If you’ve listened to any country radio recently, you’ve more than likely heard the
fresh and lighthearted sounds of newcomer Kelsea Ballerini.
With a hit single, an EP, a music video, and not one but TWO Grand Ole Opry performances under her belt – along with a full length album on the way… it’s safe to say it’s been a busy few months for this country sweetheart. She has been featured in Country Weekly’s “Ones To Watch in 2015,” and she’s caught the attention of major country artists such as Jana Kramer, Dustin Lynch, and even Taylor Swift! With a powerful voice, catchy melodies, and a whole lot of determination, this 21 year old is ready make her mark, and she can only go up from here.
Kelsea called us while she was home in Nashville catching up on writing, to chat about her journey onto the music scene.
With her love of music stemming from an early age, Kelsea was a part of her local church choir, and the glee club at her high school in Knoxville, Tennessee. When she was 15 years old, she made the move to Nashville to pursue songwriting. “I started writing songs when I was 12,” Kelsea told us. “It was weird… my parents were splitting up and there was a lot going on in my life, and I just needed an outlet,” she said, “[songwriting] fell into my lap as an outlet, and it never stopped. It’s always kind of been my place to vent to.”
When she was 19, Kelsea signed a publishing deal with Black River Publishing in 2013. “I always wrote poems and I loved journaling,” Kelsea said, when asked if she remembered the first song she ever wrote. “It came out of procrastination!” She said with a laugh. “The next day was Mother’s Day, and I realized I had not gotten my mom anything, so I wrote her a song called ‘Oh Mama’ and that was my first song!”
Following her publishing deal, Kelsea went on to sign a record deal with Black River Entertainment later in 2013. “As soon as I started writing songs, I knew I wanted to sing them. I knew songwriting was always going to be the foundation of what I did, but I always wanted to sing my songs,” Kelsea said.
Her debut single “Love Me Like You Mean It” dropped at the end of last year, and skyrocketed up the country music charts. The country-pop blend currently stands at Number 21 on the iTunes country charts, and is featured in the iTunes new country artist spotlight.
It’s been quite a bust few months for you! How would you say your life has changed since the release of your debut EP at the end of last year?
KB: “It’s been so much fun! I think the more the single gets played, the more people go find the EP… and it’s just been awesome to hear peoples response from it and hear how they relate to it or, I’ll get little instagram videos of people jamming in their car and it totally makes my day, I love it so much!”
Absolutely, your single Love Me Like You Mean it has gotten some major recognition and radio play… and you just shot and released your first music video for that which looked like it was a blast to shoot! Was that a fun experience for you?
KB: “It was so much fun! The only thing that was not fun about it was that it was absolutely miserably cold! And it looks like summertime, so I was glad that it looked so warm, but it was so cold! It was really great too because one of the actors was actually one of my best friends since I was super young, and the dog is actually my dog! So I got to have some ‘me’ in it.”
Now your first full length record “The First Time” is set to be released on May 19th, what do you think the biggest difference is between this record and your EP?
KB: “Some of the songs that are on the album were written before the EP was ever even thought of… we just wanted to hold them back for the record. I feel like the EP really follows the single because it’s all very light and fun and easy to jam to… and I think the rest of the record has more of the depth and more of the stories, which as a songwriter, that’s the part that I’m really excited to get out. The record is definitely a balance of the EP which is more of the fun light-hearted stuff, and the deeper stuff and the stories.”
You made your Grand Ole Opry debut just about a month ago, what was that experience like for you? I mean, thinking of all of the legends that have played that stage, it must’ve been surreal.
KB: “It was so surreal. I actually got to go back a few weeks later and play it again, which that was surreal too! The Opry is such a huge step for a new artist, and I feel like the stage is a stage where every country music singer wants to play and be at, so to be able to stand in that circle is a really big deal, and it felt like a really big deal. I was so nervous!”
That being said… Nashville has probably one of the most competitive music scenes today, how do you think you were able to stand out and make it as a young woman in such a competitive industry?
KB: “I think the biggest thing for me… I spent a year as a full time songwriter before I signed my record deal, and I think in that year, just writing all day every day with different people… I think I found my voice, and I found what made me different, and what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. That discovery of me really helped me set myself apart.”
Would that be your advice to anyone trying to make it in music out there right now? To take the time to find their voice first?
KB: “Totally. When I first moved to town, I kind of mimicked what I thought everyone else did, but everyone else already did it! So finding what makes you, you, is the most important thing.”
Who were some of your biggest musical inspirations when you were starting out?
KB: “I am a huge Taylor fan. I remember when her first record came out, was around the time that I started writing songs, and just seeing a young singer/songwriter break through like she did, and she has, has been an incredible thing to watch. It’s very inspiring for me.
Shania is incredible, I got to see her show in Vegas… and she came out on a flying motorcycle, and I’m like girl, you did it. It was awesome!
And I think Kelly Clarkson is my other absolute favorite artist of all time.”
Speaking of Taylor Swift, there has been a big buzz recently is she just tweeted saying she was playing your EP on repeat, what was your reaction to seeing that?
KB: “It was absolutely crazy, I really didn’t think it was real. I was like, which one of my friends hacked Taylor Swift’s twitter account!? I did not think it was real. It’s so crazy because like I said, I’ve listened to her records since the very first one and she’s been such a huge inspiration to me, so the fact that she even knows who I am, let alone listens to my music, is one of the highest honors that I could ever get.”
I always like to end off with one of my favorite quotes, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”
KB: “Honestly? I’d probably be doing the same thing! but I feel like that would almost take the fun out of it… because the fear of failure is what makes you work really hard.”
Mar 19 Sands Bethlehem Event Center – Bethlehem, PA
Mar 20 Best Buy Theatre – New York, NY
Mar 28 Wetherby Field – Fort Benning, GA
Mar 31 Scranton Cultural Center – Wilkes Barre, PA
Apr 10 Divots Convention Center – Norfolk, NE
Jun 19 Bands in the Backyard – Pueblo, CO
Jun 26 Festival Grounds – Cadott, WI
Jul 24 Country Fan Fest – Tooele, UT
Jul 25 Lyon Co. Fair – Yerington, NV
Aug 01 Summer Country Jam – Rochelle, IL
Aug 14 Brown Country Fair – Aberdeen, SD