Musgraves: Country Music Future


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Is Kacey Musgraves, the Golden girl from the Upper East Side of Texas, the next big thing in country music?

Golden, in this case, is where Musgraves grew up, near Mineola in Wood County.

Here is what Jody Rosen wrote for Slate: “Until last week, I’d never heard of Kacey Musgraves. Today, I’m tempted to call her the future of country music—or, at least, to hope that she is.”

Billboard wrote that Musgraves “knocks it out of the ballpark with her debut single,” a co-write with Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne that combines traditional sound with modern lyrics. “The lyrics – which concern not living up to other people’s perceptions of success – are hard-hitting, and the chorus is especially inventive,” Billboard wrote, calling it “the most surprising sound to come out of Nashville in 2012.”

Rolling Stone, where the national debut song quickly popped into the top 30 this fall, gave it four-star thumbs up.

This national attention is sudden, even more meaningful than her brief appearance on “Nashville Star” in 2007.

The song is “Merry Go ’Round. The chorus proclaims:

Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay

Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane

And Daddy’s hooked on Mary,
   two doors down

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

We get bored so we get married

And just like dust we settle in this town

On this broken merry-go-round

The single’s release is a common marketing ploy that, certainly in this case, seems to be working. Musgraves hasn’t even released her first big-label – Mercury, an imprint of the giant Universal Music Group – CD yet, and doesn’t know for sure even what it will be named, although, speculatively, there’s a good chance it will be, because of the name recognition, Merry Go ’Round. There’s also a good chance the CD will be released next spring.

Musgraves turned 24 in August and already has had some success as a songwriter. She wrote “Mama’s Broken Heart” for longtime friend Miranda Lambert’s 2011 CD Four the Record and has placed cuts with artists including Martina McBride, Lee Ann Womack. As a performer, she toured this summer with Lady Antebellum and opened for Alison Krauss.

The Golden girl has good taste in songwriting influences, citing John Prine, Willie Nelson. Patty Griffin, Mindy Smith, Buddy Miller, Chris Knight, Emmylou Harris, Loretta Lynn, and others.

I just love songwriters,” she said.

What counts in a song – whether it’s the product of a single mind or of, as is common in Nashville, a team effort – is simplicity, which isn’t often an easy thing to find.

“I think you just say it like it is. If there’s a bowl of oranges on the table, just say that there’s a bowl of oranges on a table; don’t try to write it like it’s something elevated, but just write it from your heart,” Musgraves said. “It took me a long time to get past what you think you should write because you hear it on the radio. The more time you spend with it, you figure out how to say things in different ways, and simple ways. The simple music is the hardest to write.”

Musgraves co-wrote all the songs on what will be the new CD, drawing on “a couple of years worth of inspiration and just personal ups and downs and everything in between, honing in on a sound.”

Success, assuming the ascendency continues, has not been “overnight.”

“It doesn’t feel overnight to me,” she said. “It’s just doing your thing and then somebody comes across it and it takes off like wildfire.”

Musgraves has been writing and singing since she was eight or nine years old, and has been making a living with music since she moved to Austin right after high school and then to Nashville. As a pre-teen, she performed on “The Today Show” and “Good Morning America.”

She’s honed her skills since her 2007, self-titled debut that she co-produced with Wes Hendrix at Rhandy Simmons’ Siesta Ranch Recording Studio in Gilmer. That one, featuring 10 of her own songs plus a cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and Luke McDaniel’s classic “You’re Still on My Mind,” made famous by George Jones, is likely a collector’s item by now.

“Musically, I’ve always liked the same type of songs and music, and I guess I’ve just gotten more confident as a writer,” she said. “I am able to say what I want to say; that just comes from spending all possible time writing, writing, writing.”

What Musgraves likes in music is what’s “real” to her.

 “I love all different kinds of genres. The common thread is that it’s simple and sometimes layered. That’s hard to explain. It’s got to be real, and every genre has that. It could be Marty Robbins or Glenn Campbell or 1990s hip-hop,” she said. “I love catchy music that you can sing along to, but I also love substance. The line between commercialism and being an artist is probably the hardest balance to find. I want to appeal to the niche fans, too. I don’t need a million fans, but 10,000 who really like what I do.”

The reality is surely somewhere in between 10,000 “maniacs” and a million fans.

Wherever that settles, Musgraves is both busy and excited.

She co-produced the anticipated album last spring, toured Europe with Lady Antebellum for three weeks, got home in late July and three days later began a month-long radio tour with “Merry Go ’Round.

“I’ve never been so busy in my life. Sometimes we went to three cities a day, and were flying so much that I was physically worn out. But it was awesome. The radio response has been really positive.

“I’m excited and happy. I get to do what I want to do. It was a good springboard to grow up around the Texas scene, especially our area where people always kinda believed in me and supported me. That means a lot.” N

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