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Interview: Kacey Musgraves on ‘Pageant Material,’ Being Clumsy and Willie Nelson

"It's funny that doing things your way and not conforming makes you an outlaw. But if that's the stamp that you get, then maybe that's a good one."

By Annie Reuter

“If I end up going down in flames, well at least I know I did it my own way,” Kacey Musgraves boldly sings on “Good Ol’ Boys Club,” one of the tracks on her sophomore album Pageant Material, which dropped last week.

Musgraves herself seems to be one of few females who’s earned awards and otherwise gained substantial ground in the ‘boys club’ of country music, but she says the song itself isn’t about the gender issue in the country genre…and no, it’s not about Taylor Swift either.

“It’s about not wanting to be part of anybody’s club, anybody’s big machine,” she says of the song, during a stop at the Radio.com studios in New York last week. “Just wanting to go your own way and make a name for yourself. Being a self-made man or woman in whatever world or industry you live or work in. To me, it’s a universal message in that way.”

While she understands why people listening to the song might think it’s a gender debate, she says she never felt the country radio debate was solely about being male vs. female. Instead, she says it’s been about good songs vs. bad songs.

“We just happened to come out of an era where there was a trend for women to not be saying much. It was more of a trend to have a pretty face or a big voice,” she says. “I think that’s changing. It’s only going to get better as more women come out with something to say. It’s definitely unbalanced, but I think we could fix that by making sure the women we support are making good music.”

In a sense, Musgraves’ Pageant Material continues that discussion, as the album is a universal message of self-acceptance. For instance, the first single off the album, “Biscuits,” was taken from an idea her cowriter (Brandy Clark) had while writing previous single “Follow Your Arrow.”

As Musgraves explains, Clark threw out the line “mind your own biscuits,” which Musgraves likens to an old southern idiom, while they were writing “Follow Your Arrow” together. Both Musgraves and Shane McAnally agreed the line was too perfect and could stand on its own, so they decided to save it for another song.

Related: Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Biscuits’ Video is the Best Country Hoedown Ever

With songs like “Follow Your Arrow” discussing gay rights, Musgraves is an outlaw in her own right. When I ask her whether or not she views herself and other females in country as being termed ‘outlaws,’ she pauses, admitting that she isn’t sure what being an outlaw means today.

“It’s funny that doing things your way and not conforming makes you an outlaw or a rebel,” she adds. “But if that’s the stamp that you get, then maybe that’s a good one.”

Related: Behind the Song: Brandy Clark Talks About Writing “Follow Your Arrow” 

One of the most anticipated album releases of the year, Pageant Material was Musgraves’ creative outlet. She says she felt really free to be creative and adds that she didn’t have any fear about recording this time around. She says her time touring steadily over the past couple of years has made her more sure of the music she wants to release, and it also gave her the confidence to get into the studio.

“It was fun getting to create again,” she adds. “Going into this record I have been inspired by a lot of Mariachi music, surf rock, Glen Campbell and Jim Croce.”

As she did in her recent music video for “Biscuits,” Musgraves shows her funny side throughout the record, including title track “Pageant Material,” which pokes fun at herself.

“I love old country songs that have a sense of humor in them,” she admits with a smile. “This one is a sarcastic jab at myself for not always being pageant-perfect, as women are [often] expected to be when they’re in the spotlight.”

So what made Musgraves not ‘pageant material’?

“I’m kind of clumsy. I’m also a spiller,” she says laughing. “Anybody that knows me does not want their full glass of liquid around me. I will knock it over.”

Luckily for Musgraves, country music is not entirely judged on being clumsy.

Over the course of our conversation, Musgraves raves about female artists like Brandy Clark, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Alison Krauss as well as male singers who have made an impact on her, including Ronnie Milsap and Willie Nelson.

The latter she credits as being a huge supporter. In fact, Nelson not only took Musgraves on tour with him last year, he even sings on a hidden track, “Are You Sure,” at the very end of the album.

Related: Willie Nelson Interview: Looking Back and Looking Forward

The collaboration came about while she was on Nelson’s tour bus and asked him why he doesn’t play the song live anymore.

“He couldn’t believe I knew it,” she recalls of the song, which Nelson first recorded in the 1960s. “I just really loved it. It’s very honest and very country, [and] it’s a neat perspective. He seemingly pulled a guitar out of a cloud of smoke and started strumming. I was of course dying inside a little bit.”

Nelson told Musgraves that he’d love to sing on the track with her and even brought his iconic guitar Trigger to play on the song.

“It was meant to be a hidden track at the end. A little nugget for people who make it to the end of the record,” she says.

Just as much as her hidden track is a surprise for fans, it’s also something she cherishes.

“I had so much fun creating this record and wanted to convey a classic, even tone throughout the whole thing,” she concludes. “I hope the live spirit we wanted to capture came across.”

 

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