We chat about songwriting with the badass country artist who keeps it real with her gutsy lyrics.
Kacey Musgraves is a force to be reckoned with. Far from being just your average Middle American, butter-wouldn’t-melt country artist, the songstress instead swooped into the industry, took one look at that stereotype, and decided to flip it right off. Her purpose for her music was to tell it like it is, and nothing could get in her way.
At first listen, Kacey Musgraves’ music sounds everything your average country song would sound like–catchy, with a banjo or a harmonica placed here and there. But lyrically, mainstream country had never seen anyone quite like Kacey before. Her first single, “Merry Go Round”, a banger about living in a dead-end, small-town in America, was discouraged from being released because the lyrics, “Jack and Jill went up the hill/ Jack burned out on booze and pills/ And Mary had a little lamb/ Mary just don’t give a damn no more,” were, “not something that a new artist should say” and deemed too dark for country. Kacey went ahead and released it anyway, along with more songs that discussed topics country music had never touched upon before–like gay rights, smoking joints, and casual hookups. Two Grammy awards, two CMA awards and a ACM Album of the Year award later, it became glaringly obvious that Kacey didn’t need any advice when it came to songwriting.
We caught up with Kacey to find out about her thoughts on the power of saying hell no, what’s she’s learned over the years and a posthumous collab with none other than Johnny Cash.
Let’s start at the beginning. What was your childhood like?
My childhood was spent in rural east Texas in a town called Golden. I was surrounded by loving, creative people. My parents and both grandparents were always together and strong. My sister and I always had the opportunities to chase whatever inspired us.
I read that you wrote your first song when you were just 9 years old. What do you think you’ve learned about yourself as a musician, having put yourself out there for a few years now through such personal lyrics?
It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks about what you do — if you don’t like something it’s not worth your time and energy—and there’s also a lot of power in saying no.
Speaking about the power of saying no, you’ve always refused to play it safe when it came to your lyrics, and by doing so, you’ve pushed the boundaries of country music to fit your own sound. What do you want people to take away from your music?
My thoughts and maybe some of their own.
What do you think it takes to write a successful song?
Firstly, a unique idea but no thoughts on it being successful or not.
You definitely have a knack for nailing it, though. From “Merry Go ‘Round”, which won a Grammy for Best Country Song, to 2013’s Song of the Year, “Follow Your Arrow.” Are you exceptionally proud of anything in particular?
I’m definitely proud of Merry Go ‘Round and “Follow Your Arrow” but I’m proud of all my songs for different reasons. One I always enjoy playing is “It Is What It Is”.
Who are you currently listening to?
Violents’ album “Awake and Pretty Much Sober”, and The Bee Gees.
You and fiancé Ruston Kelly wrote a song based around Johnny Cash’s poem, “To June, This Morning” for the Johnny Cash tribute album, Forever Words. How did this come about?
It’s actually a really cool story; Ruston saw an old Johnny Cash poem in a book somewhere when he was 17 and put music to it. He searched for contact info in the book to try to get in touch with Johnny’s son, John Carter, and emailed some random address to no avail. 11 years later, it turns out that he and John Carter have become friends and Ruston and I were asked to be a part of this lovely album where many different artists took the challenge of taking a Johnny Cash poem and turning it into a song. Ruston found this poem again and we sat and put music to it together. It’s sweet because Johnny wrote this early one morning in 1970 for June who was 8 months pregnant. It was the first official music project we got to be a part of together.
You’re currently touring with Willie Nelson, and will be joining Harry Styles in June. Are there particular shows that stand out in your mind — for the good or the bad?
Any Show with Willie is always a blast. Another show that will always stand out is playing Red Rocks with John Prine this year. I had never been and it was as magical as I thought it would be. But one that may not ever be beat is playing a sold-out Royal Albert Hall show on my own. Huge milestone for me.
What’s next for Kacey Musgraves?
My wedding and working on my new album/enjoying the remainder 2017 before the craziness starts back up next year!
Catch Kacey’s LA gig on August 18 with Willie Nelson or visit her website for more.