Kacey Musgraves on overcoming the Christmas blues
Grammy-winning singer Kacey Musgraves talks us through the making of 'The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show'.
Image courtesy Amazon
Country icon Kacey Musgraves has had quite the year. After winning the Album of the Year Grammy for her iconic record Golden Hour, she's spent the rest of 2019 on tour, playing sold-out shows and festivals around the world. Who can forget this iconic moment from her Coachella performance (“I didn’t say fucking Yee!”)?
But while that might have been enough to keep any artist pre-occupied, Kacey also spent 2019 working on something rather unexpected: a Christmas TV special. Newcomers to the Musgraves fandom might find this pivot to festive cheer a little off-brand, but it’s not all that peculiar. In 2016, the Texan-born singer recorded and released a Christmas album, A Very Kacey Christmas. She even did a mini Christmas tour alongside it, too.
“About a year ago, my band leader, Kyle, who has been with me since the very beginning, and I were thinking of ways to bring my Christmas album back,” Kacey says. “The tour we did for it was really fun and happy and nostalgic. I wondered about doing it in an even bigger way. I wanted to bring these songs to life in the form of a classic Christmas TV special, but fuck with the form and modernise it a little.”
The result is The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show, a joyful, heartwarming and slightly melancholy delight that's streaming on Amazon Prime Video right now. It follows the tradition of Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash and, most recently, Michael Buble, but with a knowing, campier wink. There are heaps of musical guests: Troye Sivan, Lana Del Rey, Camila Cabello and Zooey Deschanel to name just a few, is narrated by Schitt’s Creek star Dan Levy, and even features cameos from Kendall Jenner and Kacey’s Nana.
But while it might seem all fun, festive and frivolous, according to Kacey, recording The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show was hard as hell. We gave Kacey a call about planning it all, overcoming the festive blues and how to write an A* Christmas song.
Hello Kacey! Putting on a Christmas special must involve a lot of planning and festive organisation. How did you do it?
You have to start way in advance. It's been Christmas in my brain for nearly an entire year. The idea formulated last Christmas, we started building it, finding the team and then next came all the set design and production. I had this vision of a Wes Anderson/Gucci world that was monochromatic and opulent but set inside a house.
Sounds like a lot of Christmas!
It really pushed me to my limits in a lot of ways, which I didn't expect for something Christmas themed. While filming, I was on my feet for sometimes 16 hours a day in heels learning choreography or running lines. Also, most of it was filmed throughout the summer, so we were wearing Christmas clothing in a very hot building. I kept thinking: how can Christmas make me so mad?
How did your grandma find filming?
This is Nana's special, I'm just in it! She’s a hoot. She is my Texan grandma who loves glitter and sparkle and camp. She was actually my "book agent" when I was 10 or 12 years old. She was the one carting me around in a mini-van, taking me to vocal lessons and to places to sing when I was a kid. It was very full-circle to have her in the special. She comes in and saves Christmas in a sense. At first, I have to admit, I worried a little bit. She's 80. Was she going to be intimidated by the cameras? She has a few lines that she had to learn; she had to remember her marks. The cameras can be intimidating for me sometimes, so I hoped that she wouldn't be overwhelmed. But she came in and nailed it. She delivered all of her lines, she gave us ad-libs, gave us inflections; she was a true star. She totally stole my thunder.
What was Lana like?
She is so nice and delicate. We really wanted to make sure that moment felt right. We worked at that song really quick -- I think we recorded it twice and one of the takes was the one that made it. I love that part of the show.
The special does focus on some of the sadness that can come during Christmas.
I feel like there's always a pressure to be happy during this time. I don't know if it's a consumerism thing, or just a tradition, or an expectation, but not everyone feels happy during the holidays. I've definitely felt that way before. Sometimes your feelings don't match how you think you should be feeling. That can come from a lot of different things, like your expectations being let down, seeing your parents get older or remembering people who were there once and aren't anymore.
There's a song in the special where I sing a song called "Christmas Makes Me Cry" and it's just me and a guitar. We did it on the last day of filming and it was a really tough scene to film. I was having a hard week and just thinking about all these things and reasons why Christmas makes me sad. In the special, looking back, I think you can really see that I'm trying to hold it together during that part.
What advice do you have for those people who are suffering with the festive blues?
I guess I'd say don't put too much pressure on yourself because you're only human. Try and find some comfort in whatever way you can and know that you're not alone. There are a lot of people who feel the same way and maybe don't let it out because it's meant to be all tinsel and lights and happiness. A lot of people are struggling, but it'll pass. There's the new year and a fresh start ahead.
Do you approach writing a Christmas song differently, or does it come in the same way?
It's different with Christmas songs because so much has already been said. But that makes it fun because you have this big box full of things that have been said already and you just have to figure out how to wrap them up differently.
You wrote a new song "Glittery" for the special, right?
I got together one day with Daniel Tashian, who wrote most of Golden Hour with me and co-produced it with me, and we thought that we'd see if we could write a Christmas song. We wrote “Glittery” really quickly. It had this easy groove to it, and I thought conga drums would be perfect on it and kind of give it a Marvin Gaye type treatment. It's a sweet little song. And then Troye Sivan joined me during the special for it. I think the imagery in that scene might be my favourite. I just want to eat it.
Golden Hour came out just over 18 months ago. Were you aware that you had made something special when you finished the album?
It was a beautiful experience. I took my time, and I think that was a special ingredient because you can feel so rushed in this business. I was really adamant about needing time to find something that made me feel good. It also came at a time that was really special to me in my personal life, meeting someone, falling in love, getting married and leaving my twenties. I got a bird's-eye view of the past decade and where I was heading. I also had an opening of heart to humanity and the world, despite all this chaos that has happened socially and politically in the last five years. It was an answer to that in the most positive way.
Obviously it was amazing that you won the Grammy for Album of the Year. But were you annoyed that from that moment fans mostly took away your reaction face?
[Laughs] I can't be too mad because I love meme culture. It is what it is. I just don't think my face knew what to do. So have at it.
Have you started working on a follow up?
Not really. My intention for myself is to be a sponge and absorb new feelings, ideas and vibrations, and find new inspirations. I just need the time. I hope I don't put too much pressure on myself because I would love to think that music works in a way that, when you're ready, people will still be there to listen. I think I need to get back to some normal life.
So how are you spending Christmas, Kacey Musgraves?
I’m going to make sure that I don’t do a damn thing.
The Kacey Musgraves Christmas Show is streaming on Amazon Prime Video now.