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Kacey Musgraves Comes Down to Earth

The “Space Cowboy” singer got divorced, rebounded, quit weed — and she’s never felt so grounded.

SIMONE ROCHA Tulle Sculpted Dress, at Photo: Diana Louise Bartlett
SIMONE ROCHA Tulle Sculpted Dress, at Photo: Diana Louise Bartlett
SIMONE ROCHA Tulle Sculpted Dress, at Photo: Diana Louise Bartlett

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Kacey Musgraves has been explaining the physics of the gravity bong she used to use for a solid two minutes now. (“It was a cutoff. It was a two-liter cut in half and then on the lid you put … I don’t know. You fashion some sort of socket or something.”) Yes, the lyrics to her new song “Deeper Well” are true; she really used to wake up, hit her homemade gravity bong, get high off her face, and go about her day. And yes, much to the dismay of her stoner fans on the Kacey Musgraves sub-Reddit, the lyrics that come after — “I’m getting rid of habits that I feel / Are real good at wastin’ my time” — are also true. She really has given up weed.

“Sorry, y’all!” she twangs as we wind our way through shoppers on a crowded block. It’s an unseasonably warm day, even for mid-February in Nashville, and the sidewalk is packed like the town is playing hooky. Her dog, a mischievous rescue named Pepper, keeps getting wound up between people’s legs as we go.

MICHAEL KORS COLLECTION Cutout Mini Dress, at Photo: Diana Louise Bartlett

It’s funny to her that everyone still thinks she’s such a stoner. That, she declares, was early-20s Kacey behavior, a habit and a persona that turned into a bit of an identity trap — one she left behind long ago. “It’s not for this chapter,” says Musgraves, who now, at 35, is in a different phase: a chiller, late-millennial, Zillow-is-my-favorite-thrill era where sleep and time in nature is a priority and anything that might make her anxious isn’t. Not that she’ll never revisit her stoner days. “Maybe later, when I’m a 60-year-old lady with nothing to do and I’m just doing pottery all day, maybe. We’ll see.”

Musgraves is in the lead-up to the release of her sixth album, Deeper Well, and I meet her for a much-needed break in between calls the day after she hosted the requisite dog-and-pony show: an album listening, where she’d spent the afternoon giving Spotify-playlist editors, local record-store owners, and guys from the label the chance to close their eyes and nod along approvingly to a smattering of new songs while she sat a little uncomfortably at the front of the room. Today, she wanted a more low-key affair, a walk, maybe, and a stop for a snack at a quiet café — one she goes to often that’s nestled in a part of the city that could easily be mistaken for an outdoor mall in Los Angeles, if not for the almost suspicious number of congenial people who approach us.

MARNI Mini Dress, available upon request Photo: Diana Louise Bartlett

Maybe it’s because she’s dressed so casually in all-black workout gear (well, southern casual: Her hair is still in perfect mermaid waves, her pink lip gloss is applied to never budge, and her fake eyelashes are so long I swear I can hear them flutter against the lens of her sunglasses), or maybe because she always has an air of relatable cool, but nobody is stopping to fan-girl over Musgraves today. Instead, they pull over to give Pepper a good scratch between her ears while Musgraves waits patiently.

We settle down at a table in the sun, and she leans back to savor it — sunscreen be damned — basking in a last moment of peace before the churn of her press cycle gets aggressive. The meetings and reporters’ calls have been steadily increasing since she announced the release of Deeper Well, in the middle of the Grammy telecast, by dropping a teaser film during a commercial break just minutes after collecting an award for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for her duet with one of the genre’s reigning kings, Zach Bryan.

