- 19 Nov 13
She hates “truck songs” in her country music, wrinkles her nose at Taylor Swift mentions and pens odes to smoking weed and gay best friends. Meet Kacey Musgraves from Golden, Texas, as she takes on Europe for the first time...
Her brown eyes slightly bleary, less than an hour off the plane, this is Kacey Musgraves walking the walk. Back home, there’s been plenty of excitable talk in the big business country community about the girl from Golden, Texas. A 25-year-old songwriter who sticks to faithful country tropes musically – twangs, slides and all – she updates the age-old melodies with tales of youth in modern times. This tendency to sing frankly about one-night stands and tackle religious bigotry has seen her simultaneously hailed as the ‘Future Of Country’ in certain US publications and attacked for singing “anti-country” songs in traditional quarters.
Throughout all the hype whipped up by her Billboard No. 2 album Same Trailer, Different Park (her fourth), she’s remained steadfast: her music is meant to cross divides and find wider audiences and, while she found her voice in Nashville, Music City has nothing on her.
So the next logical step is across the Atlantic, to challenge audiences not so steeped in the sound of her southern roots. After shows in Scandinavia, Berlin, Amsterdam, and television in the UK (“I love Jools, he’s such a character”), she’s ready to take on Dublin.
But the walk is taking its toll. Seated on a battered couch upstairs in Whelan’s pre-show, Musgraves is tired yet talkative. She admits the past few weeks are a bit of a blur as she struggles to remember what artists joined her on Later... With Jools Holland earlier that week.
“It’s moved pretty fast, yeah,” she concedes. “We cram a lot into the time we’re here. It’s a lot to take in. It’s pretty great though. The shows have been great. It’s interesting to be in a place I’ve literally never been in before and find it’s a sold-out show. How does that even happen?!”
It’s a long way from Golden, Texas, likely home to a little less than 200 residents now Kacey and her mother are out of town.
“We’re pretty far!” she smiles in agreement, taking in her surroundings as if for the first time. A small notch in the Bible Belt, Golden wasn’t the stiflingly conservative environment you might imagine.
“My mom’s a visual artist, a painter, so I feel like any time we were bored in the house, she’d just be like, ‘Well, go paint or something’. My parents ran a print shop, so they used creativity, and other members of our family are artists as well. So we were surrounded by people encouraging us to express ourselves. They’re not really musicians, but that’s what ties it all in.”
Kacey first sang in church at the age of eight and was soon performing on the Texas opry circuit. It quickly became her world, the only thing she could envision doing.
“No, there never has been any alternative,” she asserts in deceptively gentle Texan tones. “It carried me through high school and after high school there was just no other plan. I’m glad I had that because it gave me reason. When a lot of my friends were still searching and figuring things out, I already knew what I wanted to do. So that gave me a reason to leave and chase something.”
Her parents’ support extended into funding her first album as a teen, 2002’s Movin’ On. Over the next five years, two further independent releases followed. These days, she’s glad they’re hard to track down. Musgraves moved to the creative hub of Austin, but it wasn’t until she chased the music to Nashville that she feels she truly found her voice.
“It was a conglomeration of living on my own and figuring myself out,” she reflects. “Meeting new people and just changing the way I think. Writing as much as possible. That makes you better. That and being in an environment where there’s thousands of people who do what you want to do. So it pushes you to be better, there’s no room for laziness in a creative sense. The songwriting community in Nashville is unlike any other. It’s so close-knit. It’s amazing, you could throw a rock in a room and literally hit a songwriter! If you close your eyes and just point, you’d point one out.”
Generally working with another writer – “If I get stuck in a perspective and need a different dimension, I enjoy bringing someone else’s brain into it, because a lot of times things would never have been said if that other person wasn’t there” – she arrived at the plain-speaking-yet-poetic style that’s made her name. Though the process was gradual, she does point to debut single proper ‘Merry Go Round’ as a big moment.
“I had songs before that which I loved, but ‘Merry Go Round’ was the one where I was like, ‘This is it, this is my thing’.”
‘Merry Go Round’ opens with an unvarnished attack on conservative thinking: “If you ain’t got two kids by 21/ You’re probably gonna die alone/ Least that’s what tradition told you.”
A knock on outdated “values” in the heartland, the track went gold – meaning half-a-million people have parted with their hard-earned cash for it – and must have felt like a breath of fresh air in that Nashville room where you can throw a stone and hit a songwriter. There’s a train of thought that mainstream country has been stagnating for a long time. Zac Brown, a man who’s topped the country singles charts nine times, caused a stir when he told Vancouver’s CJJR that, “There’s not a lot of the country format I enjoy listening to. If I hear one more tailgate in the moonlight, Daisy Dukes song, I wanna throw up.”
Musgraves herself has bemoaned, “The angry female song: you left me and I’m pissed about it.” And while she’s praised Taylor Swift for converting the pop kids to the cause, that would seem like a dig at material that is Ms. Swift’s bread and butter. Today, she remains diplomatic.
“I kinda just stay over in my own little corner and do my thing,” she grins. “Nothing that anyone does in my genre affects me that much. Or at all really, creatively. I don’t know. If that’s what you’re inspired to sing about, then do it.”
For Musgraves, the words are the most important thing. Whatever you do, at least say something.
“You can have slick production and a pretty voice and a pretty face but if the lyrics don’t mean anything or hold any weight, then I’m not interested, y’know?”
As much as her writing has challenged the southern status quo, in reality she’s as true to the roots as it comes. Singing about the hardships and reality of the life she lives and trying to draw some poetry from it? It should be what country music is all about.
“Well, thanks. I just write about what inspires me and what’s real to my life and the lives of people around me. I think in any genre people are guilty of writing clichés because it will sell quickly. That happens everywhere. My favourite kind of music is the kind that’s simple and blunt, but it’s something that you actually have gone through. I like conversational lyrics, where it sounds like you’re just talking to someone.
“I’ve been lucky to have been embraced by country music, even with having new ideas and stuff. I’m all about the traditional roots of country, but I’m also for modern ideas. So if I can be at all a part of blending those two then that’s the ultimate.”
In terms of inspiration, strong women stand out.
“I’m always a big fan of Loretta Lynn. Now, she may be one of those legends that you may or may not know a lot about. But in her heyday, she really changed a lot of shit and she did it intelligently. I love Dolly Parton for that reason too. She was a songwriter but she was like... sexy. And funny. She had brains. Just intelligent women who’ve used their brains but also have sex appeal. You can have both.”
You mean you can actually be a rounded, multi-faceted human being?
“Ha! Yeah, exactly!”
One icon she’s encountered is Willie Nelson who she supported in her home state. Considering Musgraves openly sings about being “hooked on Mary Jane”, she must have shared a post-show spliff or two with the man?
“Haha, well...” she ventures, as her mother lurks in the adjacent room. “I got to meet and talk to him for a second. It was something I’ll never forget though. He’s a legend and someone I really look up to. Just the perfect example of somebody who keeps it really real. You could show a picture of him to someone in a village in Siberia and they’d know who he is, but he’s never changed at all. That’s crazy. If you can straddle that somehow... He’s like a worldwide icon but he’s never let it change the authenticity of what he’s done. That’s admirable to me.”
Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer Different Park album is out now