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There are different masks we all wear that represent different sides of ourselves. None are solely us on their own and yet they all are. There’s the lonely girl – the blissful girl – the new wife – the daughter missing her mother – the hopeful girl – the selfish girl – the sarcastic, hair-sprayed, rhinestoned Texan – the shy girl, the life of the party – the winner and the loser…
They are all characters on this record. None of them alone are me, and yet they all are. The golden hour is when all the masks come together as one and you can see, in perfect light, the whole picture of me.
In early 2016, when Kacey Musgraves finally set some time aside to start writing again, she was in a confused place. When she broke through in 2013 with Same Trailer, Different Park she was instantly recognized as one of music’s most original new voices in years; she was named “New Artist of the Year” by the Country Music Association and awarded both Best Country Song and Best Country Album at the Grammys, as well as an Academy of Country Music trophy for Best Album. Her 2015 follow-up, Pageant Material, also reached Number One on the charts, and received another batch of accolades and award nominations.
But now she was frustrated, unsure which road she wanted to take…what she wanted to say or how she wanted it to sound. And then, just as soon as she got off the road, slowed down, and began to re-focus on simply enjoying being creative again, she met singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly—who has since become her husband.
“Almost immediately, I could feel a metamorphosis happening,” Musgraves says. “I was feeling genuinely happy for the first time in a long time, and it started pouring out in ideas and songs. I had never really written a ‘love song’ and felt sincere about it. Now for the first time, I had that perspective, and it didn’t feel cheesy or contrived.”
The journey that she took is chronicled in Golden Hour, her third album (in addition to 2016’s acclaimed A Very Kacey Christmas, a Top Ten hit on the Holiday charts). It marks a more personal, emotional chapter for a songwriter who has been celebrated for her piercing observations and finely-hewn storytelling.
“I had a different mindset this time, which was feeling rather than thinking—leading heart first, rather than brain first,” she says. “I’ve always been known for my turns of phrase, for being clever, but you can wear that out at a certain point, so what other side am I inspired to show?
“It’s a little scary, because I don’t want my music to come across any less biting or smart. But I think there’s another strength that comes from leaving more up to the listener and painting with other colors—not being so linear all the time.”
The sole example of her previous life on the new album comes with the confidently lonely “Space Cowboy,” in which she sings “..though we had our day in the sun, when a horse wants to run there ain’t no sense in closin’ the gate…you can have your space, cowboy.” It marks Musgraves closing a door, making peace with a certain part of her life—“it’s the only song that goes back to where my mind was at before I met my husband.”
The transition to her new phase came with the sparse, dreamy “Butterflies,” written with Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird. “I had the imagery come to me, but I didn’t yet know what it would be,” says Musgraves. “And then I started seeing butterflies everywhere, they started following me…a medium even randomly told me that my grandmother’s spirit shows itself in the form of a yellow butterfly. So that has really become a metaphor for this time period and this record as a whole.”
In this window of creative exploration, she tried working with a couple of friends, Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian—guys she had known for quite a while, but had never actually written with. Together they came up with “Oh, What a World,” which she describes as “a magical song, all about the real and beautiful things in this world, and being enamored with them as well as the person I’m singing to. It’s a song that wrangles with bigger questions about reincarnation and how we all got here on this planet.”
Notably, they constructed a sound for “Oh, What a World” that combined Vocoder, banjo, and classic pedal steel. “I had this vision of futurism meeting tradition—space country, galactic/cosmic country—where those instruments could live together as a guiding tone for the record. Organic meeting non-organic in a very authentic way,” she says.
Golden Hour offers a strikingly new musical direction for Musgraves, with inspirations ranging from Neil Young to Sade, even dipping lightly into disco land on “High Horse” (“I was on a huge Bee Gees kick,” she explains).
“You won’t find anybody on this earth more inspired by traditional country music more than me,” she says, “but there are all these other facets of music that inspire me, too. I was wondering what it would sound like if those influences could live cohesively. I could still have banjos and steel guitar, but I want to connect with people outside of country music, as well.”