In the dreamy 30-second clip, Musgraves is barefaced and barefooted, her dark-brown hair long and straight like Crystal Gayle’s, as she journals, walks among geese, rides a horse bareback in the rain, and lies in a field. Musgraves’s past few albums had her edging pop-crossover superstardom. If we were meant to divine anything from the teaser, it seemed to be that for her newest era, she was going back to her country roots — and at just the moment when country, with its acoustic guitars and line-dance-ready beats, has been invading pop music. Country stars like Morgan Wallen have dominated the genre-agnostic Billboard “Hot 100,” and a cadre of pop stars are finding their inner twang: Post Malone and Ed Sheeran have both suggested they have country albums coming; Lana Del Rey announced a country-infused album Lasso, out in September. Before fans had a moment to relish in Musgraves’s album teaser, almost comically fast, Taylor Swift (the country-to-pop–pipeline journeywoman) announced her new album. A week later, Beyoncé, who had spent the Grammy’s ceremony quietly smiling underneath her giant white Stetson, dropped two new country singles, “Texas Hold ’Em” and “16 Carriages,” on Instagram. Pop producer Jack Antonoff, who’s behind Del Rey’s album, recently predicted in an interview that this country moment is “about to blow.”

“It’s just funny because country music has been such a massive part of my life since I can remember. I literally grew up wearing rhinestones in fringe and cowboy hats and cowboy boots. It was my life,” Musgraves says. She was born in Golden, Texas. By age 9, she was writing songs and yodeling. By 18, she had moved to Nashville and placed seventh in a reality-TV singing competition, Nashville Star. By 21, she had her first job as a songwriter, and by 25, she’d won two Grammys for her first album, Same Trailer Different Park. “Country feels like home to me,” she continues. “It may come and go trend-wise in other genres, but there’s always something really timeless to me about it, whether it’s popular in pop music or not.”

VALENTINO Dress, at Valentino boutiques. Diana Louise Bartlett.
VALENTINO Dress, at Valentino boutiques. Diana Louise Bartlett.

At this stage in her career, the tale of Kacey Musgraves, country music’s rebellious daughter, is as well worn as the heel of a favorite cowboy boot. Golden Hour might have pushed her into crossover success, with the help of a vocoder and one song (“Mother”) famously written with the aid of LSD, but it also cemented a reputation she’d gained with her first two major-label albums. Musgraves was cool — the kind of LGBTQ-inclusive, pot-positive, sex-positive feminist country rebel icon who toured with Harry Styles, wrote songs that played after Haim on your Spotify playlist, and made comments that ruffled the feathers of the good ol’ boy country-music-radio DJ club and made Fox & Friends talking heads clutch their pearls. Her early albums helped diversify country — both who gets to make it and who gets to enjoy it. Now, again, the country-music landscape is full of alt-country up-and-comers, burgeoning country stars, and pop stars questioning what country even means and who gets to determine it and, in doing so, are low-key asking a question about America, if you want to get lofty with it. But Musgraves doesn’t really, not today anyway, when the sun is shining and Pepper keeps making friends with people at neighboring tables.

“The more the fucking merrier,” she says. “I don’t really care. It doesn’t affect what I’m doing. It doesn’t affect me. I’ve always been just doing my own thing. It’s just fun to watch.”

Musgraves doesn’t outwardly take the same credit for blazing trails and breaking rules that other people give her, though she proudly acknowledges how she made country feel like home for fans who never felt they had a place in the audience. The questions still exist, though: What do you do next when you’ve already rebelled against the status quo and become defined by that rebel label? What do you do when you’ve had a hand in modernizing a genre, gotten all the recognition, won a bunch of Grammys, and turned 35? If you’re Musgraves, you sit back and let the genre move forward on its own for a while. You figure that Beyoncé can dominate the charts, Tanner Adell and her sassy single “Buckle Bunny” can bite her thumb at classic country misogyny the way you did when you were an up-and-comer, that someone else will infuse modern country with a new sound while you’re free to get back to your roots.

Musgraves might have had some fantasy about the day she’s 60 with nothing to do, but she’s far from it. The week I visit her in Nashville, she’s getting ready to head to New York to launch her second collaboration with Boy Smells candles (this one, named after the album, smells like hugging somebody who just came in from outdoors and Baccarat Rouge 540.) After that, she’s got an SNL performance, and she’s prepping for an upcoming tour — cutting back on carbs, rehearsing with the band. Even though she’s busy, she feels her body is rebelling. She’s been staying in bed until 9 a.m. these past few days, ensconced in the hurkle-durkle, the Scottish tradition of staying in bed long past waking. (Yes, Musgraves is very online and looks at the same meme accounts and TikToks you do). At one time, she would have felt frantic at the prospect of another tour, another album cycle, but these days, it doesn’t seem to faze her.

HERMÈS Leather Jacket, Knitted Skirt, at WILLY CHAVARRIA Ranchero Hat, at Photo: Diana Louise Bartlett

A lot has changed for Musgraves since her last album, star-crossed, the heart-wrenching, existential pop album she created in the wake of her divorce. The fact she called it a “modern tragedy”—and loosely evoked Romeo and Juliet to tell the story of her split from fellow musician and collaborator Ruston Kelly after nearly three years of marriage and four years of partnership that resulted in a career-defining album that was a tribute to their love (Golden Hour)—gives you a hint at the emotional state she was moving through. star-crossed was a big flashy hard turn into a poppier sound (so much so it wasn’t even eligible for a Country-album Grammy) and the sonic equivalent of deciding to get bangs post-breakup, a reinvention designed to swing you far and up and away from yourself.

Since that album’s release, Musgraves has done a lot. She started a new highly Instagrammed relationship with Cole Schafer (a poet who goes by the pen name January Black), fell in love, renovated the house she’d bought post-divorce in 2020, went on tour, moved into the house she’d renovated, started writing songs, broke up with the poet, broke up with the house, got a new house, grew up more, and settled down even more.

“I definitely feel way more grounded now than in the past,” she says, watching Pepper wind her red leash around a stranger’s chair. “I feel like my feet are firmly planted on the ground, and no matter what comes my way and tries to rock me, I feel more planted, if that makes sense.

“Also,” she adds, “I think turning 35, you’re like, I have less time for superfluous shit.

Musgraves started meditating after attending a Vedic workshop. She has a teacher and a mantra she isn’t allowed to share (though she would love to ask other people what theirs is; “I’m just nosy as hell,” she jokes), and it’s been the fuel helping her move through all the big life events in the past couple of years. She’s also gotten into psilocybin — not in a casual-party way but a spiritual, mind-expanding way. “When used with intention, I think it’s a massive dose of compassion and reverence for nature, fellow humans, yourself,” she says enthusiastically. “Do you know Paul Stamets?”

I didn’t.

“Oh my God,” she exclaims. “I don’t get starstruck by anybody, but if I saw Paul Stamets, I would act a fool. Seriously. My dream is to go on a woodland forage with him and talk about life, psilocybin. Anyway, but he’s doing a lot of work to raise awareness about the benefits of psilocybin.”

She stops and ponders other recent changes. “I started reading,” she says, pulling out her iPhone to find her book list. “I’m new to reading,” she starts, then catches herself. “I mean I can read, I’m not learning to read,” she says sarcastically and starts going down the list of books she’s picked up in the last year: Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck, for starters. She read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo with her grandma, even though her grandma lapped her, she says. She also picked up a few books by fellow Texan, Mary Karr, Lit and Cherry and The Liars’ Club. (Honestly, Musgraves would kill if she launched a book club.)

And then there was selling the house — yes, that house: the big fuck-off house she bought herself right after her divorce and painstakingly decorated in big Nancy Meyers–esque luxury. The one that got the Architectural Digest spread where she posed in front of the pool in an orange Valentino Gown; she also gave a charming video tour of the kitchen and the bedrooms. Her decision to move all started when, post-tour, Musgraves would see chunks of days off on her calendar and “freak the fuck out.” She didn’t know how to be alone, she realized, like at all. She started asking friends for advice.

GUEST IN RESIDENCE The Airy V, at MATERIAL GOOD Small Multi-Shape Diamond Necklace, at FERNANDO JORGE Sequence Small Hoops, at Photo: Diana Louise Bartlett

“I called one friend, who had a really corporate job, and was like, ‘Okay, if you were me and you had this entire day to do, absolutely … Tell me how to spend it. What would you do?’” Musgraves recounts. “And she was like, ‘Girl, I would completely nail this: I would wake up slow. I would go on a long walk. I would take a hot bath. I would watch a favorite show. I would cook a meal. I would go get a pedicure. I would do a yoga class, whatever.’ And I was like, ‘Okay, okay, okay. Yeah, I think I can …’” But she couldn’t.

