Singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly discusses healing from divorce and moving back to Nashville (2024)

Audrey GibbsNashville Tennessean

In the midst of a crumbling personal life, Ruston Kelly got out of town and found ways to heal himself. Now, he's moved back to Nashville and is ready to experience Music City anew with fresh music in tow.

The alternative-indie artist, or "dirt emo" singer, as Kelly would call it, released his new EP "Weakness, Etc" on March 21 before heading out on tour. The "Too Chill to Kill Tour" took Kelly all around North America.

On May 2, he's ending his tour at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium.

The gravelly voiced artist sat down with The Tennessean to discuss the new EP, his four years of prioritizing personal healing and moving back to Nashville.

Why Ruston Kelly came back to Music City

The singer experienced a high-profile divorce from musician Kacey Musgraves in September 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kelly has been open, too, about his struggles with drug addiction.

"So divorce, global pandemic, I stopped doing drugs suddenly, like hard drugs," Kelly said. "Everything happened at the same time. It was a super hard reset."

Since then, he's done some serious soul searching. He found himself in the small Tennessee town of Portland.

He calls it a blue-collar town where they didn't care that he played music or toured for a living.

"They're just like, 'Oh, that's cool.'"

He bought an old Victorian house, the mayor's house from back in the early 1900s. "It was structurally super sound, but it needed like a lot of updates," he said. "It needed a lot of love."

As Kelly put up drywall, painted the walls and toughened up the infrastructure, he did the same thing to himself. He renovated.

"It was allegorical to what I was experiencing as, like, a person," Kelly said. "To straighten yourself out, it takes a lot of willpower, and I failed a lot, and I'll fail again. It was hard. It's not for the faint-hearted to dive deep like that."

He found it difficult that people thought they knew the ins and outs of his divorce, something incredibly personal to him.

After his ex-wife released "Star-Crossed" in 2021, Kelly received threatening messages on social media. A lot of people thought the songs were about him — some of them were, he said.

"I'm not gonna lie, the public aspect of my divorce, I was naive to like how all that ... works," he said. "It's not normal to wake up and you open your phone and someone's like, 'I hope you ... die.' That messed with my sense of self worth, it messed with my sense of identity."

But Kelly shared that you can take any negative event in your life and use it to humble yourself.

"Know that it's not all that you are, and you can eventually grow from that," he said.

He did just that during his time in Portland. But Kelly always knew he'd be coming back to Nashville.

He was driving back and forth to Nashville to record and collaborate with other musicians. He was ready to start dating again, and that was easier to do in Nashville. He also found working on the house taxing.

"I felt like I had discovered this like bedrock about myself, but now it was time to move on," Kelly said. "And that transition happened quicker than anticipated."

So he finished up the house in 2023, renovating it with his father, an architect.

The day Kelly listed the house on the market, he sold it. He never got to live in the finished product.

Kelly said it was always about getting back to the music for him. All he wanted was to be on the tour bus with his band and to get back to Nashville.

"This is home," he said. "This is so home to me. It's always been home."

Ruston Kelly releases new EP with religious imagery, old track from 2012

Kelly said that for his newest EP, he wanted to get back to the roots of his music. "Weakness, Etc" was released in March.

"The point was to show a bit of the bread and butter that's similar to the first two records as far as stripped back, just the song, not a ton of production," Kelly said.

Kelly's EP is a simple seven tracks, starting with a runaway song "The Watcher." It's a song rife with religious imagery, not unlike the rest of his EP.

His father was raised Southern Baptist, his mother Mormon, and he grew up in a Methodist household. He said that Old Testament imagery has always stuck with him, so much so that he weaves it into his lyrics.

Kelly said "The Watcher" was inspired by "The Book of Enoch" and "The Book of the Watchers" where angels were commanded to look after the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. Kelly's song imagines if one of the angels were to fall in love with one of the daughters.

The tune is a shimmering, alternative ode. Kelly's gruff voice is captivating, so are the Fleetwood Mac-like guitar strums and instrumental twinkles.

He sings, "And I brought her to my room / And I unveiled the truth / Disobeyed my father's one command / Traded heaven for love / They call that the fall of man."

Kelly's is fascinated by religious imagery, drawing on it for sonic and lyrical inspiration.

"I believe in God ... I pray quite a bit, but I don't necessarily have a name for that fully yet," he said.

He wouldn't call himself the most religious person, but that having faith in his weakest moments has made him a better person.

Another tune, "Heaven Made the Darkness," draws from the same inner strength that Kelly found during his time in Portland. The lyrics go, "Maybe all of this suffеring / Is meant to show you what it's all really worth / So when you gotta get back up again."

The stripped-back, vulnerable song draws on similar sounds as artists Jason Isbell, Zach Bryan and Brent Cobb.

The most important part of the EP, though, is its ending song "The Wreckage." Kelly recorded it in 2012.

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Kelly said the song is about living in Nashville from 2011 to 2015 when he was deep in the throes of drug addiction.

"I was living at the Curb Publishing Writing House (for eight months); they didn't know that I was living there," he said.

He was really living out of his van. He didn't reach out to his family due to shame.

"Addiction does that to you. All it does is just make you and the people that you connect, with those connections, smaller and smaller. And I was probably the smallest I've ever been in my life."

That's when he wrote "The Wreckage," a song somewhat addressed to his parents — not an apology, per se, but an explanation of what he was going through. The song, a raw piano ballad, ended up landing Kelly his record deal.

"The Wreckage" is what pulled Kelly out of his own wreckage— he went to rehab and was able to return and progress in his career.

The original recording brings listeners back to that 2012 version of Kelly. With pain in his voice, he sings, "I swear to God I've got a good heart / I just don't know where to start / To build it up again / And I feel like a kid / Here among the wreckage."

Ruston Kelly's acoustic tour, wraps up at Ryman Auditorium

Kelly took his EP on the road with a fully acoustic tour, something he's always wanted to do.

"One of my goals is to become Dave Matthews Band," he said. An acoustic tour is just one step closer.

On May 2, he will be ending his tour at the Ryman Auditorium, a stage that has a special place in his heart.

"The energy from that stage is palpable," he said. "Like when you're standing on a stage and spotlights on you ... the stained glass windows above everyone. It's the best ever."

Kelly's "Weakness, Etc" details redemption, fallen angels and looking for paradise. There is no better place for the new EP to come to life on its final tour stop than in the Mother Church.

To learn more about Kelly and his Nashville show, head to

Singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly discusses healing from divorce and moving back to Nashville (2024)
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