Around the time her Grammy-winning album Golden Hour came out in 2019, Kacey Musgraves was shopping in Nashville when she stumbled across an unusual candle.
“It was a scent based on a garden concept,” she recalls. “So there were notes of like dirt and tomato—stuff that you wouldn’t normally see in a candle. And I thought, ‘that’s different.'”
The candle in question was “Gardener” from Boy Smells, a Los Angeles-based candle and intimates company cofounded by fashion industry veterans and real-life partners Matthew Herman and David Kien. Since its inception in 2016, Boy Smells has become a cult brand for their gender fluid (or rather gender full, as Herman puts it) approach to its products.
“It’s the opposite of genderless,” Herman says. “Gender exists, but it has a much more expansive and flexible meaning and it should be defined by each individual. And in creating binary boundaries around scent, what does that leave for people that don’t identify with eau de parfum or cologne specifically? And how does that translate into home fragrance?”
Boy Smells’ nonbinary approach to scent and its focus on luxe product design at more affordable price points (Gardener is $32) was enough for Musgraves to DM the brand directly on Instagram with the idea of collaborating on a candle based on her song “Slow Burn.”
The result was the eponymous candle released back in February that sold out in just 12 hours, amassing a 15,000-person wait list. What was intended to be a one-time collaboration has since been restocked multiple times.
Now it’s back just in time for the holidays, in a larger, three-wick size and a specially designed wick trimmer ($86).
Boy Smells has had a banner year with sales soaring over 2,000% from 2019 to 2020, due in no small part to the massive success of “Slow Burn.”
As Musgraves explains, working with Boy Smells has not only set a new gold standard for what brand collaborations should be, but it’s given her a new perspective on how she approaches songwriting and productivity.
Be direct and on the same page
It stands to reason that the “Slow Burn” candle’s origin story should’ve happened in reverse—with an indie brand reaching out to a major celebrity. But to Musgraves, effective collaboration starts with being direct.
“Gone are the days where people hide behind their teams and there’s like a 10-person chain to deal with,” she says. “It’s nice to sometimes go straight to the source and say, ‘Hey, I want to work with you.’ It gets things done quicker. And it’s more fun that way.”
“Slow Burn” was the first time either Musgraves or Herman had ever collaborated with a brand or a celebrity, respectively. Both were immediately clear that whatever they did together would have to serve their values equally.
“You gotta be careful as an artist, because you can slap your name on so many things that it starts to water down the reason that people know who you are in the first place,” Musgraves says. “My songs are everything to me and that’s first and foremost. But if, along the way, I can branch out and become a well-rounded creative entity, then I’m down for that as long as it never feels forced.”
“The true learning here is that authenticity is key to success,” adds Herman. “It’s obvious that Kacey likes our brand and that we like Kacey. There’s a mutual affinity for what each other are doing. And it’s not like we were like, ‘Here’s this scent—do you want to slap your name on it?’ It’s like a mutual baby.”
Rethink what you know
The task of making the Slow Burn candle was an exercise that has broadened Musgraves’s creative boundaries to the point where she’s considered making a whole sensory album where each song has a different scent.
“It’s true that smell is one of our strongest memory and emotional triggers. So it’s really interesting to think about playing with that,” she says. “Kind of making the song more surround, if you will.”
The Slow Burn candle is meant to evoke the sentiment of the song for which it’s named. At the start of their collaboration process, Herman challenged Musgraves to create a mood board to pinpoint the visuals and scent inspirations that would translate from lyrics like:
I’m alright with a slow burn
Taking my time, let the world turn
I’m gonna do it my way, it’ll be alright
If we burn it down and it takes all night
It’s a slow burn, yeah
The end result are scent notes including incense, black pepper, raspberry, amber, and smoked papyrus.
“It’s when the weather transitions to fall. It’s smelling a fire that’s blowing by on the breeze. It’s savoring the last bits of conversations that evening and the few drops left in your glass,” Musgraves. “You’re not thinking too far ahead in the future. You’re enjoying where you are.”
And that, ironically, is what so many people are grappling with in such an unprecedented year—Musgraves included.
Fortify your foundation
Slow Burn launched right before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt. Musgraves is among many who have isolated the silver lining of staying at home to be taking a necessary breather.
“I don’t know if you know anything about the Enneagram personality tests, but I’m a three wing four. Three meaning I’m an ‘achiever’ for better or worse,” Musgraves says of the number and symbol-based personality test. “So one of the things this year that has been hard for me to learn is how to be still. I’ve been trying to work on that because I genuinely love to stay busy.”
The key for Musgraves has been to lean into being busy with things other than music and touring.
“It’s been a really beautiful chance for me to dig into myself a little bit more and focus on other things like the candle, or like moving into a new house and making it beautiful, and having a dog—things that I feel get put on the back burner when you’re just constantly going and going and going. So when things come back to normal, I will have a better foundation under me,” she says. “Having an entire slate cleared is going to be important for me to only put back into the things that really inspire me. This year has given me a good perspective on quality over quantity.”