There are few better ways to kick off your week than by spending a Monday morning with a bright, shining star whose energy can instantaneously ignite a room. That is what it is like when you come face-to-face with Kelsea Ballerini: Black River Entertainment artist, singing-songwriting extraordinaire, one of CMT’s Next Women of Country, a Country Music’s #CMchat One to Watch, and all around beautiful human being.
Before we even got our interview officially underway, we had some time for girl talk, comparing our Nashville apartment decor and chatting about our mutual favorite color, teal. If you doubt that Kelsea loves the hue, I suggest you check out her new guitar, Radio Disney romper, and band’s Chuck Taylors that were a present from hers truly. After we had a chance to catch up a bit, we got down to business!
When I last interviewed Kelsea, she was meeting with her label to choose the songs for her self-titled debut EP and was eager to start talking about her full-length album that would find a date on the calendar in the near future. Fast forward to today and, though it has only been a few months, Kelsea is light years beyond where she was the first time we spoke. And by “light years beyond,” I mean that the hydraulic lift that was once her dream could very well become her reality sooner than later …
A potential exciting entrance on to a stage is just one of the many ways Kelsea’s career has quickly progressed. That “near future” time frame in regard to her full-length album is now, as the offering (The First Time) she could barely wait to plan for is available for pre-order and will officially be released on May 19th. While Kelsea’s goal was to make sure the EP followed her hit single “Love Me Like You Mean It” and maintained a fun groove with a “roll your windows down and jam” feel to it, she wanted to make sure The First Time was more focused on storytelling and depth.
What I really wanted to do was like make people think that it was just going to be very light and then add more, and they’re like “oh! There’s the depth that I wanted!”
One song that Kelsea feels exemplifies the deepness she was hoping to relay on her record is an already fan favorite “Peter Pan,” which the rising star also deems her top pick.
I’ve loved [it] since we wrote it and we’ve been playing it out a lot, and I feel like that’s just the song that girls gravitate to. And I love when songs connect like that.
If you have heard Kelsea’s EP and have sneak previewed her album, you already know that she has an uncanny way of writing in a way that will connect with listeners of all ages and genders. While it isn’t necessarily easy for a twenty-one-year-old female to appeal to a broad demographic, the formula Kelsea has been using has shown to be foolproof thus far and is a lot more simple than you might think.
I really do think that if you write songs coming from a place of just, like, truth and your own life and your own heart, it’s just going to connect with people. I don’t think it really puts an age on it. You know what I mean? I think that if you go through a heartbreak and you tap into that and you write a song that’s just honest about heartbreak, it’s gonna relate to, you know, my mom who just got divorced or it’s gonna relate to a thirteen-year-old who just had her first breakup. I think it’s that same heartbreak on different levels.
On the subject of heartbreak, and her mother’s divorce specifically, Kelsea included a song entitled “Secondhand Smoke” on her album that was written about the trying times in her childhood household. Though she has not yet been able to successfully perform it live without becoming extremely emotional, knowing that the song is on the album and can give someone who is feeling alone a small semblance of companionship made the sacrifice of opening herself up to the public by releasing this song worthwhile.
I feel like it’s off limits for a lot of people to talk about. It is for me. It was for a long time. But, I would just really love to be that voice of comfort to a thirteen-year-old that’s going through that. Just being that voice saying “I’ve been through this. I get it, and there is another side to it, and you’re going to be okay.” And just because I think my main thing is just because you know one thing, it doesn’t mean you’re going to do the same thing.
If Kelsea needed any more reassurance that putting this personal track on the album was the right move to make, she got it the one and only time she performed it live when she was approached by a girl who thanked her because she was able to relate. For Kelsea, her decision was solidified in that very moment.
As a chart-climbing newer artist, having the ability to touch fans like that with her songwriting is a gift Kelsea has been wholly given by her record label, Black River Entertainment. In fact, Kelsea is a songwriter or the sole songwriter on every track on The First Time. Because she began as a songwriter at Black River, the label knew upon signing a recording contract with Kelsea that they had somebody they believed in at their fingertips.
Making this whole album … like they let me and my producers Forest and Jason go make this album, and they were so wonderful with giving us the freedom to be creative with it. Because it is a little left of center, you know? It’s very influenced by other things, and so the fact that they let us create this album and let me write this album is such a big deal, especially for a new artist, a female artist and a new label. It was a very cool thing. I’m very thankful for that.
