Kacey Musgraves On Why Music Is The Only Thing Keeping Us Sane
"We all have common ground in the fact that music is healing, art is healing, movies are healing."
It’s hard to listen to the opening strums of Kacey Musgrave’s country-disco album Golden Hour without lifting off to an entirely different place.
The opening track, ‘Slow Burn’, a patient, sweeping song about taking your time in both love and life, sounds like a leisurely walk. Or a long drive. Or a sprawling Autumn afternoon drinking coffee in your backyard. Valium, but make it audible.
‘Slow Burn’ fittingly sets the tone for the rest of the album — a collection of “cosmic country” songs about missing your loved one when they’re away for the weekend, an egomaniacal boss, getting nervous when you see your crush, moments of doubt and depression.
But it was certainly an intentional one for Musgraves, who went through a whole host of personal changes while writing it. She got married to fellow singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly, experimented with drugs and entered a new decade of her life, prompting her to look “inward”.
The resulting observations — much less soapbox and cynical than previous albums — are at both times raw and cosy. Musically, it’s one foot in country and another in a completely different dimension, and it struck a huge chord with audiences in both camps.
A sprawling Autumn afternoon drinking coffee in your backyard. Valium, but make it audible.
Musgraves has won three Grammys, including best album, for Golden Hour as well as best album at the Country Music Awards. Golden Hour was named as a favourite in countless 2018 end-of-year lists. But more than that, Musgraves has had the stamp of approval from the internet — setting off a host of ‘yee haw’ memes and modern country music fandom. She gets it. A plethora of brand new fans have hitched their wagon to her sparkly fringe.
In our chat, Musgraves says this album connected with more people than she envisioned it would. But in the era of face masks and Queer Eye, it shouldn’t be such a surprise. Golden Hour, and Kacey Musgraves for that matter, live in a place of wonder and escape — it’s self-care listening at its finest.
While the genre from which she hails may have a reputation for being a little outdated, the woke country queen — who is steadfast about LGBTIQ rights, smoking dope, dropping acid and female empowerment — is firmly a product of our times.
It’s been one year since the release of Golden Hour. It’s been such a critical and commercial hit, what was the moment you realised that this one was gonna be different?
Well, this album is a lot different than all the other albums I’ve put out in a lot of ways. I definitely think that it’s my most personal, for sure. I feel like I shared a lot more of my feelings internally than I have on other albums, where I spent more time observing the world around me, which I definitely do here, but I kind of like looked a little bit more inward on this album.
I was going through a lot of personal change, a lot of big life changes — leaving my 20s, entering my 30s, getting married, meeting the right person. It was just kind of a positive world opening up for me. I don’t know, just kind of finally having the courage I guess, to change up my writing style and bare a little bit more of my personal inward feelings.
I think it connected with a lot of people a lot more than I envisioned it would. So it was really surprising and I think I had my sights set on a world outside of country music, but also not leaving country music behind, just kind of taking it with me to a new place, I guess.
My favourite thing about Golden Hour is that it’s about little triumphs and irritations of everyday life. Was that something that you intentionally wanted to achieve?
Yeah. I mean, I’m inspired by just living life. Arguments, trials, tribulations, traveling, getting older, seeing my family get older, getting married — just all the little nuances of life that we can all relate to.
You know, the transition of coming from where I came from in a small Texas town to moving away from there and kind of coming into my own, forming my own opinions and meeting a bunch of different kinds of people and then opening my mind.
I feel like if I can write songs that, first and foremost, make me happy and make me feel good and are therapeutic for me to get out, I feel like they ultimately end up connecting to other people because no matter where you are or who you are or where you came from, we’re all made of the same emotions and we require the same things to live.
So I think just keeping my music about those little nuances of life that we can all relate to, that’s important to me.
You’re a breath of fresh air in country and people often call you a “rebel “in country music, which is typically such a conservative genre. Do you feel a responsibility to be more woke and inclusive in the music that you write and the things that you say?
I mean, I don’t really feel any responsibility other than just being true to what I believe and in my own opinions. I don’t see why a genre built on songs about real life and real people wouldn’t naturally just progress with the way that history is moving. To me, that’s not a very rebellious thing. It’s just kind of moving with the times.
Doing my job as a songwriter, taking things that have really inspired my real life and putting them into songs, regardless of what it comes out sounding like, country or not.
You mentioned also in your Grammys speech that life is really tumultuous for a lot of us right now. What did you mean by that? Did you intentionally write your music in order to be like an antidote for that kind of feeling?
I just think that when you have a tumultuous feeling or chaos comes into the political or social landscape, as we’ve all seen in the last couple years in many different ways, I think that a good side to that is seeing art and creativity flourish. Because art and music are really one of the only things that kind of keep us sane and keep us together in times of chaos. I mean, look at the ’60s and everything that came out of that and all the movements that happened there politically.
I do think that while we can all find way too many reasons to feel divided these days and find so many reasons to focus on differences between political parties or whatever it is that’s flying around out there, it’s inspiring people in whatever way to make better art and to write about that. It gives people something to cling on to in times of chaos.
Art and music are really one of the only things that kind of keep us sane and keep us together in times of chaos.
It serves as an invisible glue that I feel like you don’t even really stop and think about sometimes. I think it would be really sad if we didn’t have that. So I think that we can all agree on the fact that it’s a therapeutic outlet, no matter what side of the coin you’re on.
Everyone has a soapbox these days, there’s a million different viewpoints. And I think that’s great in and of itself. But at the end of the day, we all have common ground in the fact that music is healing, art is healing, movies are healing. And there’s great shows, art, music, movies and books out there right now. I think art is driving us a lot of ways, and it has to do with the fact that we kind of all need a little bit more escape.
Speaking of going back to your roots and where you came from, have you been back to Golden [hometown] since this whirlwind of Golden Hour has happened?
I got to go back several weeks ago, just for a few days, and it was really amazing. I got to just hang at my house and see my dog, catch up with my parents. And actually ended up going through some old photos and memories and things.
So it was like a time of reflection for me. I try to go back when I can. Unfortunately, it’s not as much as I would love, but it’s always a nice grounded feeling when I get to go back and, I don’t know, reconnect with my family and stay in the house that I grew up in and all that.
Are your family so proud of you?
Yeah. They are. They’re funny. We’re still very tight-knit and they come to a lot of functions and come out on the road with me from time to time.
My grandparents are so sweet — they’re the ones who carted me around in their minivan for years and years and years, all across the country. They’d load me up and take me to my little singing events when I was little or help me get to guitar lessons.
And my little sister’s always been my photographer. She still is. We still collaborate a lot. She designs all my album covers. And I actually just got to design a colouring book with my mom. She hand-illustrated a really wonderful colouring book that is basically inspired by Golden Hour. So, we work a lot together. My dad printed it at his print shop and it’s really fun to get to still have them involved.
Kacey Musgraves will bring her Oh, What A World Tour to Australia’s east coast this May. For all tickets and details, head here.
Josephine is the former editor of Uni Junkee and proud member of the yee haw club. She’s had words published in Junkee, The Cusp, AWOL, and The Guardian, among others. Follow her on Twitter.