We briefly catch up with a country artist and renowned Nashville songwriter whose new album is his most honest yet
Ruston Kelly has penned tracks for some of the biggest names in country music, including hits for the superstar Tim McGraw. Yet before becoming a sought-after songwriter in Nashville, Kelly was an accomplished competitive figure skater. Having hung up his blades he made the move to Music City aged 17 and hasn’t looked back.
Kelly is now married to country darling Kacey Musgrave and his wife even makes an appearance on his brand new LP Dying Star. That record, his full-length debut, gives added weight to those who describe his sound as, ‘A bastard disciple of Kurt Cobain and Townes Van Zandt,’ and provided us with an ideal opportunity to learn a little more about his songwriting…
You moved to Nashville when you were 17. How would you say the city has shaped your sound?
“It’s really more the people that have shaped anything. That’s something I feel is pretty special about Nashville, it’s a family. A community of people who help along new creatives coming in – if they really believe in what they’re doing. Mentoring. Telling me to quit writing songs with other people and never change anything about my art. Joe Leathers, Kyle Jacobs, Natalie Hemby, Kellie Pickler, Lori McKenna, Hillary Lindsey and many more helped me in that regard. They encouraged me to be me and even let me sleep on their couch when I had no other place to go at times. “
Do you have a particular song in your back catalogue that you’re most proud of?
“I don’t know, it changes from time to time. Usually what I write most recently I feel the most proud of, because it’s the farthest in I’ve grown as a writer. I constantly want to improve and grow and beat the last song written.”
Of course, you’re not just a songwriter but also a singer in your own right. How do you feel your music has connected with audiences around the world?
“(laughs) I’m not sure how to answer that, but I will say what is most satisfying is when I get a message from a fan telling me they’ve been through similar struggles as I have and that my music made a positive difference in their journey.”
Your single Jericho has been very well received in the UK and you’re performing in London this September. How do you feel the UK and US Country scenes compare?
“I don’t know, I wouldn’t say I’m in either scene, but what I can gather is that UK country fans seem to appreciate authenticity.”
What do you think it is about your own music that has connected with British audiences so much?
Jericho is also the first taste of your new album. What themes can we expect to hear throughout the LP?
“Thematically, this record is about the last push into redemption. A recovery record of sorts. It’s when you have to take painful account of all the shit and brokenness and decide to make something better and clearer out of it. Sonically, I reflected this with spareness and a lot of lonesome/emotional steel guitar, played by my father.”
Do you have a set way of working when writing new tracks?
“I always have a song in my head. When it’s time, it seems to make itself known and proceeds to come out in one subconsciously pulled burst. Words and music. Then I record that and edit a few words here and there.”
Where do you get your inspiration from when working on new material?
“The observations I make about myself in the world. Or the other way around.”
Your latest album also features a song with your wife Kacey Musgraves. What can fans expect from the track?
“Us singing together on a song I wrote about my previous relationship.”
Can we expect any more exciting guests or co-writes on the record?
“I would recommend a glass of red wine or a joint and listening to this album straight through. I think it will feel like a movie. I hope so anyway.”
Interview: Laura Klonowski
Dying Star is out now. For more info, head to rustonkelly.com