Posts Tagged ‘Kacey Musgraves’

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With his sophomore album Shape & Destroy, Nashville-based artist Ruston Kelly now documents his experience in maintaining sobriety, and finally facing the demons that led him to drug abuse in the first place. But while Kelly recounts that journey with an unvarnished honesty, his grace and conviction as an artist ultimately turn Shape & Destroy into a work of unlikely transcendence.

With its unsparing reflection on what Kelly refers to as “the cycle of frustration and temptation after getting clean,” Shape & Destroy took form during a period of painful transformation. “It wasn’t surprising to me that getting sober was a challenge, but there were moments when it was challenging in a way I’d never experienced before,” Kelly says. “There’s so much repair your brain has to do—spiritually, emotionally, physically—and at one point I really felt like I was losing my mind.”

As a means of self-preservation and catharsis, Kelly eventually turned to the ritual of free writing, a practice that led him to the album’s title. “This phrase just came to me one day: ‘Shape the life you want by destroying what obstructs the soul,’” he recalls. “I realized that was the ticket to healing myself and healing my mind: figuring out what kind of person I want to become, and then getting rid of everything that keeps me from being that person.”

In light of that epiphany, Kelly felt a profound lucidness that soon catalyzed his creative process. “From reading about other artists who’ve gone through recovery, I was sort of expecting a dry spell after getting sober, but that didn’t happen,” he says. “Instead I felt this very heightened awareness that lent itself to so much more artistic output, and the songs just started pouring out.”

That momentum continued as Kelly headed into the studio, co-producing Shape & Destroy with his long time producer Jarrad K (Kate Nash, Weezer, Elohim). Working at Dreamland Recording Studios in Upstate New York (a space converted from a 19th century church), Kelly enlisted musicians like Dr. Dog drummer Eric Slick, bassist Eli Beaird (who also performed on Dying Star), and a number of his own family members: his father Tim “TK” Kelly played steel guitar, while both his sister Abby Kelly and his wife Kacey Musgraves contributed background vocals. And in shaping the album’s nuanced yet potent sound, the band deliberately channeled the raw vitality Kelly continually brings to his live show.

“This was the first time I ever recorded completely sober, and I wanted to take the intensity of whatever it took to get me here and leave that splattered all over the wall,” says Kelly. “Rather than telling the band how or what to play, I translated that intention to them to get us all on the same page, and the songs came together exactly the way I needed them to.”

Though Kelly booked nine days at Dreamland, the sessions were so kinetic that the band tore through almost the entire album in the first 48 hours. That unchecked urgency is particularly evident on tracks like “Brave”—a plea for redemption made even more poignant by its stark recording, several times spotlighting a tearful crack in Kelly’s voice. “My father was supposed to play on ‘Brave’ with me, but I decided to do a take by myself to get my bearings,” says Kelly. “It was just me and my dad in a room late at night, him watching me sing this song about trying to live up to the principles he raised me with. I’ll never forgot how powerful that felt.”

Ruston Kelly has released a few great singles so far this year, including “Radio Cloud” ahead of his forthcoming album Shape & Destroy, out later this month via Rounder Records. “Radio Cloud” was the Nashville singer/songwriter’s third single from the album. It’s a cathartic country-folk ballad, following the release of the very Elliott Smith influenced “Rubber” and “Brave.” The album is sure to be an enchanting, emotional masterpiece.

Describing Shape & Destroy as a “mental-health record,” Kelly reveals all the false starts and setbacks in getting sober with a specificity that’s unflinching but never heavy-handed. As the album unfolds, his lyrics drift from forthright to poetic to sometimes even storybook-like (an element manifested in its recurring images of wishing wells and stars, flowers and wild storms). On the piano-laced and luminous “Mid-Morning Lament,” for instance, Kelly proves his gift for gracefully entwining wit and confession (sample lyric: “I wanna spike my coffee, but I know where that leads/And it ain’t the safest feeling when the angel on your shoulder falls asleep”). Another elegantly layered track, “Alive” twists classic love-song sentiment into a moment of tender revelation, its dreamy mood magnified by TK’s sighing steel tones and Kelly’s delicate storytelling (“On the horizon/The sun is setting pink/You’re cooking something in the house/Singing John Prine/What a beautiful thing/To be alive”). “To me ‘Alive’ is a testament to how powerful love can be, especially love from someone who embodies a very strong and empowering feminine spirit,” says Kelly. “It’s like they’re able to lend that spirit to you, so you can pick yourself back up and declare who you really want to be.”

