Look up Golden, Texas, and you’ll see it’s 35 miles north of Tyler. Wikipedia says it’s best known for its sweet potatoes. But that’s probably because most folks don’t realize that Kacey Musgraves, who some say is saving country music from itself, just so happens to be from sweet potato country.
Monday night along with Patty Griffin, Don Henley, Rodney Crowell and Leon Bridges, Musgraves is among the 26 Texans up for a Grammy award. She’s been nominated for nothing less than Album of the Year in country music. Not bad for someone who had a little bit of a struggle with the guitar.
“I started taking guitar lessons from this guy in my hometown,” Musgraves says. “He early on kinda figured out that I wasn’t a super technically-minded student as far as learning skills and theory and triads and all that. And so he was just like ‘I think you really need to focus on writing songs.'”
So he taught her some chords and sent her home with the homework: “Go home write a song. I don’t care how bad it is or how stupid is, but get it out.”
“It kinda changed my outlook on being able to tell a story or sing a song from your perspective rather than someone else’s,” Musgraves says.
Funny thing happened on the way to getting noticed. Others already well-established in the music industry noticed her first. After paying some dues in Austin, and releasing some albums on her own dime, she wrote a song that was picked up by Miranda Lambert.
Other stars also wanted Musgraves’ music. Country legend Lee Ann Womack among them – but it was her own rendition of her song “Follow Your Arrow” that would prove to be not just her own breakout, but a kind of Declaration of Independence from the conservatism of contemporary country.
“People like to point out just a couple different subject matters in a song, or songs, and I knew that not everyone would enjoy listening to a song that referenced those things,” she says. “But the whole point of a song like ‘Follow Your Arrow’ is to just encourage people to do whatever they want.”
Rolling Stone’s called Follow Your Arrow one of the 100 greatest country songs of all time, but Musgraves insists she’s nothing more than a product of the fertile Texas music scene. One which has been known to embrace its outlaws.
“I think there are worse things that you can be called than a rebel or an outlaw,” Musgraves says. “But if you look at the way politics are moving and the world is moving I don’t think my ideas are very outlandish at all.”
For her part, Musgraves’ not shy about embracing her Texan-ness – albeit with a wink and a smile that says she’s serious about not being too serious – to say what others won’t. Her lyrics have a twist and a punch that songs like Harper Valley P.T.A. used to have. It’s that in-your-face frankness that’s often several times smarter than the songs that surround hers on the radio.
“I’ve been asked to change my lyrics before to make it more radio-friendly and I just can’t do it. I feel like from day one I’ve gotten to be who I wanted to be and been pretty forward about that,” she says. “I think it would be taking a major step backward. … I wanna be here for a long time and that involves saying things that people haven’t said, that feels good to me.”
It would be nice to get that Grammy, of course. But if that doesn’t happen tonight, few doubt that Kacey Musgraves will be back.