"A large intention with the record was giving people a little bit of a beautiful hiding place," says Kacey Musgraves of her fourth album, Golden Hour. Speaking over the phone from Nashville, where she's relishing a rare week off from her mad touring schedule, the US singer-songwriter is reflecting on the insanity that has been the past year of her life.
At the time of our interview, it's been two months since Golden Hour won Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards and almost a year to the day since Golden Hour was released. She just celebrated the occasion with her collaborators Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian with an "afternoon rosé cheers" in the backyard studio they built the record in, "reflecting together on the last year of unbelievable happenings," she says.
"It's been one thing after another, a year full of stimulation on level 10," she says. "At this point, it's been over a year that we've been touring this album, and singing these songs countless times, and I still find Zen and peace and genuine joy in singing these songs."
As for that Grammy win, Musgraves has one word: "stunned".
"In my mind, within 10 seconds, I was flashing back to meeting my husband and all these songs pouring out; and what they mean to me," she says. "I feel like I changed a lot in a lot of good ways. To say that it's the best in a year is kind of an unthinkable compliment."
Musgraves, 30, is bringing her Oh What a World tour to New Zealand tomorrow for her first visit to our shores. The tour is named after the first track she wrote for Golden Hour, which became the thematic touchstone for the rest of the album. In the song, Musgraves recognises that our existence on planet Earth is completely mind-blowing, and she channels that energy into someone she loves. "Oh what a world," she sings, "and then there is you."
It was falling in love that let Musgraves see in colour again. She met her husband Ruston Kelly at a Nashville cafe in 2016, and she was soon making connections between the miracle of love and the miracle of life on Earth.
"It was this idea that I had that I didn't really know what I wanted to do with," says Musgraves, "basically likening all these seemingly mundane things – like the fact that we have jellyfish that light up, or the northern lights, or plants that grow and can change people's minds – to this person that had come into my life and really opened my eyes in a lot of ways."
Musgraves wanted to share that headspace and transform it into a musical balm for troubled times. "The album was written at a time that was really positive for me, yet weirdly was coming at a time that didn't always feel so positive in the social and political landscape," she says.
The creation of Oh What a World also kick-started Musgraves' drive to sonically challenge the genre of country. Golden Hour is an album of pristine, glistening production that seamlessly blends country elements with psychedelic, electronic sounds; the wistful narratives of country remain, but they're catapulted into the future by buzzy synthesisers and pop tempos. It's a dreamy compound that Musgraves termed "space country".
"It was a balancing act of finding out what works, and what sounds right together – how not to lose my spirit or my character in exploring all those new sounds, but then also having the time and the freedom to really explore," she says. "You know – what if Daft Punk made a country album? What if Imogen Heap made a country album, what would that sound like? What if The Bee Gees made a country song?"
Musgraves also attempted to bring her song-writing back to a place of sincerity; learning to speak from the heart in a way she had never before. "I've always had my magnifying glass out, kind of competing with myself at each line," she says. "I really wanted to step back and deal with a bit of a different perspective. It took some unlearning for me – trying to practise more stream-of-consciousness writing, versus trying to outwit myself."
Golden Hour was met with instant critical adoration, while also finding a fan base in a community that has historically felt ostracised from country music: gays. The queer community had already fallen in love with Musgraves' track Follow Your Arrow back in 2014: "It kind of became kind of an unintentional anthem for the community," says Musgraves. But Golden Hour elevated that love to a new level; Vulture even published a breakdown of Musgraves' career titled, "Kacey Musgraves Is a Gay Icon and the World Needs to Know" . And Musgraves takes that seriously.
"I will be an ally for life," says Musgraves. "I've had a lot of people say, 'I've always loved country music, but it's always felt like a party that I wasn't invited to, until I heard your music.'
"I didn't really set out intending to be part of that but I'm really happy that I am and I know when that community feels included by you, then they include you and they spread the love tenfold.
"Country music is a genre that is built on storytelling songs, songs about real life, songs about real people; it wouldn't really make sense if the genre itself didn't really move along with the times," she says.
Golden Hour opens with the shimmering Slow Burn, a psychedelic dream-pop track about appreciating life in the slow lane. (Musgraves wrote it after a particularly blissful acid trip). Fittingly, it's the track she opens the show with, and it takes her back to that feeling every time.
"I find a lot of tranquillity in this album still," she says. "People coming to the show shouldn't be expecting a crazy, high-energy, flashy production, but you're going to hear the songs, and they're going to come from the heart and hopefully it'll be a little bit of a Zen moment for you to escape in while you're there."
Musgraves can't wait to share the show with Kiwis for the first time. "These songs are really personal to me, and to be able to carry them thousands of miles away from where I'm from, to see a completely new group of people and how they connect with them; it's going be very important and very special to me."
Who: Kacey Musgraves
What: The Oh What A World Tour
Where: Auckland Town Hall