Excited by the collaboration with Fitchuk and Tashian, they started making demo recordings together and she committed to producing the album with them. Golden Hour was recorded mostly live at Sheryl Crow’s home studio, which is in an actual horse barn. “Sheryl graciously let us come in and set up house,” says Musgraves. “It feels like a sanctuary, tucked away in the woods, away from Music Row and the whole 9-to-5 mentality of the industry. We were around these beautiful horses and on breaks we would go down and play with them or ride—it really set the tone for the project. It made me feel very grounded.”
The songs explore a spectrum of feelings and experiences. The album opens with “Slow Burn,” which Musgraves calls “one of my most autobiographical songs, a personal look inside myself and a snapshot of where I’m at in this chapter.” She notes that “Lonely Weekend” is inspired by feelings she says she has experienced as a byproduct of touring for a living and being gone all the time. ”It’s an anthem for loners, homebodies like me,” she says. “I’m fine being by myself, I’ve learned how to enjoy that as I get older.”
“Mother” came about when her mom texted her a picture of her hands while Musgraves was at home on an LSD trip (“The number of times I’ve done psychedelics hasn’t been astronomical, but those times have always been profoundly eye-opening for me,” she says). Overcome by emotion and love, and thinking about the cycle of mothers and children, she wrote the song and “bawled my eyes out.” She recorded the song live, with only a simple piano accompaniment. “It has flaws I had to come to terms with, because I’m a perfectionist to a fault,” she says. “But it’s a moment on the record that I’m really proud of—art isn’t supposed to be totally perfect.”
A similarly intimate track is the final song on Golden Hour. Musgraves wrote “Rainbow” five years ago, and played it at her grandmother’s funeral. At the last minute, it filled in a piece she felt was missing on the album. “I had all these groovy songs with a positive outlook on love,” she says. “I had the irreverent, fuck-you moment with ‘High Horse, and the crunch of ‘Velvet Elvis,’ but I needed a hopeful moment. Something that speaks to myself and any person struggling with whatever they’re going through—and I was thinking especially of LGBTQ youth.”
�With Golden Hour, one of pop music’s greatest young talents takes a powerful step, broadening her range, expanding her canvas, creating new possibilities. “I’ve always been a commentator on society and the human race,” says Kacey Musgraves. “With what’s going on politically and socially, it’s a really scary time, and it could be easy to focus on the negative aspects and lean too hard on the things we all want to see change. But it was also important to me to inject some hope, love, and color with this music. My life right now has allowed me to see the magic in the world.”
“Growing up, people would always say I was too happy to be depressed, or too social to have anxiety,” says Liza Anne Odachowski, the critically acclaimed songwriter better known these days by her stage name Liza Anne. “In their eyes, because I was one thing, I couldn’t also be something else. I think we all exist in duality, though. I can be everything and nothing all at once.”
Duality is at the core of Liza Anne’s arresting new album, ‘Fine But Dying,’ her debut release for indie powerhouse label Arts & Crafts. Synthesizing the elegant sincerity of Angel Olsen with the wry lyricism of Courtney Barnett and the unapologetic candor of Feist, the music is both tough and vulnerable, bold and withdrawn, a helping hand and a middle finger. Firing on all cylinders with distorted alt-rock guitars and explosive drums one minute, hushed and delicate the next, it’s an eclectic collection that reflects the messy complications of growing up in the modern age, as the 23-year-old grapples with the fallout of falling in love, reckons with the patriarchy, and stares down the panic disorder she refuses to let define her. ‘Fine But Dying’ is the sound of an artist taking total control of her life and her art, a proud misfit crafting an aggressively infectious kiss-off to an industry (and a society) that’s tried to box her in from day one.
