have to ask every time: When will you do a solo project?
A If it happens, it happens. Kristian [Bush, her Sugarland partner] and I are definitely supportive of each other in our individual explorations and forays. Do I have any specific plans? No. It's a valid question, and I like it because I'm sure there will come a time when both of us will do it.
Q In a recent interview, Kristian said his 8-year-old daughter, Camille, knows all of Jennifer's parts and she's ready to take over when she grows up.
A Good. That's good to know. She is a beautiful little girl and quite talented, and I think she would be perfect. I would be honored if she did.