In letting Kelsea have unfettered creative freedom, it allowed her to relay a message of confidence to girls and be a voice of encouragement. And Kelsea knows a thing or two about being encouraged, considering her childhood idol, Taylor Swift, recently made it public knowledge that she is a fan of her music.
Aye yi yi! It’s so crazy to me to think that even happened. I’m such a fan of her. I said that from the beginning. Um, like when I was twelve, her first album had just come out and so from the very beginning for me she’s been like one of the main influences and she’s really honestly paved the way for young singer-songwriters. And, so, I’ve waited in meet and greet lines to meet her as a fan before, so for someone like that, who you look up to like that, to essentially endorse what you’re doing and say like “I like this” is so crazy. I wrote her a thank you note and gave her the masters to my album and I just remember saying “thank you for being such a wonderful role model for girls to do what you do. Here’s to both of us jamming to each others’ music.” I was writing that and I was thinking “like, this is not even a real thing,” and she responded. It’s just cool. It’s just really cool. She’s really cool.
The comparisons have already been drawn between the iconic twenty-five year old Taylor Swift and Kelsea, which is something that the humble and adorable artist can’t wrap her head around.
I cannot even process that! I cannot even process that in my brain!
Kelsea is already taking steps toward earning the top honors that Taylor has — namely Entertainer of the Year — as she is currently co-headlining the first CMT Next Women of Country Tour along side Warner Music Nashville recording artist Jana Kramer. The CMT Next Women of Country group began two years ago and was a gathering of ladies Kelsea strived to be amongst, as she viewed them as “wonderful, strong, empowering women” who would “change the game.” In the blink of an eye, Kelsea was inducted and invited to join the tour and represent the unnecessarily underdog gender in the genre.
For me, it’s such a big deal. And it’s such a big deal to be able to kind of represent females right now in the music in the genre. It’s cool for me and Jana to go out and represent what we’re doing.
During the show, while the girls are serving as representation of females in country music, Kelsea guarantees that attendees will experience a “girl party!”
Our first show was maybe like a thousand people and we crammed them in and it was literally like a dance party. It was so much fun! Also, I’m still getting used to people knowing the words to “Love Me Like You Mean It.” It just happened in like the last month, and that show, I stopped singing my song “The First Time” and I let them sing it. It was in-sane. I wanted to sob on stage. I didn’t, but I seriously wanted to. That’s such a new thing just to see girls, like, and guys too, but girls connect with what you’re writing and what you’ve been through is the coolest thing. It’s been the coolest thing about what I’ve gotten to do so far.
The tour experience she is gaining during these few weeks with CMT will prove fruitful for Kelsea, as she has quite a busy summer in front of her. Not only is she performing at several festivals, but she will be joining the Lady Antebellum Wheels Up Tour for seven dates.
Which brings me back to the hydraulic lift … If Kelsea enters the stage on a hydraulic lift, I better be there, front row, taking photos and videos of this moment because it would be a true full circle moment in our relationship. If you want to see why, I encourage you to read my interview with her from October 2014.
While you would think that is all Kelsea’s schedule can muster, this artist who has been working tirelessly for years isn’t ready to relax just yet (even though she has her first apartment, covered in teal, where she can lay low!). To that point, she isn’t just collaborating musically with artists these days, she is also working hand-in-hand with fellow musicians on a special Boot Barn campaign for the month of May. Kelsea, Dustin Lynch, and Mary Sarah (as well as Professional Bull Rider, Bonner Bolton) recently came together in Laguna, California to shoot a catalog for the western company’s May mailer.
It’s so fun! And, we just kinda like got to joke around and hang out. We had to do this walking pose, all three of us, and like you just kind of shift on your front and back feet, and like we were making up a rap as we were shifting. It’s just fun to hang out with other artists and become friends because you’re going through the same kind of things. But that day in particular, like, from sun up till sun down, it was beautiful weather and we just hung out and tried on clothes, and it was cool.
Wow. It is an exciting time to be Kelsea Ballerini, and it is an exceptional thing to watch such a wonderful person’s dreams come true right before our eyes. What is, perhaps, the most interesting thing about the rise of Kelsea is that this is only the beginning, and I anticipate huge things from her moving forward. Mark my words right here, right now … Kelsea Ballerini will be a twelve-year-old girl’s own Taylor Swift, follow in the footsteps of the greats, and will accept her own Milestone Award in the years to come. And I can’t wait!
Of course, we took a few “Kelfies,” because that is necessary when you hang out with Kelsea Ballerini!