Kacey Musgraves On Trusting Emotion At The 'Golden Hour' Of Her Life

Apr 1, 2018

Kacey Musgraves has long been known for her classic country confessional style combined with a pop sensibility. Her first two major label albums, 2013's Same Trailer, Different Park and 2015's Pageant Material, tackled small-town nostalgia and the coming-of-age reckonings of a young woman unafraid to talk back to the world around her.

Her latest album Golden Hour builds on this lineage with greater sonic and thematic maturity. The music is her response to embracing happiness after a new marriage and trusting emotion as an intrinsic part of her process.

"So there we were, in the middle of making this record, and a total solar eclipse darkened in Nashville on my birthday, my 29th year," the singer-songwriter writes in the liner notes of the record. "It was the golden hour of my young adult life, and there are certain junctures that you can't just think your way through; you have to feel."

Musgraves spoke with NPR's Sarah McCammon about how she hopes Golden Hour will provide light in dark times, both for herself and for her listeners. Hear their conversation at the audio link, and read an edited transcript below.

Sarah McCammon: Why did you feel like you needed to write these liner notes?

Kacey Musgraves: That is kind of a testament or a statement as to where my head is at right now. While people have come to maybe expect some kind of a social commentary from me, I didn't really want to go there with this record, because I just feel like people need a break from it. I feel like people are craving beauty. They're craving something real and a little bit of an escape from turning on the news.

You talk about being at a juncture that you have to feel your way through. What do you mean?

With this record I tried to change it up a little bit. This record to me is all about feeling. It's not about thinking as much. My prior records have been more about thinking — thinking about each line, thinking about the way that I'm flipping a phrase. And thinking is great, but if you have all thought no feeling ... I think that's a mistake.

There are quite a few love songs on this album, like "Butterflies."

"Butterflies" represents those feelings that you have when you're first meeting somebody and you fall in love. This was the first song actually that I wrote after meeting my now-husband, so it was about three weeks after I met him. I was all in. I was like, 'This is my person.'

Your first two albums had a lot of themes about striking out on your own, nostalgia for home, outgrowing small town life, and this third album, Golden Hour, is a departure from that. It feels more introspective, and maybe a little bit more complicated. Is that something that you set out to accomplish?

Well, I definitely didn't want to do the same thing again on this record. You know, you hear a lot of songwriters say, 'Well, crap, I'm happy now; I don't know if I'm going to be able to write songs.' I actually found it to be quite the opposite. They just started pouring out and I really tried to use a different songwriting muscle this time around on this record. I've always been concerned with turn of phrase and wit and sarcasm — which I love so much, but I've proven that I can turn a phrase and I don't want to wear anybody out with that. I stepped back a little, and kind of tried to give the lyrics more of an aerial view, instead of trying to wrap every single lyric up in a bow.

You've always kind of blurred the line between country and pop with your music, but this album seems like it leans into that middle ground a little bit more than your other two albums. "Velvet Elvis" sounds a lot like a pop song to me. Is that something you're thinking about when you write these songs pushing the envelope of what is country music?

I never really think about anything whenever I'm writing other than 'do I like this?' or 'am I okay with singing this?' You know, I love country music so much. I don't think you'll find another person on this earth that genuinely appreciates traditional country music more than I do. But I also don't want that to keep me in any kind of a box because there's all these different sounds that inspire me. And I don't think it would be fair to myself or my fans if I just tried to make country albums every single time just to be able to say 'I'm still country,' you know, 'cause it was really fun for me to play with other sounds.

There's also a lot of electronic sounds in this album; "Oh, What a World" for instance.

I love the fact that it blends a country sound with kind of a futuristic sound, with the vocoder and some synthy vibes. That was really kind of a song that set the tone for the rest of the record because it was the first one that we wrote and it was like, 'Wow, OK, I want to follow this.' What is a world where steel guitar and banjo, all these intrinsic country elements, can live with some of the more Daft Punk influences in my head?

Web intern Stefanie Fernández contributed to this story.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves made a big splash with her 2014 album "Same Trailer, Different Park." That album racked up awards, including a Grammy for Best Country Album and a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, something pretty rare for a country artist these days. Now, Kacey Musgraves is back with her third studio album. It's called "Golden Hour."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GOLDEN HOUR")

KACEY MUSGRAVES: (Singing) All that I know is you caught me at the right time. Keep me in your glow 'cause I'm having such a good time with you.

MCCAMMON: We caught up with Kacey Musgraves on a tour stop in Grand Rapids, Mich. She wanted to share a letter to her fans included in the album notes of "Golden Hour." It explains why Musgraves tried something new on this album rather than the country confessional songwriting for which she's famous.

MUSGRAVES: Oh, here it is. So there we were in the middle of making this record in a total solar eclipse, dark in Nashville on my birthday, my 29th year. It was a golden hour in my young adult life. And there are certain junctures that you can't just think your way through. You have to feel. And I found myself at one making this album. It was like the universe was majestically saying, hey, this is a time to be present, to witness the beauty of this incredible world that you are lucky to be alive in, despite it being more complicated than ever and filled with so much darkness.

