Kacey Musgraves, Country Music's New 'Golden' Girl
"I'm all about small towns," Kacey Musgraves says. "I think it's a great place to grow up. But I think it might be a little more comforting to some people to hear it from a real perspective, instead of one that tries to sweep things under the rug."
The 24-year-old singer, a breakout success in country music this year, has been on the road promoting her major-label debut, Same Trailer Different Park, out next week. She says that on a recent press stop, she had to gently explain that the album's first single, "Merry Go 'Round," isn't a knock on small-town life.
"I mean, I had one guy say, 'This is the anti-country song,' " she says. "And I had to say, 'Sorry, no, it's just an anti-small-mind song. Anti-settling.' "
Musgraves was born in the tiny Texas town of Golden, where she grew up surrounded by words; her parents have owned a small printing shop there since before she was born. Appropriately, lyrics are crucial to songs like "Follow Your Arrow," with a chorus that boasts one left turn after another:
"So make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys
Or kiss lots of girls, if that's something you're into
When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight
Roll up a joint — or don't."
"It's one of my favorites off the album because, sonically, I feel like it really channels people that I love — like Glen Campbell, or even Loretta [Lynn] — but the idea is a little more modern, I guess you'd say," Musgraves says. "If you don't have something to say, or somewhat of a point of view, then what do you have?"
The release of Same Trailer Different Park isn't the first big event of Musgraves' year: She's been nominated for female vocalist of the year by the Academy of Country Music. She discussed that and more with NPR's Jacki Lyden; to hear more of their conversation, click the audio link on this page.
JACKI LYDEN, HOST:
If you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. You may already have heard of the young singer-songwriter, Kacey Musgraves. She's getting a lot of buzz. The artistry in her haunting lyrics can be heard on the NBC television series "Nashville." Now, she has a debut album, "Same Trailer Different Park." It comes out next week.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STEP OFF")
KACEY MUSGRAVES: (Singing) You sure look real pretty in your glass house. You probably think you're too good to take the trash out.
LYDEN: Kacey Musgraves is joining us from Nashville, Tennessee. Kacey, I'm so happy to have you on the show.
MUSGRAVES: Thank you for having me.
LYDEN: Talk about being a singer when you're just beginning to find your way in this tiny town, Golden, Texas.
MUSGRAVES: Well, yeah, so I grew up in Golden, and it's super small. There's nothing really there. There's, like, one little store. So I went to high school just outside of that in a town called Mineola. And it was a little bigger. It was about five or 6,000 people. I was the girl who sang growing up, you know, just pretty much anywhere in public that I could.
LYDEN: Here, we get a sense of place in this single "Merry Go 'Round."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERRY GO 'ROUND")
MUSGRAVES: (Singing) If you ain't got two kids by 21, you're probably gonna die alone. Least that's what tradition told you. And it don't matter if you don't believe, come Sunday morning you best be there in the front row like you're supposed to. Same hurt in every heart.
LYDEN: You know, what really speaks to me in those lines - if you ain't got two kids by 21 - would have applied to a lot of people I went to high school with. And in "Merry Go 'Round," you know, you take a little heat for some of these kinds of lines because it doesn't paint the iconic picture of small-town life. And, in fact, there's a certain point of view that says it was an anti-country music song. Did you see it that way?
MUSGRAVES: I mean, I had one guy think on the radio tour say, this is the anti-country song. And I had to say, I'm sorry, no, it's just the anti-small mind song, anti-settling. But, yeah, I'm all about small towns, I really am. I think it's a great place to grow up. But I think it might be a little more comforting to some people to hear it from a real perspective instead of one that tries to sweep things under the rug.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERRY GO 'ROUND")
MUSGRAVES: (Singing) Mary, Mary quite contrary, we're so bored until we're buried. Just like dust, we settle in this town on this broken merry go 'round.
LYDEN: So I am really wondering who you're channeling for this writing. I know you got some great teaching in your earlier years, but you seem like such a natural writer.
MUSGRAVES: Thank you. Well, I hope that's because I love it so much. Yeah, I did have some early influences that pushed me to write and stick with it. And then once I kind of wrapped my brain around the whole process in creating a song and what all goes into that, I just, like, I fell in love with it. It's like putting a puzzle together.
LYDEN: You know, your wordplay is so sophisticated. Let's listen to a little bit of "Silver Lining," and then I want to ask you about songwriting.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SILVER LINING")
MUSGRAVES: (Singing) And if you wanna find a head that fits your shoulder, you're gonna have to go to the dance. You're gonna have to go to the dance. If you wanna find the honey, you can't be scared of the bees. And if you wanna see the forest, you're gonna have to look past trees.