Like most of Shape & Destroy, “Alive” was captured in one of the very first takes that Kelly and his band laid down. To make the most of their time at Dreamland, the musicians ended up recording two songs that weren’t initially intended for the album, including “Jubilee”—a warm and rumbling track with a magical backstory. “For a long time I’ve been a huge fan of the Carter Family, especially Mother Maybelle, and a while back John Carter Cash invited me to stay at his grandmother’s if I wanted a writing retreat,” says Kelly, referring to the son of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. “I wrote ‘Jubilee’ at Mother Maybelle’s dining room table and didn’t think it would ever make it on the record, but in the studio it turned into this train-song thing that felt really good. It’s just so strange to me that this Johnny Cash spirit came out without me even meaning it to.”

For the closing track to Shape & Destroy, Kelly chose “Hallelujah Anyway”: a minute-and-half-long piece centered on choir-like harmonies from Kelly and his collaborators (including recording engineer Gena Johnson), its lyrics nearly prayer-like in invocation (“And bury me in flowers/When I go I wanna bloom/And come back as the colour of a lovely afternoon”). “For me that’s probably the most important song I’ve ever written,” says Kelly. “It’s about having thankfulness for whatever it is that gives us this ability to be positive even in the thick of the blackest moments, and I can’t think of any greater weapon to turn against your lesser self. If I wrote that song and nothing else in my life, I’d be very pleased with what I’ve done as an artist.”

Ruston Kelly

 

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The Flaming Lips and Kacey Musgraves have teamed up for a collaborative new single, “Flowers of Neptune 6”, which was released this Friday.

The relaxing, dreamy track acts as the first new material from The Flaming Lips since their collaborative album with Deap Vally arrived earlier this year. The song hears the veteran psych-rock outfit softly glide their way through its 4:31-minute runtime with Musgraves’ vocals joining along in harmonic accompaniment. “Flowers of Neptune 6” showcases the band’s trademark space-rock style while singer Wayne Coyne keeps listeners grounded with its heartfelt melodies and lyrics. The song’s video offers the same amount of subtle captivation, as Coyne is seen walking across a field–which later burns–while also wrapping himself in an American flag.

Coyne mentioned about the band’s new single, “Flowers Of Neptune 6” track started off as a very evocative series of melodies that Steven Drozd had woven together.

The first time he played it for me I was stunned by its emotional flow. The 3 sections (well they seem like sections to me) seemed to hint at an older, mature mind reflecting back into a journey from younger innocence then starting to learn and understand and keeps going into the panic of becoming one with the world. The opening lyric ‘Yellow sun is going down so slow…Doing acid and watching the light-bugs glow like tiny spaceships in a row… is the coolest thing I’ll ever know’…and is a combination of blissful, innocent, psychedelic experiences that Steven and Kacey Musgraves (she sings harmony with me on the track) and myself all discussed.

The Flaming Lips had initially announced plans for a run of west coast performances in the spring and early summer months, but those dates have–like most other live events–been postponed

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When Kacey Musgraves says “Love Is A Wild Thing” she isn’t talking about the feral passion that animates so many rock songs. Animal lust on the order of the Troggs is left to the imagination on Golden Hour. Rather, Musgraves is comparing love to an unstoppable force of nature: a river dead-set on finding the ocean, a flower blooming through cracks in the concrete. It won’t be denied. “If you try to hide it, it’s gonna shine even more.”

She speaks from experience. Musgraves wrote and recorded Golden Hour while basking in the glow of her young marriage to fellow singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly. Apparently, theirs is a casual but all-consuming affection, one that turns an evening at home into an easygoing swoon and makes a weekend apart feel like an endless toil. It’s a comfortable, lived-in kind of love, realistic about fears and flaws even as it sends her heart aflutter and sets her world on fire. Musgraves translated those sensations into the year’s most spectacular album, a collection of songs as irresistible as the romance that inspired it.

