INTERVIEW: Kelsea Ballerini

Kelsea Ballerini’s love affair with Australia began in March 2016 while she was in the country for the first time to perform at the CMC Festival and co-host the CMC Award Show where she coincidentally met her husband, Morgan Evans. 

Since then she has been back and forth to the country for personal holidays and returned for CMC again last year as well as an exclusive headline show in Sydney as apart of her ‘The Unapologetically Tour’. With her sophomore record turning two years old this November, the Tennessee singer-songwriter is ready to dive even deeper into her vulnerability and experiment further with her sound. 

Her new single ‘Homecoming Queen?’ hears her stripping everything back and returning to her roots in a simple and humble way. Reflecting on her insecurities, she uses the metaphor of a homecoming queen to represent the facade people can put on while they are hurting. To celebrate the release of the track, she’s currently back in the country to play at the inaugural C2C Festival in Sydney and Brisbane over the weekend alongside Tim McGraw, Midland and Eric Paslay. 

I recently chatted to Kelsea Ballerini about the raw intimacy and the self realisations that inspired her new single ‘Homecoming Queen?’, reflected on the impact her sophomore record ‘Unapologetically’ has made two years later and discussed her shift to arena shows. Check it out HERE;

TB: ’Homecoming Queen?’ is a very raw and beautiful track that hears you coming full circle to your roots and stripping it back. So how did this track come together?

KB: I wrote it in February while I was on tour with Kelly Clarkson and that particular weekend Jimmy Robbins and Nicole Galyon were on the road with me because it was really tricky to find time to write and record when I was home because I wasn’t home a lot *laughs*. 

I had been writing for the record for over a year, I didn’t really have a theme for it yet and I didn’t exactly know what shape it was going to take. I was honestly just in a state of being pretty exhausted, pretty lonely and really insecure. However I wasn’t showing that all because I was posting about touring with Kelly Clarkson and the glamour and excitement of that part of my life. So I wasn’t really being real with myself andI was definitely not being real with anyone that was following me. 

So we just spoke about that and related it to a homecoming queen, which I was not in high school *laughs*. It was just the metaphor we used as it’s someone that seemingly has a charmed life and always has it “together”, but just saying that even those people you think have it all together are human and we all have bad days, we all have insecurities, and that’s okay. 

TB: This song has some really beautiful and touching lyrics that encourages people to embrace their vulnerability, so what are some of your favourite lyrics from this song?

KB: My favourite lyric in the whole song would definitely be “zipping up the mess” because as a woman I feel that it’s really easy to pile seventy layers of make up on, put all of my hair extensions in, wear my best dress that I have and go out and completely forget that I’m having a bad day or bad time. I think it’s really easy to cover it up in that way. 

TB: The accompanying music video is an intimate and raw affair which allows the story to tell itself through the lyrics. From having done big budget videos in the past, how different was it to just sit down, sing and be so vulnerable that you cried?

KB: I wanted this video to be my story of the song. It was the walking on stage completely overdone to peeling back the layers and getting down to the heart of how I was feeling inside which was really vulnerable. I’m really proud of that video and how raw it is. When it came out they played it in Times Square and I was like “yep, thats me with no make up, ugly crying in Times Square on a billboard” *laughs*. I’m really proud of what it stands for. 

TB: It’s been 2 years since the release of ‘Unapologetically’ which is an album full of heartbreak, personal growth and love. As a listener it really felt like little pieces of your heart. Reflecting on the process of creating that record and watching people then embrace it and relate to it so passionately, what has been sharing this intimate part of your life been like for you for the past two years? 

KB: I love it For me songwriting is really therapeutic, that’s why I do it. I like to be creative and it’s really cathartic. So to be able to let those songs have a life and tour them and see how they connect with other people is the greatest gift in the whole entire world. Not only do I get to create something that helps me deal with my life but I also get to connect with people through that

TB: Were you surprised how some songs were embraced by your listeners?

KB: Yeah! There were a few sneaky ones that really surprised me. ‘End Of The World’ was a song that became a fan favourite that I didn’t expect. ‘Get Over Yourself’ also became a fan favourite, which I was so happy with because it’s such a sass bomb. 

I found it really interesting because we kinda have the singles picked out before we put the album out but it’s always fun to see what other songs connect with listeners so passionately. 

TB: There are so many different emotions and feelings on that record, but one that really captivated people was the sassy empowerment of ‘Miss Me More’ which then went on to be a single and the name of your last tour. So in those moments when we can be so caught up with how someone treats us, how do you personally make sure you look after yourself first and foremost? 

KB: I mean I didn’t for a long time and that’s what made me realise that I needed to. I really got to a place after a break up where I was looking in the mirror and questioning “who are you? what’s going on here”. This was also all happening while I was releasing my first album, so there were so many other emotions involved that I was trying to comprehend. 