LYDEN: Your parents are still - are they anywhere living near Golden still?
MUSGRAVES: They are. They're actually - yes.
LYDEN: They're there.
LYDEN: Now, they run a printing shop. I just was wondering if that gave you a sense of being surrounded by words at all?
MUSGRAVES: Yeah, for sure. They were always conjuring up some sort of wordplay or visual something. I mean, they're just - they're super creative.
LYDEN: So you moved from Golden to Austin when you were only 18 years old, and not very long after that, you moved to Nashville...
LYDEN: ...to record your first record deal - Music Row, very different parts of the South. What was your - what was running through your mind as that was going on? I mean, here you are, and you're in - it's often called Nashvegas.
MUSGRAVES: It felt good. It was a little, you know, daunting, of course, moving away, but I really wanted to immerse myself in the songwriting community. And I knew that there was one here that was pretty unparalleled. So with some encouragement from a couple of people that I knew here - Rodney Foster was one of them. He is somebody I sing backup for for a while. And he basically just told me you got to be present to win, and that really made a lot of sense to me.
LYDEN: Yeah. So you've written a couple of songs for the ABC show "Nashville," including this song "Undermine," which is featured prominently in one episode. Let's listen a little bit to "Undermine."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNDERMINE")
CHARLES ESTEN AND HAYDEN PANETTIERE: (as Deacon Claybourne and Juliette Barnes) (Singing) And if I only had one shot, won't waste on a shadow box. I'll stand right here.
HAYDEN PANETTIERE: (as Juliette Barnes) OK, follow me.
CHARLES ESTEN: (as Deacon Claybourne) Uh-huh.
PANETTIERE: (as Juliette Barnes) (Singing) And it's all talk, talk, talk, talking in the wind. It only slows you down if you start listening. And it's a whole lot harder to shine than undermine...
LYDEN: So you've written songs for TV, for other country music stars, and you said a moment ago that you really enjoyed being a lyricist. But you seem to be making quite a name for yourself as a performer. How, you know, you're on - you've been on tour. In your head, what do you think of yourself as being?
MUSGRAVES: Well, I mean, there's definitely both there. But I don't think you can really have one without the other. If I had to ultimately choose, I'd probably choose songwriting.
LYDEN: Let's talk about another track on this record. This one's called "Follow Your Arrow."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOLLOW YOUR ARROW")
MUSGRAVES: (Singing) Just cause you can't beat 'em, don't mean you should join 'em. So make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys or kiss lots of girls, if that's something you're into. When the straightened arrow gets a little too straight, roll up a joint or don't and follow your arrow wherever it points.
LYDEN: Tell me about these lyrics, Kacey. What's the story behind them? You've got: Kiss lots of boys, kiss lots of girls if that's what you're into, roll up a joint. And I'm just sitting here thinking, wow, this is a long way from, you know, Okie from Muscogee. Maybe country music's a bigger tent than I thought. What's going on here?
MUSGRAVES: Well, really, "Follow Your Arrow" is just a song about living the way you want to live, loving who you want to love and having fun doing so. And, you know, it's one of my favorites off the album because sonically, I feel like it really channels people that I love, like Glenn Campbell or even Loretta, but the idea is it's a little more modern, I guess you'd say.
LYDEN: I would have to say I would have to agree.
MUSGRAVES: Thank you. Well, that's important to me. I mean, if you don't have something to say or somewhat of a point of view, I mean, then what do you have? I mean, that's kind of the whole point, you know?
LYDEN: Right. Well, we also want to say congratulations to you on your nomination for Female Vocalist of the Year from the Academy of Country Music.
MUSGRAVES: Thank you. Oh, so crazy. So, so crazy.
LYDEN: You got some really impressive company there.
MUSGRAVES: I do, yeah.
LYDEN: Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride. But I think you sound exactly like Kacey Musgraves.
MUSGRAVES: That means a lot to me. I love that compliment, mainly because I just feel like I want to be the first me not the next anybody else.
LYDEN: Kacey Musgraves. Her new album is called "Same Trailer Different Park." This weekend, you can listen to every track on the album for free at NPR's exclusive First Listen. Just go to nprmusic.org. Kacey, it's really been fun. And it would be fun to catch you in person some time, and I hope a lot of people can do that.
MUSGRAVES: I would love that. Thank you so much for having me.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STUPID")
MUSGRAVES: (Singing) ...hole in the ground. Whoa oh whoa oh. Stupid love is stupid don't know why we always do it finally find it just to lose it always wind up looking stupid, stupid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.