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Singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves on using music as an escape

Country music singer and songwriter Kacey Musgraves is nominated for four awards at this weekend's 61st annual Grammy Awards. Just 30 years old, the Texas-born musician is enjoying her journey in the music industry -- and doing it on her own terms. Jeffrey Brown sits down with Musgraves to discuss how she wants to defy expectations for both the country music genre and herself.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Finally tonight: This Sunday, the 61st annual Grammy Awards kick off in Los Angeles.

    One artist a lot of people have their eyes on is Kacey Musgraves, nominated for four awards and also performing at the show.

    Jeffrey Brown caught up with Musgraves at a recent performance at The Anthem in Washington, D.C.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The song "Slow Burn" opens Kacey Musgraves' show on her sold-out tour and her new album, "Golden Hour."

  • Kacey Musgraves:

    It's just kind of a musing on myself, and just kind of, when I was making the album, kind of where I was mentally, just thinking that, like, it's not always about just getting to the end or getting the biggest, the fastest. It's about taking your time and really enjoying the journey there.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Just 30 years old, the Texas-born Musgraves seems to be enjoying her journey in music and doing it on her own terms, making the music she wants, while defying expectations for both country music as a genre and for herself.

    Her debut studio album, 2013's "Same Trailer Different Park," included the hit single "Follow Your Arrow," a song that encouraged women to break the boundaries set by others.

    "Merry Go Round" found similar inspiration, and earned her a Grammy for best country song that year, in addition to best country album.

    But with her new album, "Golden Hour," she's reaching for a new and broader audience, by expanding the sounds and expectations of a country music record, with songs like "High Horse" veering into pop and electronic music. And it's garnered huge critical and popular support.

  • Kacey Musgraves:

    With this record, I was like, I want to reach beyond country music and not leave country music behind. I want to take it with me. I want to — I want to take my version of it to people who normally would never even consider listening to it.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes, why was that important to you?

  • Kacey Musgraves:

    I kept imaging just reaching places that I have never been and reaching people that I have never — that have never heard of me.

    But, at the same time, it was a very inwardly focused album. I was really thinking a lot about my feelings. I was feeling, like, really open enough to share them.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    You said you wanted to take "my version of country music" to people. What does that mean? What's your version?

  • Kacey Musgraves:

    Well, my version of country music is largely comprised of and inspired by the roots of the genre. I grew up singing like very traditional country and Western music, like, literally yodeling, like wearing fringe and cowboy hats, I mean, singing songs…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Which you did even in the first few albums, right?

  • Kacey Musgraves:

    I did a little bit, yes, more so than this.

    But I have always been inspired by this huge range of other things. I grew up listening to Sade and, oh, my gosh, Alison Krauss, and Fleetwood Mac, Dolly Parton and the Bee Gees. And I'm like, where can — I love Imogen Heap. I love Daft Punk. Like, where can these things all live together?

    So I guess it is country music to me, in the sense that it's storytelling. And there are country instruments on it, but it's a different version of country. I don't know really even how to describe it.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So what does a song have to have for you to work for you?

  • Kacey Musgraves:

    Oh, that's interesting.

    Well, a song has to have some element of truth to me lyrically for me to be able to sing it. I don't just get in there and go, oh, I want to write a song about a lady named Debbie, and she's going through this and this and this.

    It literally — it starts with me. And it's got to — it's got to come from here, or I can't sing it. It's not going to be believable.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    New songs like "Butterflies" reflect her newly happily married life and also her own personal transformation, facilitated in part by the use of psychedelic drugs, which, she says, help take her out of daily routines for a wider view.

  • Kacey Musgraves:

    I would never tell anyone to do anything that isn't right for them or unsafe in any way.

    But for me, the few times that I have experienced that in small doses, it's really done a lot for me.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    One thing not much evident here, direct references to social issues or politics.

  • Kacey Musgraves:

    You know, we're so beat over the head by everything negative these days, and, you know, just astonished by, like, just all this unbelievable stuff that's happening socially, politically.

    Just — it's a tumultuous time. And…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes, which you're part of, and you feel.

  • Kacey Musgraves:

    I feel it, and I think a lot of the younger generations really feel it. And, I mean, everyone does.

    And I think that, as an observer and as a writer, it could have been really easy for me to go that direction. But I just think that sometimes we need an escape from it. And it's weird, because, as the world was kind of turning in a more chaotic direction, it's when I have somehow finally found my own little bit of peace and happiness.

    And so that's what I wanted to share.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Kacey Musgraves is up for four Grammy Awards, album of the year, a category comprising all genres, best country solo performance for the song "Butterflies," best country song for "Space Cowboy," and best country album.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    And we have more from Kacey Musgraves online, where she recommends some of the artists she grew up listening to.

    That and more is on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

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