Black River recording artist, Kelsea Ballerini, has been speeding down Sirius XM’s The Highway for several months with the release of her debut single, “Love Me Like You Mean It.” While listeners may assume that Kelsea is a woman scorned who took pen to paper and struck gold, her road to success consists of far more than a broken heart and a writing instrument.
Kelsea grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee and began singing as part of her church choir and other singing groups around town. While she was becoming involved with these musical groups, she had not yet found her niche. So, rather than focusing solely on singing at that point, she was also actively engaged in dance classes (for ten years) and even considered veterinary medicine as a future career.
It was at the age of thirteen that Kelsea began songwriting and recognized her love for the process, especially when coupled with singing the words of her own work. “That’s when it clicked for me. I was like ‘oh my goodness, I have to do this!'” She and her mom began traveling to and from Nashville and, at the age of fifteen, she made the move that put her in the heart of country music and one step closer to her dream.
The dream became more of a reality one Friday night when Kelsea was with three of her good friends — male friends — with the intentions of just eating pizza and hanging out. They had recently listened to Rihanna’s “Unfaithful” and were mesmerized by her “swagger” on the track. One of Kelsea’s friends, Forest, told her she needed a song with swagger. Lo and behold, she and three guys (Forest Glen Whitehead, Josh Kerr, and Lance Carpenter) ended up writing “Love Me Like You Mean It,” a song Kelsea calls “a girl power song.” A few weeks later, Forest sent her the demo of the track and she knew instantly “that’s it!” It was the first song she had ever written where she thought “that’s it. That’s the sound.” It was ultimately that sound that earned her a record deal with Nashville record label Black River Entertainment.
After signing with the label, the whirlwind began, which included having her first song presented to Sirius XM The Highway. Kelsea recalls hearing her song on The Highway for the first time.
I was actually doing a show up in Houghton, New York and the label surprised me. They teamed up with John Marks of The Highway. I was on stage and they like shut down the show. They were like “surprise! You’re about to hear your song for the first time ever on the radio!” And then they like tuned into The Highway and they played it. So I got to experience it … there were a whole bunch of people that were there for the show. Which was super cool! I cried like a baby. Like the ugly cry.
Kelsea explained that the first time hearing herself on the radio was incredibly special because it was “the first time you get to see things pay off.” She also admitted that the excitement of hearing herself didn’t begin and end in that moment. In fact, she proudly dances, sings, and celebrates her song every time she hears it. “I turn it up, I roll the windows down, I totally jam to it because it’s exciting!”
With the success of “Love Me Like You Mean It,” it is likely Kelsea has had numerous opportunities to get her jam on to her own work. It appears that she will have even more chances to hear herself blare through the speakers soon enough, as she and her label are currently holding meetings to choose which songs will end up on her album. To that end, fans can expect new music in the very near future in the form of an EP, as well as a full-length album early next year. Fans can also anticipate, if Kelsea can successfully accomplish one of her big album-related goals, to hear one duet per record.
In discussing the current state of country music, Kelsea expressed how blessed she feels to be a part of the industry at this time and to be releasing new music alongside fellow new female artists, such as Lindsay Ell and RaeLynn.
A big group of us are all trying to break through together, which is exciting. I think as a female it’s extra important to know who you are and have that sound and that uniqueness figured out before you try to break through. I spent a year as a songwriter first before I signed my record deal and I think that was such a crucial time for me to figure out that sound, figure out that difference before I tried to bring it to radio.
Kelsea recalled recently spending time with Cassadee Pope and Danielle Bradbery when the three performed an acoustic show. During their day together, both artists told her how much they value their own songs and their writing, which Kelsea truly identified with as a songwriter who sometimes believes “people overlook that girl artists write. It was really cool to talk to them about the songwriting aspect and how much they value that too.”
Looking forward, Kelsea identified her one big (and honest) end goal, as she burst into hysterics. “I just want to come out on a hydraulic lift. Just once! Just once in my life! That’s like my end goal!” After we stopped laughing at her lofty career aspirations, Kelsea took on a more serious tone, explaining that she loves making music and writing songs that she feels “are gonna make people listen. There are so many firsts going on right now and it’s such an exciting time. For me, I just want to keep doing what I’m doing and keep learning and growing and, hopefully, successfully making music.”
On the topic of dream moments in her career, Kelsea additionally said that her ideal first choice for a tour would be hitting the road with country music trio Lady Antebellum. She would also love to share the stage with Ed Sheeran, Keith Urban, or Rascal Flatts. Further, it would be on Kelsea’s career wish list to collaborate with Gavin DeGraw. In fact, Gavin DeGraw is a name Kelsea constantly mentions during album meetings regarding those duets she hopes to secure!
What can I possibly say about Kelsea Ballerini that will do her the justice she deserves as an artist and a person? Kelsea has one song already on the Billboard charts and projected releases in the short-term, showing no sign of stopping or succumbing to a time in music that makes breaking out a difficult task. With vocal and songwriting skills that are a force to be reckoned with and a personality as lovable and amiable as can be, it only makes sense that this artist will pave her own way in the industry and continue to make a name for herself.
I think for me that the last six months especially have been a big discovery period for me, kinda figuring out who I am as an artist and what I want to leave with people. And I think … my main goal is to, whether it’s music or whatever, that people take away feeling confident and feeling happy. I feel like, especially with the EP coming out, like the songs that we pick for that are just happy and uplifting and hopefully, like, girls listen to that and feel confident and feel like, you know, if they’re going to talk to a boy or hop into a relationship, they better find someone that loves them like they mean it!
To stay up-to-date with Kelsea Ballerini, follow her on social media (Twitter and Facebook), as well as her website. Also, make sure to download her debut single, “Love Me Like You Mean It,” by clicking on the album cover icon below.
A very special thank you to Kelsea for taking time out of her rehearsals and album meetings to speak with me and share so much of herself with the Country Music #CMchat community. We can’t wait to follow and support your long and successful career!