Viewed more broadly, Golden Hour is an album about family. It’s centered on her new life with Kelly, but those portraits of intimacy are accented by glimpses of Musgraves longing to reconnect with her relatives, as if moved by this fresh domestic bliss to reestablish bonds that have deteriorated over time. On “Mother,” she calls her mom during an acid trip and admits, “I wish we didn’t live so far from each other,” expressing a similar sentiment elsewhere about her sister. On the spellbinding “Slow Burn,” in the most quoted lyric on the album, she flashes back to a moment she wishes she’d handled better: “Texas is hot, I can be cold/ Grandma cried when I pierced my nose.”

These reflections are couched in gently sighing country songs that glimmer like a waking dream. From a string section that evokes Beck’s Sea Change to a vocoder chorus seemingly borrowed from Daft Punk, Musgraves distills a wide-open sky full of influences into a welcoming signature sound. This is music you can luxuriate in, charmingly simple on the surface even as it brims with gorgeous detail, lightly psychedelic but always tethered to real life. Musgraves’ lyrics are disarming in the same way, a series of plainspoken vignettes so matter-of-fact that all the clever turns of phrase take months to reveal themselves. There is no wink and no strain. Again and again, the album makes the incredible feel as natural as breathing.

Golden Hour occasionally deviates from its main themes, resulting in some of its brightest highlights: the spectral breakup ballad “Space Cowboy,” the country-disco kiss-off “High Horse,” the tender piano parable “Rainbow.” The album makes room for a complicated view of the human experience, not just lovestruck reverie. But its throughline, and the source of its enduring magnetism, is an optimism that transcends even its central love story. “Oh, what a world/ I don’t wanna leave,” Musgraves marvels. “There’s all kinds of magic/ It’s hard to believe.” In an increasingly dark and cynical society that makes living with a sense of wonder seem impossible, there was Golden Hour all year offering an alternate perspective — a respite, a salve, maybe even a compass. For 46 minutes at a time, it’s not too good to be true.

Built for crossover success ... Kacey Musgraves.

Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour is pretty diverting. She has talked about the influence of Sade on her work, of “futurism … space country, galactic cosmic country” and of how the album’s closing track Rainbow is intended to speak to “LGBTQ youth”. There is also mention of a song called Mother, which you might reasonably describe as part of a grand country tradition of lachrymose songs about momma, or the absence thereof – “I’m just sitting here thinking about the time that’s slipping, and missing my mother,” she sings – albeit with a pretty distinctive twist. It was apparently written after Musgraves’ mum sent her a text with a photo of her hands, which the singer-songwriter received while she was tripping on LSD, an experience the song also describes: “Bursting with empathy, I’m feeling everything … It’s the music in me and all of the colours.”

Acid, futurism, LGTBQ rights: you don’t have to be a dedicated student of Nashville’s history to know that this is not the usual fare dished up by Music City’s mainstream stars. But then, as was established the moment her major label debut, Same Trailer Different Park, appeared in 2013, Musgraves is not your usual Nashville star. It was released just as bro country’s lunkheaded restatement of at least some of the genre’s core values – macho songs about boozing, babes, trucks and guns – was reaching its commercial zenith, and signalled the arrival of an artist not bent on iconoclasm so much as gently but firmly pushing at the boundaries of modern country music’s outlook. Her single Follow Your Arrow caused vast consternation among country radio programmers for advocating same-sex relationships and occasionally smoking a joint “if that’s what you’re into”. The critical acclaim was off the scale – here, claimed one writer, was the woman “who could save country music from itself” – but her sales were solid rather than spectacular. Nevertheless, when even bro country’s bantzmeister-in-chief starts writing songs about tolerance and marriage equality – “I believe you love who you love – ain’t nothing you should ever be ashamed of,” sang Luke Bryan on last year’s track Most People Are Good – it’s hard to argue that things haven’t shifted at least a little in her wake

The success of High Horse is indicative of the ease and confidence that courses through Golden Hour. Regardless of genre, you’ll be hard pushed to find a better collection of pop songs this year. Everything clicks perfectly, but the writing has an effortless air; it never sounds as if it’s trying too hard to make a commercial impact, it never cloys, and the influences never swallow the character of the artist who made it. In recent years, there have been plenty of artists who’ve clumsily tried to graft the sound of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours on to their own. On Lonely Weekend, possibly the best track here, Musgraves succeeds in capturing some of that album’s dreamy atmosphere

Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour