All Signs Point to Kacey Musgraves as Country's Bright, Shining Hope

Kacey Musgraves doesn't need a sign from above to indicate whether she's destined for greatness. If country music's latest next big thing has any doubts, there are so many outside forces willing to make it happen.

If that's not enough, Nashville's determined and down-to-earth bundle of energy can -- and will -- consult her horoscope to see what's on the horizon.

The truth is out there already, though. At least with her major label debut Tuesday (March 19) of Same Trailer Different Park (Mercury Records), Musgraves offers honest-to-goodness proof that there's nowhere to go but up.

Ready for takeoff, Musgraves already spends a lot of time studying the celestial skies in relation to what happens in the real world. During an initial introduction, the Leo (born August 21, 1988) who's "very into astrology" might ask "What's your sign?" before "What's your name?"

"Obviously, I don't live and die by it, everything my horoscope says," Musgraves said last week on her cell phone from Nashville while primping for a five-song taping on CMT with her band. "But I feel like there's definitely something to it.

"We're all regulated by the pull of the planets and even we're affected by the cycle of the moon, so it's like, I mean, there's gotta be truth to all that."

The planets must be perfectly aligned right now for Musgraves, who's so busy yet thoughtful, pleasantly apologizing for interrupting the start of the interview because "I'm making important hair decisions here."

National television appearances (including Today on Tuesday), spring and summer tour dates as support act (and occasional duet partner) of Kenny Chesney, four Academy of Country Music Award nominations and plenty of glowing reviews supply further evidence that fans should be lining up to catch a rising star.

All the sudden attention leading up to an album that has been about a year in the making is "kinda surreal," Musgraves said. "I'm excited, uhhh, I'm tired. (laughs) But it's a good thing. I'm just excited to give people music they've been waiting for."

Making sure to indicate that her first single, the wistful "Merry Go 'Round" (with a chorus that begins "Mama's hooked on Mary Kay / Brother's hooked on Mary Jane / And daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down") isn't autobiographical, Musgraves is a grounded product of an "awesome," loving family in the rural East Texas community of Golden.

"Merry Go 'Round" grew out of the realization "that people settle and get complacent in their everyday life," she said. "Just distracted and, yeah, they end up putting their own dreams on the back burner and later that might lead to some regret. It's just like a cycle that can happen to people. I just never wanted that
to be me. ...

"I always draw from things around me that people around me have gone through. ... The story that could be taken really literally is not from my life exactly. But bits and pieces are and the sentiment behind it is," she added, pointing out that her only sibling is younger sister Kelly, a Dallas photographer who's probably taken "pretty much any promo shot that you see of me."

Their parents, Karen and Craig, are happily married and for 25 years have owned and managed a "a mom-and-pop Kinko's kind of thing," where Musgraves once worked. "I was their worst employee," she stated about her print shop experience in nearby Mineola. "Not fired, but I wasn't employee of the month or anything."

Her "laid-back" upbringing in a "Bible Belt kind of environment" included singing by age 8, struggles in the classroom ("My parents were happy if I brought home passing C's") and a half-hearted attempt at athletics while attending Mineola High School.

"I did tennis for a while and I was actually on the volleyball team for a minute," she said. "And I wasn't on the 'A' team, I wasn't on the 'B' team, but I was actually on the 'C' team. So that in a nutshell is what I know about sports."

Fortunately, Musgraves overachieved in creative writing at school and was encouraged by a guitar instructor who would "just kind of help me figure out kind of how to wrap my brain around just creating songs." In her album liner notes, she gives shout-outs to schoolteacher Ms. Powell ("you thought outside the box when no one else did") and John DeFoore ("you sparked my passion for songwriting").

While her style has been compared with such bona fide legends as Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, Musgraves did have room in her past for a certain pop powerhouse.

"I was definitely into Shania (Twain)," she said. "I remember her record Up being one of the best records I've ever heard. It was so catchy. She crossed a lot of genres, too, with her music. She kind of changed the game for a lot of reasons."

Since the mid-1990s, sex appeal certainly played a part in taking country to another level.

Taylor Swift was the ultimate beneficiary, but asked what she thought of Nashville's reigning pop princess, Musgraves would only say, "Umm, I think ... I think she's very talented."

