Kristian Bush has just released a new solo album, Southern Gravity, that he describes as “musical joy.” But he survived a lot of dark times before the dawn.

Bush is breaking his silence for the first time since the tragic stage collapse at a Sugarland gig at the Indiana State Fair in 2011, which killed seven people and injured nearly 100 more. In the wake of the horrifying accident, he and bandmate Jennifer Nettles were told not to address it publicly due to pending lawsuits.

“I wasn’t able to contact anyone who got hurt,” he tells Rolling Stone Country. “There was nobody to call, nobody to talk to. Legally, no one knew what to do. They said, ‘Look, you’ve got to be quiet.’ So that’s what I did. This literally might be the first time I’ve talked to a person I’m not related to about it.”

He says the imposed silence was crushing especially not being able to call the fans who were affected.

“Those are fans,” he says with a sigh. “Not only fans, they were out in front! We had gone to great lengths to create [a space for] fans who are the best fans to be in the front. It was supposed to be everything you want from your favorite band, and it was. And you can’t call those people? That was weird.”

If that wasn’t bad enough, Bush and his wife of 12 years, Jill, ended their marriage just three months later, and decided to seal the divorce and keep it under wraps for the sake of their children.

Bush is finally free to talk about the stage collapse in public thanks to a settlement reached last December, in which Sugarland, concert promoter Live Nation and 16 additional defendants have agreed to pay out $39 million to settle various claims. He says he’s speaking out about that and his divorce now because understanding the circumstances that led to his new album is key to understanding the album itself.

“You can look at the album through the years that led up to it, and you’ll see these songs in a different way,” he shares. “The brightness and the light and the joy of this album all of a sudden have a whole lot more weight when you put it into context of, it was not joyous, it was not light, it was heavy. So finding these songs and writing them, recording them, it was like post-it notes that you’ve been leaving on your mirror to just get through the heavy and the silence and the crap of starting again.”

That said, Bush is optimistic that Sugarland is not finished. Nettles released her own album, That Girl, last year, and she’s currently starring on Broadway in "Chicago: The Musical," but he feels good about the chances they’ll work together again.

“I have very high hopes,” the singer-songwriter says. “Sugarland was a band we started to try to make things better. It was in the aftermath of 9/11, it was in the aftermath of my mother dying … there was a lot of weird stuff that had gone on that made you want to start something good. We’re not done doing that. Creatively, I’d be curious to see now what we’re going to make when we hang out together again, because we have so much more life experience.”

Watch Kristian Bush Sing Southern Gravity in Its Entirety