We all need a little bit of light right now, and we all need for compassion and art to flourish. Things we rely on turn out to be fake and hurtful. People we look up to turn out to be just as jaded and messed up as everyone else. And yet, somehow new love still finds its way up through the cracks in the sidewalk. The sun still rises, and the birds still thing. Inspiration finds its way to you again.

MCCAMMON: Why did you feel like you needed to write that?

MUSGRAVES: That is kind of a testament or a statement as to where my head is at right now. While people have come to maybe expect some kind of a social commentary from me, I didn't really want to go there with this record because I just feel like people need a break from it. I feel like people are craving beauty. They're craving something real and a little bit of an escape from turning on the news.

MCCAMMON: You talk about being at a juncture that you have to feel your way through. What do you mean?

MUSGRAVES: Well, with this record, I tried to change it up a little bit. This record to me is all about feeling. It's not about thinking as much. And my prior records have been more about thinking - thinking about each line, thinking about the the way that I'm flipping a phrase. And thinking is great, but if you have all thought and no feeling, you know, I think that's a mistake.

MCCAMMON: Well, there are quite a few love songs on this album. I want to hear a little bit of one of them, "Butterflies."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUTTERFLIES")

MUSGRAVES: (Singing) I was just coasting, never really going anywhere. Caught up in a web, I was getting kind of used to staying there. And out of the blue, I fell for you.

"Butterflies" kind of represents those feelings that you have when you're first meeting somebody and you fall in love. And I wrote this song - this was the first song actually that I wrote after meeting my now-husband. So it was about three weeks after I met him, and I was all in. I was like, this is my person.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BUTTERFLIES")

MUSGRAVES: (Singing) I didn't know him, and I didn't know me. Cloud nine was always out of reach. Now I remember what it feels like to fly. You give me butterflies.

MCCAMMON: Now your first two albums had a lot of themes about striking out on your own nostalgia for home, outgrowing small town life. And this third album, "Golden Hour," it's a departure from that. It feels more introspective and maybe a little bit more complicated. Is that something that you set out to accomplish?

MUSGRAVES: Well, I definitely didn't want to do the same thing again on this record. You know, you hear a lot of songwriters say, well, crap, I'm happy now. Like, I don't know if I'm going to be able to write songs. But I actually found it to be quite the opposite. They just started pouring out. And I really tried to use a different songwriting muscle this time around on this record. I've always been concerned with turn of phrase and wit and, you know, sarcasm and - which I love so much - but I've proven that I can turn a phrase, and I don't want to wear anybody out with you know? So I kind of - I stepped back a little and kind of tried to give the lyrics more of an aerial view instead of trying to wrap every single lyric up in a bow.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VELVET ELVIS")

MUSGRAVES: (Singing) All I ever wanted was something classic. The kind of love song that goes on till the end of time. All I ever wanted was a little magic.

MCCAMMON: You've always kind of blurred the line between country and pop with your music, but this album seems like it leans into that middle ground a little bit more than your other two albums. Is that something you're thinking about when you write these songs, pushing the envelope of what's country music?

MUSGRAVES: I never really think about anything whenever I'm writing other than do I like this or am I OK with singing this? You know, I love country music so much. I don't think you'll find another person on this earth that genuinely appreciates traditional country music more than I do. But I also don't want that to keep me in any kind of a box, you know, because there's all these different sounds that inspire me. And you know, I don't think it would be fair to myself or my fans if I, you know, just tried to make country albums every single time just to be able to say I'm still country, you know, because it was really fun for me to play, you know, with other sounds.

MCCAMMON: There's also a lot of electronic sound in this album.

MUSGRAVES: Yeah.

MCCAMMON: "Oh, What A World," for instance.

MUSGRAVES: I love the fact that it blends a country sound with kind of a futuristic sound with the vocoder and some synthy vibes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH, WHAT A WORLD")

MUSGRAVES: (Singing) Oh, what a world. I don't wanna leave. There's all kinds of magic. It's hard to believe.

(Singing) Northern lights in our skies. Plants that grow and open your mind.

That was really kind of - a song that set the tone for the rest the record because it was the first one that we wrote, and it was like, wow, OK, I want to follow this. What is a world where steel guitar and, you know, banjo, all these intrinsic country elements can live with some of the more Daft Punk, you know, influences in my head?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH, WHAT A WORLD")

MUSGRAVES: (Singing) Oh, what a world. I don't wanna leave.

MCCAMMON: Kacey Musgraves, thanks for joining us.

MUSGRAVES: Thank you so much. I loved it.

MCCAMMON: Kacey Musgraves's new album "Golden Hour" is out now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH, WHAT A WORLD")

MUSGRAVES: (Singing) Thank God it's not too good to be true. Oh, what a world. And then there is you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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