Some of it had to do with coming down from life on the road, she explains. “It’s always given me anxiety, and especially when you’re on the road a lot and you’re surrounded by people and it’s go, go, go, it’s fast paced. There’s a lot of stimulation. And then you go home and there’s no one there.” Some of it was her — youth and all that — and some of it was that house. “I didn’t feel super-settled,” she says. “There was just something that was not fully at ease there.”

She found a new house — a cottage, in nature, that needed work but felt like hers. Around the same time, she got a text from Kelsea Ballerini, another millennial country singer who had just gotten divorced and wanted a new home, saying, “‘Hey, if you ever think about selling your house, let me know.’ And I was like, ‘Well, actually, do you want to buy it right now?’ It was sort of a kismet,” Musgraves explains. It worked out, like the sisterhood of the traveling bachelorette pad.

In her new house in the woods, she’s gotten more comfortable with herself. “It’s a happy place, and it feels very neutral and clean and clear. There’s deer and fox and turkeys everywhere and cardinals,” she says. “I luxuriate in my bed. I hang out with Pepper. I cook for friends. I get song ideas there. I have a sauna. I use that. I just feel like I’m more well there, and I just have gotten better at not being intimidated by alone time.”

You’d think Musgraves’s album, Deeper Well, would have been written right there on her front porch with the wild turkeys gobbling in the background, especially given both the meditative quality of the album and the aesthetic that’s emerged, a vibe she calls “soft nature cottage witch,” and the aesthetics certainly match. (Just recently, she curated a Deeper Well Etsy store that’s full of wooden bird whistles, chunky, ocher-colored ceramics, and fresh egg holders — Musgraves loves an immersive merch experience.) But, counterintuitively, once her creative channels reopened, she called up the friends and magic-bullet producers she’s worked with since Golden Hour, Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, and headed to New York to Electric Lady Studios. (Nothing tests the resilience of a newfound peaceful inner sanctum like Manhattan.) Over sessions last spring and fall, they collaborated on a mellow collection of folk-tinged songs that occasionally sound like the musings of a wizened, introspective septuagenarian who’s found true contentment.

CHANEL Jacket, Culotte Skirt, Knit Top, Leather Belt, and Mary Janes, at select Chanel Boutiques. Photo: Diana Louise Bartlett

“I find it really ironic that I was able to tap into a more rootsy, folky, softer side in the middle of New York City. Some of my more country stuff came out again there,” she says. She loved the maximalism of the city. Everything was inspiration. She walked through Washington Square Park every day and smelled piss and weed and pizza, and that was inspiring. A skateboarder almost crashed into her; that was inspiring. As were the mantras she heard blasting in an Indian jewelry store where she bought a jade-green bracelet. (There’s a song about that.) At night, they went to a nearby Irish pub and got inspired there. (There’s a song that has some Celtic influence, too.) Another night, she ended up at Sing Sing till 4 a.m., she gushes to me with the same energy of an NYU freshman. After, she went back to her Bowery hotel room with friends and they sang until the sun came up and that inspired her, too. She learned more about Nora Ephron and got so inspired she wrote a song called “Dinner With Friends,” her version of Ephron’s “What I’ll Miss, What I Won’t Miss” essay. (Somehow that song really does sound like Billy Crystal wearing a chunky knit in October in Central Park.) Mostly, the songwriting experience was her, Tashian, and Fitchuk hanging out, sitting around, talking about life — sometimes crying and other times turning the conversation into a song.

The songs on Deeper Well call back to her singer-songwriter roots. It’s the album you write when you’re hitting reset or, as Musgraves says, “craving a return back to the center,” an album for the stage of life when you’d rather take a walk with a friend and microdose instead of party. It’s a post-coming-of-age album for grown-ups — there’s no baby fat, no adolescent yearnings, just lessons learned and mellow ruminations.

