Kristian Bush pours the sugar

Sugarland, one of country music’s hottest duos, used to be one of country’s trio. That was before Kristen Hall left the band early last year.

Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush have continued as Sugarland, which earned a Grammy nomination for best new artist after the release of 2004’s “Twice the Speed of Life.” The band released “Enjoy the Ride” last year and if you ask Bush, the ride toward music stardom keeps getting better.

Once you get a spot on a Kenny Chesney tour, good things are over the hill. We talked to Bush about performing in arenas, Nashville and pop music.

Have you performed in Columbia before?

(I’ve played at) the Handlebar (in Greenville), Elbow Room and Rockafellas. I’ve left skin on that town.

Is the band based in Atlanta or Nashville?

Atlanta. We’d never do that to you. We still live two or three blocks from each other. The bus picks us up in one place. We didn’t change anything. In Atlanta, unless you’re Ludacris, you can’t get arrested for anything. In Nashville, they recognize you.

So you still grocery shop?

I take my kids to kids to school. I go to the movies. I go shopping. I do it all. Again, most people don’t really get it without looking at a credit card. I don’t look like myself without a hat.

But when people do recognize you, do you mind excited reactions?

It’s a pretty amazing job, and the responsibility that comes with the job is that you’re representing what you talk about to these folks. We mean everything we say, so when you meet us you probably feel like you know us.

Nashville didn’t want to mess with your sound?

We knew what we wanted to do before we showed up in Nashville. We had a bunch of wonderful people surrounding us. And we’re older. We’re in our 30s. It’s not the first rodeo. I had a major label deal at 22.

You’ve sold millions of records, so how do you define success?

If you start encouraging us and tell us we’re good, we’ll work harder. We’re going to want to perform even better, because we’ve been encouraged. Success is a challenge on what to do next.

Going from clubs to sold out arenas, has that changed your performance philosophy?

It is bigger. The way that you connect with a listener or fan, you have to be more aware of it. The energy you put out has to fill it. If you don’t get better at it, you need to go home.

Do you think country has gone pop?

What has happened is country music as a genre is experiencing a reaction to their listeners. The listenership of country music is who defines what country music is. It’s not the tastemakers who decide. You can only imagine what a healthy time it is to be in that genre. Because the genre is wide enough that it’s accepting so much all the way from bluegrass to Cowboy Troy. The playlist that’s conservative is commercial hit radio. There’s 18 songs in that playlist.

Sugarland’s song “Settlin'“ was used as the theme for the 2007 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament. Licensing has become really important to bands hasn’t it?

I think that opportunities that are afforded to artists these days to get their music out are unparalleled in history because there is so much more access to music. The chances of an undiscovered band showing up in a feature length film are so much are higher today.

Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362