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Kacey Musgraves on 'Deeper Well', finding inspiration and bittersweet transitions

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Kacey Musgraves is out with a new album. It's called "Deeper Well."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEEPER WELL")

KACEY MUSGRAVES: (Singing) I've gotten older now. I know how to take care of myself. I found a deeper well.

I think of a well as sort of like a connection to a source - you know, a channel to get to a deeper place that we all need in order to live, to love, to know ourselves. "Deeper Well" is sort of an ode to removing resistance to growth, in whatever way that might mean.

RASCOE: Her last album, "Star-Crossed," focused on a recent divorce. When I talked to Kacey Musgraves last week, she said she's in a much different headspace these days.

MUSGRAVES: I feel very grounded where I'm at. I feel very, like, at peace. I'm in my mid-30s now, and I just went through a little bit of a rough period. But I feel like on the other side of that and, you know, I've learned a lot about myself.

RASCOE: Now, you know, your songwriting can be very direct, very accessible, but very evocative at the same time. I want to play a clip from a song, "Giver / Taker."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVER / TAKER")

MUSGRAVES: (Singing) 'Cause I would give you everything that you wanted. I would never ask for any of it back. And if I could take only as much as I needed, I would take everything you have.

RASCOE: I love that. It definitely - like, that song really stood out to me. But can you talk to me about, as a songwriter, your approach for songs like this?

MUSGRAVES: Well, that one specifically is - it's admitting that you need something from someone that you're really close to. And I think in our modern world, you know, humans need each other. And I think it's brave and vulnerable to admit that you need something from someone. And I've been in relationships before where, you know, my partner was just kind of needless and just didn't - you know, it's, like - it feels good to be needed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVER / TAKER")

MUSGRAVES: (Singing) And if I could take only as much as I needed, I would take everything - I would take everything you had.

I'm always trying to make it as conversational as possible. Like, I really love songs and lyrics that feel like you're talking to somebody else. It doesn't feel overly poetic or it's not trying too hard. It's just - it's saying it super plain. And we've all got these emotions.

RASCOE: You obviously - a very celebrated artist. You've won every Grammy Award in the country genre that there is. You came up as a country artist, but your collaborators really go beyond country. You're touring with a range of folks. Where do you see this album in terms of genre?

MUSGRAVES: Well, it's interesting, right? Like, there's so many blurred genre lines. All this music that's out there, there - you know, it's hard to pin down, like, what exactly something is, you know. And I think - it's hard for me to say. I think this album, like, really leans into, like, a lot of the folk, a little bit of country. There's some Celtic melodies in here. So many areas that country music sort of edges up against and touches, and I kind of like playing with those borders a little bit.

RASCOE: Is there a song that you think on the album that really did a good job of playing with those borders?

MUSGRAVES: I guess "Sway" is a song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWAY")

MUSGRAVES: (Vocalizing).

My friend said it best the other day. She was like, this record is a - it's a walk in nature. You're walking in nature. But along the way, on your walk, you're encountering little modern art installations throughout the way, and you're like, oh, that's a little bit of something modern. I don't know - these, like, kind of muted palettes that have a lot of space. There's a lot of negative space on the record, which I love. You know, I just always love when there's, like, intrinsic country instruments that can live alongside things like vocoder or like, you know, synth pads or whatever.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SWAY")

MUSGRAVES: (Singing) Maybe one day I'll learn how to sway.

RASCOE: There's a specific song that I want to ask you about - "The Architect." It's asking really big questions about why we're here. And, you know, is there a point to everything?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE ARCHITECT")

MUSGRAVES: (Singing) Does it happen by chance? Is it all happenstance? Do we have any say in this mess? Is it too late to make some more space? Can I speak to the architect? This life that...

RASCOE: This beautiful - that song sounded a lot like some of your earlier albums. Was it an older song or does it just kind of have that feel?

MUSGRAVES: You know, it's actually - it was the last song that we wrote for the record, so it's actually the newest.

RASCOE: Oh, wow.

MUSGRAVES: But I think you might be noticing that because I actually wrote this with, Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne, who I wrote a ton of my earlier songs with, and they're two of my really good friends and some of the best songwriters on Planet Earth. And we just sat around talking. And it was in the couple weeks after the Covenant School shooting had happened in Nashville. And I think we were just, like, genuinely, like, having a conversation with each other. We hadn't seen each other in a while. And just - and asking these questions - it's like, man, there's so much beauty in this world. But then there's just so much suffering. And it's just - it's confusing. It's, like, you want to - you wonder if there is a plan for any of this, or if - you know, what is there to be learned? Is there anything to be learned? Or is this all just, like, random? How much control do we really have here, you know? And so, yeah, that song is - it's a big question mark. But, you know, we just don't know.

RASCOE: Do you feel like - I mean, these are very big questions. And they can be questions of faith or just questions of how you look at the world. But I guess, what do you think about exploring that sort of thing through music?

MUSGRAVES: Yeah. Music for me is definitely a place where I kind of work out a lot of those questions that are always swirling around in my mind. You know, songs for me are such a fertile ground to say things that might be harder to say in real life. You know, I don't know why it's easier for me to say some of this stuff, especially the relationship stuff, like, in song. But yeah, it's a nice place to be able to throw out some of these massive questions like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF KASEY MUSGRAVES SONG "HEAVEN IS")

RASCOE: That's Kacey Musgraves. Her new album, "Deeper Well," is out now. Thank you so much for joining us.

MUSGRAVES: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KASEY MUSGRAVES SONG "HEAVEN IS') Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.