Kacey Musgraves creates lovely little self-contained universes in her songs, as anyone who's heard her superb pop-leaning, mildly psychedelic third album, Golden Hour, can confirm. Musgraves can pull off the same trick in conversation, too, as when she describes the concept behind the LP's opening track, "Slow Burn."
"It's an idea I can apply to a lot of different areas of my life," she says, taking a break from editing a new video. "I want to be here for a long time doing what I love, and I don't feel I need to try to be the biggest I can be, the quickest. And I even thought of a good drink that you sip on for a long time. Or a slow burn of a relationship that starts with a little bit of a spark and doesn't burn out too quick."
When you sing "Texas is hot/I can be cold," is that a self-criticism?
Yeah, it's a bit of a self-criticism. I feel like I can be really cold, but also really touchy-feely. It's a weird juxtaposition. I've been told I have resting bitch face [laughs]. I just don't have a lot of time for bullshit or fluff, and I never really have. I kind of say immediately what I feel and sometimes that comes off as being cold to the people around me, but I don't mean to come off that way.
You wrote "Mother" on acid. Ever have a bad trip?
I have had kind of a weird trip before, and it was super Halloween-y and just weird vibes, but that's rare. I feel like the key is, just don't do too much. You can always do more. You can't do less. And just make sure you're around people with good vibes, and if you don't have any demons coming at you in your psyche, then it's fine. They're positive things if used responsibly. I'm not going to tell anybody to run out and do anything that wouldn't be suitable for their mind or their lifestyle, but it did have positive effects for me.
It made me more compassionate as a daughter, as a granddaughter, as a partner. It put me in my place in the universe, gave me perspective that I think everyone should have. Yes, we're all special, but we're also nothing, just a fraction of a grain of sand in the book of time, and make what you have count and make the relationships around you mean something. And care for the Earth because we only have one. Whenever you are affected by hallucinogenics, especially mushrooms, you care for the Earth. When you're, like, tripping, it just floods out.
The arrangements on this album feel so carefully crafted. You move away from straight country, but not that far. How did you strike that balance?
It was a bit of a riddle to figure out in making sure that my spirit isn't lost and also trying to find a new sound for me, because I am still so attached to the parts of country music that I love and that have gotten people familiar with me. I don't need to pander around and try to make some random pop album just for the shit of it.
Did you find yourself pulling back on some things?
In some instances, I had to be like, "Let's reel it in." I learn a lot by deletion. That's my biggest tool in the studio: I love to load tracks up, and then start erasing until you find the perfect amount of space. They started calling me the "Ax Man" in the studio. They would lay down a part and be like, "It doesn't matter anyway. Kacey's just going to come in and delete it."
You recorded at Sheryl Crow's ranch and hung out with her. What have you learned from her?
She's the epitome of a woman who has made a name for herself by just being herself. Because of that, her rec-ords don't sound dated at all. They just sound good. And she's not an egomaniac. She's very down-to-earth. She's really easy to talk to and supportive of newer artists, and she just doesn't care. When someone doesn't care about being famous, I feel like those are the people that become the most famous.
You're opening up for Harry Styles soon, which makes way more sense now than it would have a couple of years back.
With the new path that I'm forging musically, I think it really makes sense for us to be on tour together. He's leaned a little bit toward my side of the street, and I've leaned a little bit more toward his side of the street.
People will go nuts if you guys perform something together.
I know. We're trying to work something up, actually! We're trying to think of some ideas.
You wrote a lot about your feelings as a happy newlywed [Musgraves married singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly in 2017]. How do you feel about going through such a blissful period while the outside world is falling apart?
It's an interesting conundrum, but as much as I've been a social commentator before, I wanted to go completely the opposite way this time, because I feel like everyone is kind of craving a little bit of beauty and truth right now. We're starved for it.