I think being in that season of not connecting with myself and not looking out for myself made me realise how important it is to do that for yourself. 

I think a way to always check yourself on it is to surround yourself with people that ask you hard questions and make you be nice to yourself. 

TB: And Kelly Clarkson recently performed ‘Miss Me More’ on her daytime talk show, did you die?

KB: oh, I DIED! I was backstage getting ready to go out to do couch time with her and then she sang it and I was like “oh wow, well I can’t sing that song again because she sang it like that and that’s what I can’t do” *laughs*.

TB: Oh my god, her little vocal riffs on it were insane!

KB: She took the octave up and I was like “GOD! I can’t do that!” *laughs*. It was the greatest thing ever though! 

TB: Reflecting on where you are at now as a songwriter, where is this next chapter of Kelsea Ballerini coming from sonically and lyrically and how does it feel? 

KB: It’s a lot more about life. It’s just a lot. I think that’s the best way to describe it.

There’s no concept, storyline or flow like there was on ‘Unapologetically’. There’s just a lot more vulnerability and there’s a lot more playful ideas. There’s a song with horns, there’s a song with a string quartet, there’s two collaborations, there’s a lot more country and there’s a lot more pop country. I’m just having fun playing with it sonically and lyrically. 

TB: You recently collaborated with The Chainsmokers on ‘This Feeling’ which some people were really surprised about. So what was the biggest thing you think you learnt about yourself as an artist from collaborating with them and stepping out of your comfort zone? 

KB: I honestly and truly had such a positive experience with that entire song and collaboration which is the whole reason why I’m doing two collaborations on my next record. I learned that joining forces with another artist that you respect really can make something pretty magical. I love pushing myself out of my comfort zone and doing a EDM collaboration, it was so much fun! 

TB: You also seem so confident performing it which I love! You’re just like “I don’t care, I’m a pop artist right now”!

KB: Oh totally! I’m just like “I’m gonna go werk now” *laughs*. We got to perform it a lot together which was really cool. We did the Victorias Secret Fashion Show, a football halftime show and we did a bunch of shows like Ellen together which was really quite a experience.

TB: You recently just completed your first ever arena tour in America, which looked like a glittery, theatrical, bright and empowering affair.

KB: I loved it so much, it was a lot of fun! The one thing that I’ve always wanted to do was an arena headlining tour. So it was crazy to see it all come together. 

Now that I’m making this new record, I’m finding myself questioning how it’s going to look in an arena and how I can make the content super sick and what song needs confetti or pyro, *laughs* It’s all I’m thinking about now. 

TB: What was the biggest hurdle you faced as an artist and as a performer when you adapted from playing theatres on ‘The Unapologetically Tour’ to these big arenas for the ‘Miss Me More Tour’?

KB: Honestly, it was just learning to take a leap of faith. We didn’t know if we could do it. We didn’t know if people would turn up. We did theatres for the last tour and then I did arenas opening for Keith Urban and Kelly Clarkson and we didn’t do any headlining shows in between, so we didn’t know if I could pull it off. 

So I think when it worked we were just like *sigh*, “Thank god, that could’ve been a epic fail” *laughs*. 

TB: You’re in Australia for C2C Festival which you have played before in the UK, so what is it about this concept that you personally love and think creates a unique experience for Country fans with unusual arena festival concept?

KB: It is! I think having so many American acts especially come all the way over here and be in one place and allow people to get one ticket to see so many people is an incredible concept. I’ve got to play CMC a couple times over here, which is where I met my husband and I had such an amazing experience with doing a country music festival in Australia, so I was immediately on board with being apart of C2C coming over here. 

TB: You’re no stranger to Australia. You met your husband here back in 2016 when you came to Australia for the first ever time which is such a fairytale story and is a memory you obviously won’t forget. But I wanted to know, what was another memory from your first visit to Australia that really stands out? 

KB: I hugged a koala which was obviously great *laughs*. The first trip over here was pretty much all work but I did get to hug a koala which was a bit cliche but it’s the one thing I had to do and I did it!

TB: Let’s play a little game of rapid fire questions where I’m going to ask you some questions that you just need to answer with the first thing that comes to mind…

KB: Yeah!

TB: The emoji that best describes my new single ‘Homecoming Queen’ is…

KB: The one that is uncontrollably sobbing 

TB: Oh that’s a mood, that’s me every day

KB: Look, that’s me literally every day too *laughs* 

TB: When I think of Australia I think of…

KB: Koalas

TB: I wish I could…

KB: Salsa dance! 

TB: My pre-show pump up song is…

KB: Anything Halsey

TB: Pineapple on pizza is…

KB: Amazing! And if anyone disagrees with me then we cannot get pizza together *laughs*

C2C Australia Tour Dates

Saturday 28 September – Qudos Bank Arena, Sydney

Sunday 29 September – Brisbane Entertainment Centre, Brisbane