A version of this story originally appears in the new issue of Entertainment Weekly, on stands Friday and available here. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.
The road to Kesha’s new album, Rainbow (out now), hasn’t been easy. It’s her first studio LP since 2012, and her first since she began a contentious legal battle with producer Dr. Luke, whom she accused of sexual assault, among other allegations, in a 2014 lawsuit. (Luke — real name Lukasz Gottwald — has repeatedly denied all of her claims, most of which were thrown out by a judge in April 2016, though one contract-related claim is still ongoing in court.) Here, Kesha makes EW a Musical Mood Board and shares the inspirations behind Rainbow, in her own words.
Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys
Pet Sounds is one of the most brilliant albums ever made. I researched how the Beach Boys recorded it and what instruments they used. Specifically, for my song “Rainbow,” I went into the big live room at Capitol Studios in L.A. with Ben Folds and recorded that song with many of the same instruments and techniques. It was a big step for me to say, “Let’s just go for it and record it all live together in one room with an orchestra,” because it’s so different from how I’ve made music. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. “Rainbow” is the eighth song on my album, which is also a nod to the Beach Boys because “God Only Knows” is my favorite Beach Boys song and it’s track 8 on Pet Sounds.
I have been to Graceland multiple times in my life, and I went there recently with my whole band and crew while I was writing this album. I really love the era that Graceland was built in. There is just something about shag-rug-themed rooms and gold ceilings that really appeals to me. I love how loud and intricate everything is. Each room is like its own art piece, and every detail of it exudes the same personality of the room, all in that ’60s and ’70s glamour.
Some of my favorite musicians, from Bob Dylan to Dolly Parton, have worn Western suits in the style of Nudie Cohn’s designs. I love that rhinestone-cowboy look. Recently, I’ve been working with designers to incorporate my favorite imagery to make my own versions. They scream rock ‘n’ roll and are the perfect outfit for the stage. Each Nudie suit I wear is hand-designed by me and has a specific story behind it.
Many Lives, Many Masters by Brian L. Weiss
I started studying comparative religion in high school, and throughout my life, I have been fascinated with learning about spiritual beliefs and humans’ inclination to look to something bigger than ourselves. The more I’ve studied, the more it seems that the foundation of most religions is as simple as treating others with love and acceptance. The ideas in Brian L. Weiss’ book about how we live many lives in the physical realm and how our spirits travel in spirit groups through space and time in ways we can’t understand are something that spoke to me. I’ve tried to tackle some of these bigger themes on this album.
When I was a kid, I knew that Dolly had recorded a song my mom had written, and she always seemed like a larger-than-life figure. She’s strong and pretty and independent and funny and works her ass off and does things her own way. It was a dream to duet with Dolly on my new album, covering a song that my mom wrote: “Old Flames (Can’t Hold a Candle to You).” I live by Dolly’s sayings, such as “More is more.” Whoever said “Less is more” was just incorrect — especially when it comes to glitter!
Specifically for my “Woman” music video, which I directed with my brother Lagan Sebert, I wanted to have some of the spaghetti Western vibes from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. I really wanted to incorporate some of the quick zooms and speed-ramped imagery that’s in it. It has that style and grit that I love. Also just the vibe that there is this hard-ass woman going around basically dominating all the men that cross her path — it’s so great to see a woman superhero like that in film.
Cosmos by Carl Sagan
Carl Sagan’s book talks about life in such a grand scale and reveals how we are all such small insignificant specks of stardust. I love thinking about the world in these terms because it provides context for all the bulls— we go through every day. Really, it’s all not that significant in the grand scheme of things. That’s why space and spaceships are a big theme on this record. The last song on the record is called “Spaceship,” and there is a line in the second verse that says, “There’s too much hurt for this heart. Lord knows this planet feels like a hopeless place. Thank God I’m going back home to outer space.” And that’s kind of how I feel. I hope that when I die, I’ll just travel up into space and find my soul friends, and we’ll just hang out in space together. At the end of the record, it sounds like the spaceship is taking off back into space. Maybe because I feel weird down here, I’ll finally feel at home back up there in outer space.
Robert’s Western World in Nashville
I’ve been going to Robert’s for a long time. It’s smack in the middle of the crazy tourist section of Lower Broadway in Nashville, and while it may not be an off-the-beaten-path-type place, it’s steeped in history. They play a distinct brand of Western swing and rockabilly, the dance floor is never empty, and the walls are lined with cowboy boots (which you can buy — who doesn’t love that?). As far as I know, they only sell PBR and whiskey, or at least that’s all I’ve ever had there. Robert’s is one of the few places that captures that punk-rock attitude and wild energy that permeates some of the best country music. But the best part of Robert’s isn’t in the bar itself; it’s right out back in that magical alleyway between all the honky-tonks and the mother church of country music, the Ryman Auditorium. This is the alleyway where all the greats from Hank Williams to Minnie Pearl to Johnny Cash have gathered and had a smoke or a drink on their way on or off stage. There is no telling how many great songs have had their start in that alleyway.