The Malec Minute: Sugarland Lawsuit Sheds Light on Hall’s Departure
Today’s news that former Sugarland member and co-founder Kristen Hall is suing her ex-mates, to the tune of $1.5 million, goes a long way towards providing a bit of context regarding the Atlanta singer/songwriter’s sudden departure from the group.
When Hall left Sugarland in early 2006, only a little more than a year after the trio broke onto the scene with their smash debut single “Baby Girl,” the situation seemed awkward–why would anyone leave what was quickly becoming one of the hottest musical acts in the country? Rumors began to swirl that Hall didn’t leave by choice, but was instead forced or pressured out of the group for image reasons–the common belief, back then, was that her weight was the issue. Of course, there was also the small problem that Hall was an “out” lesbian.
If the image of an overweight lesbian who has spent years toiling away on Atlanta’s Soul music scene doesn’t strike you as the kind of image that bodes well for the future of a mainstream, major-label country music act, you’re not alone. So even though Sugarland’s Jan 17, 2006, statement claimed that “Kristen has decided that she wants to stay home and write songs, and we support her in that decision,” doubts were immediately raised about the sincerity of that statement, and those doubts have continued to fuel questions and rumors–to this day, one of the most searched for phrases which leads readers to The 9513 is “Why did Kristen Hall leave Sugarland?”
The truth is that a Kristen Hall departure from Sugarland, of her own accord and free will, just didn’t make a lot of sense, and her own explanation only made the whole situation seem even more implausible. Exactly ten months after Sugarland’s official statement was released, Hall was quoted by the Kansas City Star as saying, “I don’t want to be a touring musician, I love to find unsigned acts and bring them to the level (that) we did. I love that. That, to me, is my passion and what’s fun about this business.”
That’s a head-scratch statement if I’ve ever seen one. How can you “love to find unsigned acts and bring them to that level,” when you’ve never previously brought an unsigned act to that level? Hall had never achieved any significant national success prior to Sugarland, and certainly was never involved with an act of Sugarland’s demonstrated commercial potential–a potential which was beginning to be realized even at that early stage.
Further, Hall has not, at least publicly, been taking part in the development of any unsigned acts since she left the trio. Why would Hall leave the group she helped bring into the public eye to go and do something she’d never done before and hasn’t done since?
We will probably never know with absolute certainly what the motivations of any of the involved parties are or were. But when we look at today’s events in the context of this larger situation, we can surmise that certain scenarios make sense, and certain scenarios just don’t.
Today the AP reports that, Hall has “an agreement with Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush to equally share profits and losses,” which, if true, can only mean one thing: someone at Mercury, someone in the band’s management, or someone in the band itself, wanted Hall gone.
Otherwise, why reward an individual for jumping ship? If Natalie Maines left the Dixie Chicks tomorrow, she would not be an equal partner in all of their future profits or losses. Surely there would still be past and future financial rewards for her involvement with the band, but equal partners? I can’t think of a legal precedent for that.
If there was such an agreement, as Hall claims, that agreement would not need to be based on her bandmates loyalty, respect, or on their gratefulness to her for her contributions in those early stages of the band’s development. Hall, having written or co-written every song on the multi-platinum Twice The Speed Of Life (the band’s debut album), was, from day one, reaping the financial rewards of royalties associated with that initial project–and, indeed, she is still reaping those rewards. Why would Nettles and Bush agree to give her a cut of profits that goes above and beyond what she was already due?
The only way any of this makes any sense is in the highly unlikely scenario that Hall, Bush, and Nettles formed an agreement, before Suagrland ever struck it big, that no matter what happened in the future they would share profits forever. They would have made this agreement knowing all the while that Hall only intended to stay until the band gained a foothold, and the agreement would signify a willingness to compensate her for her help getting them to that point. It would have been purely a business venture.
Of course, that raises the question of why Nettles and Bush would believe that Hall would be able to break them into the industry in the first place, especially considering that they each were considerably more well connected in industry circles at that point than Hall was–Nettles having been named Musician’s Atlas‘ 2000 “Independent Musican Of The Year,” and Bush having been a member of the major label act Billy Pillgram. (It’s worth noting that Bush also had a second major label connection–his brother, Brandon, plays keyboard with rock band Train.) Hall’s most notable pre-Sugarland accomplishment, aside from a series of independent albums, was sporadic involvement with folk-rock group the Indigo Girls.
But there’s another, more pressing question: if Nettles and Bush knew all along that Hall was intending to leave the group, and the three of them made the supposed deal ahead of time, why did the band’s later statement claim that Hall had “decided she wanted to stay home and write songs?”
It just doesn’t jibe. And today, it certainly seems like the most plausible, most reasonable, and most realistic scenario was that Hall simply needed to go, and she was given a financial incentive–which somebody on the inside didn’t want written down–to make the separation less painful for everyone involved.
That hypothesis has always been suspected, and it will probably never be provable one way or the other. But it’s the only hypothesis which follows any discernible logic, as it is the only hypothesis which finds the characters in this story behaving in a consistent and expected manner.
Unless we’re missing some key information, in which case this drama has the potential to explode even further.
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