Mercury Nashville recording artist Kacey Musgraves has always had a tendency to march to her own beat, and her new holiday platter A Very Kacey Christmas is no different. The sound -- and artwork -- of the disc reflect somewhat of a retro approach. The CMA award winner told Billboard, "I wanted it to be a good mix of being a nod to the traditional classics, as well as what I would do with Christmas music."
After co-producing her first two Mercury projects with Luke Laird and Shane McAnally, she oversaw the production duties this time around with Kyle Ryan and Misa Arriaga. "My voice has always been really strong in all of my musical projects, but this one was a little different. I worked with two guys that I have played music with for a long time in Kyle and Misa, and we just really had a good time in taking all these songs that it would have been easy just to copy -- because we've heard the classic versions a million times -- but we really sat down and tried to find a way to make these songs different. How do we chop up the arrangements and make them a little weird, and put little interludes in?"
She said that in approaching the record, she drew inspiration from one of her all-time favorite holiday discs. "One record that was very inspiring for me was A Charlie Brown Christmas album, with that classic feel of the piano on there, with these sweet little interludes between songs, and you'd have children singing on them. That one really inspired me along with Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, and Gene Autry, and people like that."
Four cuts on the album feature special guest appearances: Willie Nelson ("A Willie Nice Christmas"), fellow Texan Leon Bridges ("Present Without a Bow") and The Quebe Sisters (who play fiddle and sing on "Let It Snow" and "Mele Kalikimaka"). In the exclusive clip below, Kacey Musgraves takes fans behind the scenes of her Leon Bridges collaboration "Present Without a Bow" and reveals how that particular phrase came to her in a dream.
The singer says the collaborations on the album helped make the project even more special. "It was such a delight having these people lend their talents to this. They made these songs come alive. I can truly say that this album was one of the most enriching experiences I've ever gotten to be a part of. The musicians that played on the record just astounded me. I loved just being able to be in the same room with them. That was one thing that was different from my normal records. There's not that many instruments on my other albums. We got to use the saxophone, clarinet, and accordion, and all those other great instruments. These songs are all harder to sing. It was a challenge for me to sing my ass off with this band."
One song that Musgraves wanted to try to leave as close to the original was the Jose Feliciano standard "Feliz Navidad," which she says has been a part of her life for a long time. "Growing up in Texas, I heard that song a million times. I wanted to make a version that stood up against the one that you always hear. This was fun for me because of the big band, classic mariachi sound, and I love the Spanish culture. I did have to work on my accent a little bit," she says with a laugh.
When asked about her favorite Yuletide memories, she said simplicity was, and is, the key. "The Christmases that I always remember are always very casual at the house with my parents, a bunch of presents, and a bunch of dogs. They live out in the country, it was nothing fancy, but I think that's why I like it. It's just very real and comfortable. You just show up in your sweatpants, eat a lot of food, and sleep, and just kind of catch up on life. I really love that."
There is one tradition that has been a part of her life since she was a child that has followed her into adulthood. "My grandpa always does this puzzle that he made. It's a wooden puzzle that he carved years ago with my dad and his sisters. You put it together, and it creates a riddle where you can go on a scavenger hunt to find your presents. We've done it every year since we were babies, and he always says 'You're too old to do the puzzle.' We'll say back 'No, we're not too old. We're doing it.' So every year we beg him, and he brings out the puzzle again, and we'll go on the scavenger hunt. A couple of years ago, we decided that it was time to send him on his own scavenger hunt, and we came up with our own puzzle for him, and it led to a riding lawn mower in the backyard. He got a huge kick out of that."
One of the highlights from A Very Kacey Christmas is the '60s sounding "Ribbons and Bows," of which she said, "I think that one added a lot of fun and uplifting energy to the record. I wrote that one with Julia Michaels and Justin Tranter, two amazing songwriters who were down from L.A. in May. We had these dates booked to write. I hadn't told them I was making a Christmas record yet, but when I did, they said 'Let's do it.' I just think it's a sweet sentiment. It's very simple. It says 'I don't need fancy things like diamonds, furs, and pearls. I just need your love.' I think that might be somewhat of a cliché, but it is true."
In co-writing four new songs for the project, is there anything different about writing a song with holiday leanings? "For me, the writing process was very much similar. The catch is trying to figure out how to make it real to me. One thing that is fun about Christmas music is all the melodies that you can play with. Once I get inspired with a certain theme, it's very easy for me to run with that. At first, I thought 'How am I going to say something that hasn't been said a million times about Christmas?'"
She feels she achieved that with a mixture of emotions. "I found a way to tap into the way I feel about Christmas, whether it's in a fun sense or something like 'Christmas Makes Me Cry.' I cried when I wrote it, and when I tracked it. That was a hard song for me to sing because the nostalgia and the passage of time are two things that really get to me, especially when I think about Christmases in the past when you have people who aren't here now, and your parents getting older. It makes things a little melancholy sometimes, and I don't think I'm quite alone in that."
Musgraves is on the road promoting the album with a holiday tour. Upcoming dates are as follows:
December 8 The Town Hall / New York, NY
December 9 The Kirby Center For The Performing Arts / Wilkes-Barre, PA
December 10 National Theatre / Washington, DC
December 15 Rialto Square Theatre / Joliet, IL
December 16 Tennessee Theatre / Knoxville, TN
December 17 Victory Theatre / Evansville, IN
December 21 Billy Bob's Texas / Fort Worth, TX