Kacey Musgraves’ most recent studio album, ‘Golden Hour,’ took the singer-songwriter from fame to superstardom. A country record with a pop sensibility and a progressive message, ‘Golden Hour’ received both critical acclaim and popular adoration, and won Musgraves fans all over the world. We sat down with Musgraves to talk about her career so far, her songwriting process, and her niche as a liberal songwriter in the country music scene.
1. You were discovered in large part due to your appearance on a reality music competition called Nashville Star. What was the experience like?
It was definitely huge for me, especially because I mistakenly assumed that I was going to be killed if I didn’t win the competition. I actually wasn’t even a singer when I ended up on the show—I stumbled onto the set one day and assumed I’d been kidnapped by the crew and had to sing for my life. I definitely felt like an idiot when I realized it was just a reality show with no life-or-death stakes. But the good news was that the pressure to impress the judges and stay alive forced me to work really hard to become a great singer and performer, which has obviously served me well since.
2. Before you got famous as a performer yourself, you worked behind the scenes and wrote songs for other artists. What was that like?
It was a very freeing experience. I sometimes miss just being an unknown country songwriter, because with that anonymity, I never had to worry about whether a song I wrote would end up rubbing people the wrong way. Back then, whether I convinced Brad Paisley to go on stage and sing a song called “The Trailer Park Problem (Every Trailer Is Depressing No Matter What)” and watched someone throw their boot at his head in a rage, or I urged Kenny Chesney to sing one called “We’re From The South Where We All Have Sex With Our Crops” and saw an entire audience work together to flip his tour bus, I always knew that no one would be mad at me because no one would know that I was responsible. That freedom to try things out without the fear of repercussions was a special thing.
When I want to come up with a song, I’ll usually pop the lyrics from “Wonderwall” into Google Translate and run it through the French and Japanese and Swahili settings until it sounds new enough to set to music once I finally translate it back to English. That’s usually all it takes, but for more emotional songs I like to sprinkle in a few cycles through Norwegian. “Dime Store Cowgirl” actually needed almost 50 passes through Catalan until I was happy with it. Some people might call my process unoriginal, but if you translate “Wonderwall” to German and back you can see that’s how Weezer wrote “Island In The Sun”—so at least I’m in good company.
4. The country music scene is traditionally conservative, but your songs express some progressive sentiments. How have county music fans responded to your message?
There hasn’t been a huge reaction. I’m careful to really mumble whenever I say something progressive so conservatives can’t understand it. For example, my lyric “Abortion, abortion, abortions are fine / They should be free and legal and flow like wine” sounds more like “Mmm-ffff, mmm-fff, mmm-fff, m-ff.” Same for the lyric “Guns, guns, guns aren’t good / If you really need to kill someone stab them with some wood.”
5. When it comes to your more liberal lyrics, have you experienced any pushback from the record label you work with?
There has definitely been a bit of compromise involved. When I released “Follow Your Arrow,” Mercury Nashville told me I could only include the line about girls kissing girls if I added a different line in “Dandelion” about slashing government funding for the arts. It’s a give-and-take.