(The Making Of GRAMMY-Winning Recordings … series presents firsthand accounts of the creative process behind some of music's biggest recordings. The series' current installments present in-depth insight and details about recordings that won 56th GRAMMY Awards.)
(As told to Lisa Zhito)
I wrote "Merry Go 'Round" with Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne. We had taken a trip out to Texas for a writing retreat, me and like four of my favorite writers. We were out in the middle of nowhere on this ranch some friends of ours had let us use, west of Fort Worth. It's really cool out there, but really desolate. That was our setting for writing the song.
It started like how a lot of songs start, with something funny someone heard or said. Shane had talked to his mom that day and she had said about her neighbor down the street, "She's down there selling something, but I don't know if it's Mary Kay or Mary Jane." When he told me that I was like, "Oh my God, that's kind of amazing! We should do something with that."
We started talking about the different ways you can use Mary in a song: get married, merry-go-round, the girl Mary. It turned into a deeper discussion about the cycle of life and having a one-dimensional perspective on where you're from and getting out of that, like we all did.
The song actually got finished really quickly, in about an hour and a half or so, which is fast for a song. It just fell out, literally, and we just stayed with it. I remember when we were about to set the work tape down I got super teary-eyed, I just felt like it struck a chord with me.
I knew it had to be on the record, and I knew it should be my first single. I kept hearing that "it's too dark" or "it's not up-tempo enough" or "it's not your typical first radio single from a new artist." I just said, "That's exactly why I want it to be first!" I really had to fight for it to be my first single and I'm so glad that I stood up for myself and worked for that.
One thing I really love about the song is that the music has a happy lilt to it. The lyrics are actually a little bit more depressing, but I like the juxtaposition of those two together. And I like hearing something that's observational and a little blunt, with a classic nursery rhyme.
We made the banjo really dominant. I love banjo, it gives an energy to songs sometimes — kind of a playfulness, a kitschiness. And we kept the track really sparse on purpose, because where it's so heavy like that lyrically, you've got to have room for it to breathe.
We tracked it and after we found the right mix there was a certain point where we took some things away. Like, we originally had more cello. When it felt completely, perfectly bare, we were like, "We're done, this is it. This is perfect, don't touch it."
When I was trying to think of a name for the record I went through the words to this song, it being the first single and one that meant so much to me. I loved the line "Same hurt in every heart/Same trailer, different park." It can mean different things to different people: "Same s***, different day," but also "Same hurt in every heart." We're all different, but we're all made of the same emotions.
(At the 56th GRAMMY Awards, Kacey Musgraves won Best Country Song for "Merry Go 'Round" and Best Country Album for Same Trailer Different Park, marking the first GRAMMY wins of her career. Musgraves is currently on tour with Lady Antebellum, with dates scheduled through May. She will open dates for Willie Nelson and Alison Krauss And Union Station in June, followed by dates opening for Katy Perry in August.)
(Lisa Zhito is a Nashville-based freelancer covering travel, arts and entertainment.)