Jennifer Nettles never saw motherhood as a top priority in her life. She lived for music.
"I was not one of those girls that always dreamed "I'm going to have my wedding, and I'm going to have a family and I'm going to have a little picket fence," says the Sugarland co-founder, who's currently headlining a Next Women of Country tour.
But Nettles is now a proud and happy mother, having given birth to a son, Magnus, in December 2012. Motherhood has had a profound effect on her personally, and it's also been a game changer for Nettles' outlook on her career.
"I feel like I was reborn the day that Magnus was born, because it set me on this trajectory to become way braver, to allow myself to be way more vulnerable, and to put myself out there," Nettles says.
How her new life has translated to her music will become more apparent in early April when she will release her second solo album, Playing With Fire.
"I've lived a good bit more life, and in having become a mother, I have experienced what that is and how it has really transformed me in many ways," says the 41-year-old Georgia native.
In 2014, Nettles took a break from her lead vocalist duties with the popular country group to record That Girl, a solo album that showed a rootsy sound that frequently echoed early '70s California country-rock.
But Playing With Fire will have a very different feel, she promises. "The sound on this album is definitely a much bigger sound than That Girl was. While there are moments of beautiful sparseness and vulnerability, of that sort of organicness that's in it, there are also lots of delicious layers."
Nettles' new sense of adventure became obvious in a number of high-profile projects last year, as she continued to explore new avenues for artistic expression.
First came her starring role as Roxie Hart in the Broadway production of the hit musical Chicago.
"I grew up doing theater and have loved it," she explains, "and it's been something I've been wanting to get back to for a very long time. They were looking for someone new to come in and had reached out through my agent, and the timing was perfect for me to try it."
Later in the year, Nettles portrayed Dolly Parton's mother in the television movie, Coat of Many Colors. The film aired on NBC twice during December.
Nettles says just getting to work with Parton was a thrill and an honor. But she also loved her role.
"To get to play her mother, which is one of the most, I think, intimate relationships that one can have, it was just such a positive experience for me," she says.
Nettles plans to do more acting in the future, but the early part of 2016 will be devoted to music, beginning with her current headlining run on the CMT-sponsored tour. While she has already been performing a number of the new songs in concert, her sets still encompass her whole career.
"I joke and say it's the ghost of music's past, present and future because I play some old stuff, some stuff in the middle, and then obviously the new music, as well as a few surprises."
Joining Nettles on the Next Women of Country roadshow are Brandy Clark, Lindsay Ell and Tara Thompson. The tour, as its title makes clear, is intended to promote female country artists who, as a group have faced an uphill battle in a genre that tilts strongly in favor of males. That's especially the case now, as the so-called "bro-country" movement has taken hold.
"Any time I get the chance to champion women, I want to be able to do it on any front," Nettles says. "As for the industry on the whole, all of that stuff is cyclical. There are trends and they come and they go.
"The beautiful thing about being a musician," she adds, "is that physical brawn has no bearing on how good you are at it. So, to me, it's a level playing field between men and women. Put me in, and I'll go toe to toe."