Musgraves came into the spotlight as a competitor on the singing program “Nashville Star” in 2007. She has since won over fans and critics alike with her sharp-as-nails stage presence and poignant lyrical content, hearkening back to an era dominated by Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Her tone is an intoxicating cocktail of Kitty Wells heartache and Dolly Parton determination, with a sprinkle of James McMurtry hard-knock wisdom and snark.
Musgraves will hit the stage at Western Carolina University on Oct. 26.
The Texas-bred singer/songwriter shot into the mainstream with her 2012 smash “Merry Go ‘Round,” a number that confronts the face in the mirror, “Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay/Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane/Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down/Mary, Mary quite contrary/We get bored, so, we get married/Just like dust, we settle in this town.” Her latest single, “Blowin’ Smoke,” is as much an anthem as a battle cry for all those wanting more out of small town life, “Wipe down the bar, take out the trash/Light one up and count my cash/Swear I’m never coming back again/I’m just blowin’ smoke.”
It’s not so much that Musgraves is doing something new; she’s holding on to something time-tested and aged to perfection. She represents gritty sincerity and a keen sense of vulnerability, something all-too-often missing from modern country music.
The Smoky Mountain News recently caught up with Musgraves while she wrapped up her European tour in England. She spoke of her influences, how “real” country music isn’t a myth these days, and why enjoying the present is more important than worrying about the past or future.
Smoky Mountain News: What comes first, lyrics or guitar riff? How does the process unfold?
Kacey Musgraves: It’s different every time. There’s no set rhythm to how inspiration hits me. Although I’d say more often than not, I start with lyrics, and then I play with melody.
SMN: What inspires your songwriting?
KM: Everything inspires my songwriting. Living life and messing up, and seeing other people live life and mess up. Conversations, relationships, signs, colors, emotions — all of it.
SMN: Being labeled a “country singer” can sometimes pigeonhole an artist. How do you avoid that, and how would describe your music?
KM: I am undeniably and proudly a country music singer. But above all, I want to make good music, no matter the genre. I would describe my music as a conglomeration of the roots of simple, traditional country music and sprinklings of other kinds of genres that I’m inspired by. Hopefully what forms is a modern-classic vibe.
SMN: You melodies conjure the golden age of country, an age many today feel is long gone, and, at the same time, greatly missed. What are you hopes for your impact on modern country music?
KM: I hope to have a long, happy career in music and always make sure that my lyrics are of the utmost importance. Also, I want to always have the respect of people who aren’t only looking for the “in” thing of the moment.
SMN: Who were your musical influences growing up?
KM: Growing up I sang a lot of Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. I was also a huge Lee Ann Womack fan.
SMN: What do you say to people that say “real” country music is dead, and that what’s on the radio today isn’t country, but pop music?
KM: There’s a lot of great music being made out there that hasn’t been heard yet, so seek it out yourself. The radio doesn’t always represent every genre in its entirety.
SMN: Listening to your music, I definitely feel you’re taking a different path than other female country singers, a path I haven’t heard from others in years.
KM: I’m a songwriter and I just write about the things than inspire me, which is a very wide variety of things. People want to talk about parts of my songs like they’re wild ideas, but really I’m just being a songwriter.
SMN: Throughout my time interviewing country musicians, I’ve always been fascinated at how varied their musical tastes are. Who’s catching your ear these days?
KM: I love Alison Krauss, Mindy Smith, John Prine, Miguel, Bruno Mars, a lot of old country, Weezer, Cake, Ryan Adams, Brandy Clark — it’s all over the map.
SMN: What’s the future hold for you? How are you handling the attention and award nominations?
KM: People ask me all the time about the future and where I want to be. All I can say is that I want to be happy and continue being a songwriter. I’m learning how to be present and thankful in this current moment and that’s really all I can do.
Want to go?
Kacey Musgraves will perform at 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, in the Ramsey Regional Activity Center at Western Carolina University. The show is part of the school’s homecoming weekend. Arena seats are $15 for WCU students and $20 for the general public. Floor seats are $20 for WCU students and $25 for the general public. Day-of-show tickets are $20 for arena, $25 for floor. Rayland Baxter opens.
ramsey.wcu.edu or 828.227.7677.