‘Welcome to my TED talk on how awkward I am,’ said Kacey Musgraves in typically self-deprecating style at the beginning of her interview for the new exhibition honouring her career at the Country Music Hall of Fame. All of the Colors, lives up to its name with an array of stunning artefacts and costumes from across her life and career.
Kacey said she was ‘honoured’ to have been asked by the Hall of Fame, and felt ‘emotional’ seeing the exhibition earlier in the week (after the talk she would walk through it again, alongside a delighted crowd of following fans).
She began the interview by telling us about her childhood in Texas, where she spent mainly ‘barefoot’ and ‘out in the country all the time.’ She began yodelling at a young age and was inspired by Dolly Parton and Lee Ann Rimes. We were treated to a snippet of her singing ‘Applejack’ which she claimed sounded like a ‘chipmunk’. Her country credentials could never be questioned, even if she seemed slightly embarrassed looking back.
She spoke lovingly about her parents and grandparents’ support of her career. Her grandfather’s vinyl collection also inspired her – in particular ‘Sweetheart of the Rodeo’ by The Byrds. She would go on to cover ‘You’re Still on My Mind’ from that album during her early career.
Her first band were the Texas Two Bits (and she even shared a slice of their yodelling yeehaw with us). The band eventually split due to ‘creative differences’ with Kacey entering her teens, and her ‘emo’ phase. She realised she didn’t relate to the country songs she was covering and began her songwriting journey with the help of guitar teacher John DeFoore. At school she was ‘sassy’ and often late – in fact her detention slips appear in the exhibit. But she wasn’t all bad, admitting to thriving in creative writing and English classes.
After school she moved to Austin and briefly worked as a booking agent – a job she told us she was terrible at. She knew her path was music so she went on reality show Nashville Star, talking of the support she got from family friend Miranda Lambert. We heard a song she wrote with Miranda called ‘Fallin’, a lovely ballad whose handwritten lyrics appear in the exhibition, along with a gold disc for Mama’s Broken Heart, a song she wrote for her.
Kacey told us of how she moved to Nashville and eventually signed a publishing deal. She spoke warmly of working with Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally, on ‘Follow My Arrow’ and ‘Merry Go Round’.
Kacey explained how she’d found it difficult trying to navigate the country music machine. Her label didn’t want ‘Merry Go Round’ as a single but she said it was ‘worth going down in flames for’. She knew the song was connecting with audiences. She told them:
This is country music.
This is real.
This is me.
In the end the song went top ten and won Grammys. The audience cheered and clapped at the story of her victory.
Kacey believes ‘you only know what’s best for yourself’. After all ‘what’s more country than talking about real life?’ She said she is ambivalent about success and fame, explaining that ‘I don’t want a billion fans’ and would prefer to just write songs that mean something. She took a moment during the interview to call out the ‘misogynist messages’ of the songs on country radio in comparison to her own, with their positive, inclusive ideas.
She discussed how her second album Pageant Material went deep into her love of the western aesthetic. She repeated ‘I love country music’ but admitted she would ‘never sleep’ if she shifted her style just to gain fame or traction on radio. She is only interested in how good the song is.
Golden Hour she explained was about exploring and experimenting with what made her feel good. Even if she evolved from her roots she never lost the core ‘strong, organic warmth’ of the country music that had made her name.
Kacey admitted the album was a risk and she didn’t know where she would live musically. Looking around the room you can see how this confidence in herself and the music has paid off, leading her to find the diverse audience her music deserves. The exhibition finishes with her Grammy awards – a testament to her well deserved critical success.
The highlight of the talk was her hilarious telling of the story of the time she had a major wardrobe malfunction before singing with Loretta Lynn, concluding with the wisdom ‘never wear stick-on underwear’.
Kacey’s goals for the future include having a rhinestone oxygen tank, more wigs and hopefully writing and producing for other people. She’s already written new songs for herself including ones called ‘Good Wife’ and ‘Peach Fuzz’. As for her future she says, ‘I don’t have anything to be scared of’.
Go see ‘All of the Colors’ and witness this fearless artist and the development of her astonishing career for yourself.