While retaining some of Lea Michele's Glee-ful wholesomeness, Musgraves takes a grittier, unpretentious approach, hoping her music spreads across a wide range of genres. "Bring it on," she proclaimed. "All of it."

Singing with Loretta or Willie Nelson would be a "dream come true," but writing with marvelous Mindy Smith is a goal just as earnest, with songs such as "Dandelion" and "Back on the Map" blessed with the similarly delicate touch of her prospective pen pal.

With music recorded by artists as diverse as Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride and Nashville actress Hayden Panettiere, who sang "Undermine" (cowritten with Trent Dabbs) on the ABC TV series and soundtrack, Musgraves has limitless opportunities. It took a long time to reach that in-demand status, though.

With no desire to go to college, she figured as a teenager it was "now or never" to attempt a career as a singer-songwriter. "I needed to really pursue music and learn what I needed to learn on my own by getting in and doing it, not by reading a book about it," she said.

A permanent move to Nashville from Austin was imminent after going back and forth while pitching her songs and appearing on Nashville Star, the USA Network competition show on which she finished seventh in 2007.

"You can come two or three times a month even and not live here, and I don't think it will work," Musgraves said of that temporary arrangement. "I mean there are other ways people will find you, but just for me jumping into the scene and really wanting to get better at songwriting, I just knew I had to be here."

Texas performer Radney Foster, who brought Musgraves on the road as a backup singer so she could make ends meet, also made her parents feel good about their daughter's impending departure. "He was one of the people that I first met (in the business)," she said. "And he introduced me to a lot of the people that I know now."

As connections were made, working relationships and bonds developed, including a close friendship with Kree Harrison, one of this season's American Idol finalists.

Musgraves produced the album (its title comes from one of her favorite lines -- "Same hurt in every heart / Same trailer, different park" -- off "Merry Go 'Round") with songwriting pals Luke Laird and Shane McAnally.

Their credits appear all over the album, along with Josh Osborne and Brandy Clark, the latter a fellow artist Musgraves called "one of the most amazing female writers I've ever met."

Asked if there's a secret to a successful collaboration, Musgraves said, after a long pause: "Just being honest, I guess. You have to start with a foundation that you both believe in and kind of go from there. But if they're not into it, you're not gonna write a good song because your heart and your brain's not gonna be into it. So I think speaking up and saying, 'Hey this isn't for me' or 'What about this?' and just not being scared to throw ideas out there is probably the best way to be."

That honesty has become her calling card.

Kimberly Schlapman, co-founder of Little Big Town, the band that recently had Musgraves open on the first leg of its 2013 tour, recalled during our recent interview the first time she heard Same Trailer Different Park.

Listening to the CD while driving in a car with Jason Owen, manager of Little Big Town and Musgraves, Schlapman thought, "She's so honest with her writing. She says exactly how she feels and she says it in a way that none of us ever thought about saying it. It's just raw and I think gut-level honest."

Musgraves' sincere take on a roller-coaster life is also handled at times with tongue-in-cheek humor. The trailer park theme continues on "My House," her "campy" tune with the memorable lyrics "If I can't bring you to my house / I'll bring my house to you."

Revealing only that she's in an ongoing relationship and has been "continuously happy now for a good little while," Musgraves said the song wasn't written with anyone specifically in mind.

"That was kind of the sentiment of home is where the heart is," she offered. "Like you don't need much as long as you have somebody around you that you love and trust."

Among the celebrities in her circle of trust is Susan Miller, a New York-based astrologer and author.

"She's hit the nail on the head of a lot of things I've gone through," Musgraves said. "She talked about publishing and broadcasting a lot in my horoscope which is rare, because there's not that many people probably in the field that always make sense to me. Just about like Mercury being in retrograde and when to make decisions has really served me well. As far as signing contracts and making big business decisions, I always check up on her stuff beforehand."

Figuring out what lies ahead musically for Musgraves won't require an astrological consultation, though. She can value the free expert opinion of Schlapman, whose band is peaking in 2013 after winning its first Grammy.

"She's got a huge future ahead of her," Schlapman said. "I know she does."

Publicity photos by Kelly Christine Musgraves.