“There is so much there’s more going on in people’s lives than they show you,” says Kelsea Ballerini, taking a moment to gather her thoughts. “That’s true for me.”
The 29-year-old country singer, who, despite her always upbeat attitude and awesome personality, has put up some serious fights. “L‘I’m literally experiencing that now,” says Ballerini who, while promoting her new album, wrote the excellent Subject to change, is also in the midst of a public divorce from her husband, compatriot Morgan Evans. On the one hand, she says she’s excited to “release this record that I’m so in love with and so proud of and I’m the busiest I’ve been in years; on the other, she adds, “I’m really going through it in my personal life too.”
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It is this juxtaposition – between the feel-good and the contemplative – that defines not only Ballerini’s life at the moment, but also her mature and refreshing new LP. she calls Subject to change “the most cheerful, light-hearted record” she’s ever made. But there’s no denying that some of the best moments, like on “Marilyn,” a terrifying dive into Marilyn Monroe’s skeletons, exist when Ballerini has — as she has in some of her most personal work, from “High School” to “Homecoming Queen” – pulls back the curtain and leaves us in the dark corners of her life.Read:Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes | Official Trailer | Netflix – Netflix
“I just think I really tried to be myself from the start,” she says rolling stone during a break from rehearsals for her Heartfirst Tour of theaters, which kicks off this weekend in New York. As Ballerini sees it, Subject to change is a direct reflection of her maturation in recent years – a rough piece that released her her third album, 2020’s Kelseathe week the pandemic started, canceling the subsequent tour and, like so many of us, left her grieving what could have been.
Now looking back at what happened Subject to changeBallerini says, “I loved the idea of going, ‘Change is inevitable.’ And we’ve all experienced that heavily as humanity in recent years, so what if I make the theme of this album the idea of just blissfully accepting that tomorrow will probably look different than today, and instead of being terrified and looking forward to it to look like it’s a monster under the bed, what if I’m just living now? Sometimes it looks messy and sometimes it looks confusing and sometimes it looks really great and beautiful.”
Subject to change features some of Ballerini’s most sonically progressive material to date, from the bluesy “Muscle Memory” to the whimsical title track. But it’s “Doin’ My Best,” a propulsive hand clapper she added late in the writing process that really makes her hair hang like never before. Written in a stream-of-consciousness style while on vacation in Mexico, or a “word puke” as she laughs at it, the song is essentially one long ballerini confessional. The singer covers everything from her pandemic depression to her divorce, her decision to ditch Twitter and, interestingly enough, the dissolution of her friendship with a former collaborator, the pop star Halsey who was featured on Kelsea‘The other girl’. “I was friends with a pop star / I put them at number four / But wish I could take it back / I never would have asked / If I knew we wouldn’t talk again.”Read:‘Interview With the Vampire’ Review: AMC, Anne Rice Adaptation
When asked what inspired her to air her dirty laundry outside in such a public way, Ballerini says it was a no-brainer. After all, she says, she prides herself on being nothing but transparent with her fans. “It’s all there already,” she insists. “Releasing the last album in the week the world shut down and then having a season of darkness after that. The fact that I am going through a divorce is well known. Have famous friends that I post about all the time and then they are no longer in my life. The fact that I’ve messed around on Twitter and don’t have it anymore is out there. So why not take ownership of that?”
It helped that Ballerini had the utmost confidence in her employees. while on Kelsea she worked with almost a different set of writers on each issue, this go-round she continued with a smaller team, mainly with Shane McAnally (Kacey Musgraves, Old Dominion) and Julian Bunetta (Harry Styles, Maroon 5). Those two writers served as a balance for Ballerini: McAnally kept things “anchored in the country” while Bunetta pushed her to embrace her poppier tendencies. “It turned out to be this perfect trio,” she says.Read:Hilary Duff Re-Created Her “That’s So Gay” Commercial
Achieving this balance between country and pop is something Ballerini says she has come to embrace as a kind of challenge. “I think I have a different relationship with what I think country music means to me now,” she says. “I definitely plan to always water those roots. But I also think artists are doing themselves a disservice by shutting themselves in and not creatively exploring things that inspire them.”
Recorded over two week-long sessions at Nashville studios including Blackbird and Starstruck, Subject to change leans towards the country and pop vibes of the 1990s, with influence not only from Ballerini friends like Shania Twain, but also rootsier acts like Sheryl Crow, Sixpence None the Richer and the Corrs. The project’s retrosonics stemmed from the decision to record primarily live in the studio with an A-list of Nashville musicians.
As for her own relationship with performing? Ballerini says it’s an ever-evolving proposition. She admits it started to get monotonous for a while every time she took the stage.
“This isn’t sexy to say, but the truth is I think, especially the way country tours, it is So a lot. And I feel like quite often halfway through a tour I get to a place where I just become a robot. I know exactly what I’m going to say and when I’m going to say it and which part of the stage I should be on during which song. And I lose myself. And I lose the connection.”
However, it was the loss of her ability to tour during the pandemic that ultimately helped Ballerini recalibrate her love of the live show. Things are different now: Last year, when she opened for the Jonas Brothers, before every show she wondered, “Are you in your body? Are you here?” She says. “I wouldn’t even have known I’d done that beforehand.”
Now Ballerini has found the moment. And she lives in both the good and the bad. “I’m not so concerned about screwing up anymore,” she says. “I did all that. I know how it feels. I am a human. I can handle it. I will be ok.”
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