Kelly Christine Sutton
December 12, 2017 at 11:15 AM EST

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Late last year, during the early stages of making her fourth LP, country singer Kacey Musgraves found herself at a crossroads as she reflected on the end of her 20s and prepared to walk down the aisle. “There are certain junctures in your life where you can’t really think your way through — you have to feel your way through,” says Musgraves, 29, who married fellow musician Ruston Kelly in October. “Making this album, it’s like leading heart first.”

For the upcoming Golden Hour, due in early 2018, following her heart meant trying out new styles as well as writing some of the most honest and genuine tunes of her career. Though she once expressed interest in making a reggae or surf-rock album next, Musgraves describes her new LP as having a “trippy” twist, citing the Bee Gees, Sade, and Neil Young as influences. And while she’s often celebrated for her clever wordplay and witty turns of phrase about small-town life, Musgraves says she avoided wrapping every lyric “up in a little bow” in favor of more direct, reflective songwriting.

“I was thinking about how there are different masks that we wear that represent different sides of us,” she says of the album’s central theme. “None of the masks are solely us, but they’re all us. On this record, there’s the lonely girl, the blissful girl, the new wife, the girl that’s missing her mom, the angry girl, the sarcastic girl, the ‘60s-sequined Cruella de Vil with the beehive, the shy girl, the life of the party, the winner, the loser — they’re all characters on this record. None of them alone are me, but the golden hour is when they all come together and you see me as a whole.”

Musgraves wrote most of the album during the past year, with the exception of one track, an unreleased fan favorite that she’s often performed live. (She’s keeping the title a secret for now: “It’s just a live take of me sitting by the piano singing,” she teases. “There’s no Auto-Tune, there’s no nothing.”) Naturally, her relationship with Kelly inspired plenty of material. “I have a lot more love songs this time around, and I’ve never been one to write a love song and really feel it,” Musgraves says. “That probably sounds like the most depressing thing ever. [But] I’m coming off getting married and being in this golden hour of my personal life, where all these things are finally coming to fruition. I found myself inspired to write about this person and all these things he brought out in me that weren’t there before.”

In addition to reuniting with previous collaborators such as Luke Laird, Shane McAnally, and Natalie Hemby, Musgraves sought out pals Ian Fitchuk and the Silver Seas’ Daniel Tashian as her primary co-producers and co-writers. “Ian’s a well-known sessions player around town, so I’ve used him before in little ways, but I’ve never had him driving the train,” she says. “I always wanted to see where his brain would go.”

She also got encouragement from Sheryl Crow, who let Musgraves record in the studio above her horse stable and would occasionally pop in. “She has Guinness on tap, so she would have a Guinness with us,” Musgraves says. “We ended up talking about reincarnation one night and getting so heady. I was like, ‘This is amazing!’ It set the tone.”

While she was working on the album, Musgraves quite literally experienced the golden hour when this summer’s solar eclipse — whose path of totality included Nashville — occurred on her birthday.

“It felt like this majestic time where God was saying, ‘This is a moment to be present for, to witness and relish in the beauty of this incredible world,’” she says. “That was important for me to include on this record. It’s such an ugly time right now with society and politics, and it could be easy to focus on that. But one thing we could use is a little more love and positivity and pretty colors.”

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