Anyone seeking the next “High Horse”–like anthem has come to the wrong saloon. “I feel like it’s going to be a good responsible respite for the gays,” she says jokingly. “They’ve had their popper dance-floor BPM anthems, and this is going to be a good chance for them to sit down, hydrate, reflect responsibly, and then they can get back out there.”

Somewhere during the New York sessions, Musgraves and Schafer broke up, but anyone seeking overt references to their relationship will be disappointed. Even still, she’s facing an album cycle after a two-year relationship in which the couple attended the Met Gala together, went to Disneyland together, and shared how they felt about each other via countless Instagram posts (he’d write it was “so damn pretty falling” for her, and she’d respond with a “sweet angel boo,” letting love turn them both into Instagram poets.). In interviews, she waxed about how they met (at a crowded restaurant; he didn’t know who she was), and how in love they were, and how she didn’t want to hide it. Was there any regret about that now, when fans will be tempted to map song lyrics onto their relationship? “I don’t regret living and loving as hard as I do,” she tells me. “Whenever I’m in a relationship, I’m all fucking in. I think that hesitancy breeds hesitancy, and if you go in with something with one foot, it’s going to fail.” (Always a songwriter, this one). “After divorce, it’s like on one hand I do want to self-protect, but at the same time, if your heart is feeling open, I think you have to just show up for it. I’m still trying to figure out the balance of that.”

Even if the album wasn’t about her relationship, it’s helped her find closure from the breakup in her own way. She launches into an explanation of an idea she learned about from a recent meditation workshop about “removing resistance to growth.” “Operating from your high self is having the courage to remove resistance to growth, whether that be people or habits or whatever,” she says. As she goes deeper into an explanation, we’re interrupted by an older woman who has been quietly eating her BLT at another table, seemingly not paying attention.

“Sorry, I’m not eavesdropping, but I just have to say thank you. That’s really inspiring,” she tells Musgraves, who lights up. Somebody who wants to talk about her meditation workshop.

TOM FORD Knit Maxi Dress, at TIFFANY & CO. Elsa Peretti Bean Pendant, at Photo: Diana Louise Bartlett

“I circled it on the paper really big,” Musgraves goes on, now addressing both of us, ready to dive into what it meant to her. “I’m like we’re all so concerned with attaining, attaining, attaining more and more and more. And if you look at it in that sense, it’s never enough. If you look at it as ‘I’m already the ultimate rich. I already have everything I need,’ it just takes that away.” The woman nods eagerly and introduces herself, telling Musgraves how she just finished studying cosmology. Literally, all she thinks about are the dynamics of the universe.

Musgraves leans forward, genuinely excited. “Really?” The two of them start swapping tales of synchronicity and the universe and what it all means. Musgraves offers up a new kind of meditation technique she just learned from her Vedic teacher. “It’s fucking trippy,” she says. “You basically sit there and you focus your intention on different parts of your body. First, it’s lips and then nostrils, eyes, ears, top of head. You go slowly through and you really focus. You can almost feel it buzzing a little bit if you really tune in.” Musgraves continues, touching each part of her body like a woo-woo version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” “And then you say, “Whole body,” and you focus for a bit on whole body. And then, after you’re there for a minute, you can just feel your whole body. Then you go ‘Whole room,’ and then you go, ‘Whole building,’ and then ‘Whole city, whole North America,’ and you just can feel yourself being brought into these vast spaces as you imagine them.” She continues, listing all of the continents, then the ocean, then the Earth, then beyond the Earth to the whole universe. “The last step,” she explains, is back to “whole body, again, and whoosh, you feel the whole planet and everybody in it and yourself and how small you are, but it’s also everything. You should try it.”

The lady nods and then shoots her shot, revealing she’s a songwriter, too, who would love to jam. The slightest look of surprise crosses Musgraves face; she thought she found someone to talk about the cosmos with, but instead she’s brought right back down to Nashville, to this café, to the place she’s worked so hard to return to: back to her roots.

Kacey Musgraves Comes Down to Earth