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Kacey Musgraves ponders life's big questions on new album

Kacey Musgraves; Facebook

Kacey Musgraves says her feet are firmly planted in the ground, but she's looking up at the stars for clarity.

"My Saturn has returned," she declared when she first teased her new album, Deeper Well, in February.

For those who aren't well-versed in celestial messages, your Saturn return occurs when the ringed planet "returns" to the same position in the sky as the day you were born. Astrology says the end of that 30-year cycle brings great change, and Musgraves is feeling it.

"I think there's confidence that comes with getting older," Musgraves tells World Cafe during a video call. "Knowing that it's okay to say no. It'll leave more room for the things that really matter."

More and more, the 35-year-old songwriter finds herself looking outside for those "things that really matter."

"Nature is everything," she says. "To me, nature is God. I think the word God is used in so many expansive ways, and everyone's got their own interpretation of that. For me, that's nature."

Throughout Deeper Well, the natural world acts as Musgraves' gentle guide as she contemplates big questions. A cardinal is a message from the afterlife, the Grand Canyon could be proof of a great architect, and the woods whisper their wisdom to us.

In this session, Musgraves also talks about recording her new album at the Electric Lady Studios in New York City with her longtime collaborators Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk. You can read some highlights from the interview below, or listen to the full conversation in the audio player above.

Interview highlights

On the album's acoustic sound:

"I love acoustic instruments so much. The warm, wooden, organic sounds. I knew that this record would be different in that way. With Star-Crossed, I think it was a little bit harder-edged — it was a divorce album; it was more dramatic and acerbic, there were a lot more electronic instruments.

"This time, I was, like, 'Okay, I'm older now. I'm a little bit wiser. I live in the heart of the woods. My feet are firmly planted in who I am.' I just feel really grounded, and I wanted the instruments to reflect that. There's nothing more grounded sounding to me than, like, a good old fingerpicked acoustic guitar or, like, a hint of a banjo here or there or, like, just a touch of pedal steel guitar."

On writing the title track, "Deeper Well":

"That song, for me, really cuts to the core of the human experience. I feel like just an observer in that — lucky to be conscious, alive and kind of a narrator in that sense. They're my stories, but they're emotions that we all have.

"I feel like the older I get, the more I realize I really need depth. The small talk, the superfluous friends, saying yes to things that, at the end, you're, like, 'Why did I say yes to that?'

"I think there's confidence that comes with getting older, knowing that it's okay to say no. It'll leave more room for the things that really matter."

On looking to nature for answers:

"I saw a quote the other day that really stuck with me. It said: 'The ultimate rich is being in tune with the cosmic flow.' It's being in tune with the laws of nature and really listening. If a relationship or something isn't right for you, nature is going to whisper and whisper and whisper and whisper. If you keep ignoring it, it's eventually going to scream.

"In my meditation practice and just throughout this past year and writing these songs, I'm trying to really trust that nature has my back. God, nature, the universe, the flow of life, the cosmos or whatever it is. If one door closes, something else will make sense, hopefully. I'm just trying to trust that, through relationships ending, things changing, aging, seeing my parents age, everything."

On Paul Stamets and the documentary, Fantastic Fungi:

"Paul Stamets is one of my heroes. He's a mycologist. A brilliant guy. You should watch the documentary called Fantastic Fungi. It's such a trip, but he's an advocate for plant therapy and psilocybin use.

"In his documentary, he talks about the network of mycelium that's under the forest floor — it's communicating intelligently through the roots of the trees, and it sends out signals like a sentient force, which is really trippy. So ['Heart of the Woods'] opens kind of talking about the mycelium network."

On "Cardinal," her ode to John Prine

"There's a lot of people who believe that cardinals are spirit messengers from the other side ... [John] himself believed that his mother — her spirit — embodied a cardinal. He told me that one time.

"Sadly, we lost him due to COVID. Sometime after that, some interesting things started happening. There was an experience with a Ouija board that I'll probably get judged for, so I probably shouldn't go into it, but it was really unforgettable, very positive. His wife knows about it. ... All I'm saying is that a message from him came through that I really needed at the time. I was freshly divorced, figuring that out, and I was really in a sad place.

"Then, little things started happening. Just synchronicities. This cardinal would visit every day and look in this window at my house. It would be on this branch, and it just felt very intentional.

"Lights would turn off and on by themselves. There was something mailed to my house that I had not ordered that had Fiona's name on it — Fiona, his wife. There were just several things, and I was just, like, 'Cardinal, are you sending me a message? Are you here to bring me a message from other side? Or are you just sitting pretty on a branch waiting for spring?'"

This episode of World Cafe was produced and edited by Miguel Perez. Our senior producer is Kimberly Junod and our engineer is Chris Williams. Our programming and booking coordinator is Chelsea Johnson and our line producer is Will Loftus.

Set list

  • "Sway"
  • "Deeper Well"
  • "Heart of the Woods"
  • "I Remember Everything"
  • "Cardinal"