“Being a young woman playing music in Nashville, everybody had their opinions of who I should be and what I should do next,” says Liza Anne, whose music is as decidedly un-Nashville as it gets. “They wanted me to be happier and softer and easier because people are conditioned to only experience women in entertainment as a force of goodness and kindness and light. But just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I have to be soft and happy and nurturing all the time. It’s pretty inhumane to expect a human being to represent only one side of themselves. We embody too many contradictions.”
‘Fine But Dying’ follows Liza Anne’s self-released 2015 breakout album, ‘Two,’ which garnered more than 20 million streams worldwide. NPR praised the record’s “deeply introspective” songwriting and “searing reflections,” while Nylon called it “a stunningly somber album” and dubbed Liza an artist with the “keen ability to turn even the smallest of feelings into a sweeping song.” The record earned her dates with Joseph, Margaret Glaspy, The Oh Hellos, and Bears Den, among others, as well as festival slots from ACL to Daytrotter Downs.
Though Liza Anne commands a stage like she was born to do it, a career in music was far from her mind as she grew up in the quaint, sheltered community of Saint Simons Island, Georgia. She discovered songwriting one summer at sleepaway camp, when a guitar class helped her realize that the notebooks she’d been filling with poetry and prose could be set to melodies. Raised in a deeply religious household, Liza’s first taste of public performance came on Sundays when she served as a local worship leader, and though she’s since moved on from the church, the experience proved to be formative for her.
“I learned at a very young age how to manipulate an entire room full of people to feel what I’m feeling,” she says with a laugh.
When it came time to cut ‘Fine But Dying,’ Liza Anne brought both her band and her producer, Zach Dyke, to France’s legendary La Frette studio, a 19th century mansion on the banks of the Seine. Dyke and Liza’s recording chemistry had been undeniable since they first met during college in Nashville, and though Liza dropped out of school to tour full time, the pair’s creative relationship continued to grow deeper and break new ground.
“Zach is my best friend and my magic charm,” reflects Liza Anne. “Working with him just feels like working with your other arm or another part of your brain.”
In a six-day whirlwind, they recorded eleven new songs that embodied the raw energy and tense emotion that Liza Anne had long carried in her head but never yet captured on tape.
“This is my ‘woman at her wildest self’ album,” she says. “It’s a place for me to express all of the things about womanhood and the human condition that I was experiencing without fear of feeling like I’m ‘too much’ or ‘not enough.’ People used to talk about my music in such sweet terms, but they weren’t sweet things that I was going through. With this record, I’m not sugarcoating anything any more.”
On album opener “Paranoia,” Liza Anne weaves together lilting pop sensibilities with moments of frenetic release as she confronts insecurity and doubt. The result is an addictive, Cranberries-meets-St. Vincent gem, and it proves to be a perfect entry point to an album unafraid to bare the multitudes it contains. Liza’s crystalline voice is alternately beguiling and jarring as she sets her distress to music on “Panic Attack,” sends up the hollow phoniness of southern hospitality on “Small Talks,” and sneers and snarls her way through the third-wave feminist anthem of “Kid Gloves.” On the gentle but bruising “I’m Tired, You’re Lonely” she channels the eerie beauty of Jeff Buckley, while “Closest To Me” is a reverb-soaked look in the mirror, and “Control” faces off against some of the darker voices in her head.
“There are moments in the song ‘Control’ that question what it feels like to be in love,” says Liza Anne. “The whole album is really a catalog of my first few years of falling in love with someone but doubting I had the capacity to actually do it.”
‘Fine But Dying’ proves that Liza Anne is a woman with the capacity to do far more than she’d ever given herself credit for. By casting off the restrictions of who and what she “should” be, by writing with unrepentant emotion and without concern for the constructs and confines of “femininity,” she was able to discover her truest self and create an album of incredible power and vision, one that fully reflects the rich duality of its author.
“This album gave me space to find my voice,” says Liza Anne. “In the end, I always want to make art that’s provocative and that challenges the stereotypes of what women are supposed to be or how they are usually experienced. Songwriting isn’t just fun for me, it’s necessity. It’s my way of escaping my body and inhabiting it at the same time.”