The last year of Kelsea Ballerini’s life has been as fairly tale-esque as the inspiration behind her current single, “Peter Pan.” In the past 12 months, Kelsea has earned back-to-back No. 1 hits—“Love Me Like You Mean It” and “Dibs”—won the ACM New Female Vocalist and ACCA Best New Artist awards, secured a coveted opening spot on Rascal Flatts’ Rhythm and Roots Tour and is set to co-host the upcoming ABC TV singing show Greatest Hits on June 30.
No doubt, there is much more in store for this 22-year-old, whose debut album, The First Time, was released in May 2015. Nash Country Daily caught up with the starlet to talk about touring, tattoos and, of course, taking “Kelfies.”
What’s life like on your tour bus?
“I’m a nester. When I’m at home, I like to make things pretty. But I have 10 boys on the bus, so it’s hopeless. And my dog is a boy—Dibs and I sleep in the bunk together. God did not prepare me to have this many brothers, but I’ve gotten used to it. They all take care of me and watch out for me, which is nice.”
You opened for a lot of big artists in the last 12 months. What did you learn on the road?
“I subbed in on Lady Antebellum’s Wheels Up Tour, opened for Keith Urban at fairs and festivals and opened for Tim McGraw. I headlined some bar shows and did radio shows and acoustic shows. Last year was literally a hodgepodge of all these different kinds of shows. It was great to learn how to navigate all that. But it also makes it very lovely right now to play the same 45-minute set, in the same kind of venue, with the same artist every night. I’ve never had that consistency before. Last year was a really good learning experience, but it makes me very thankful to be part of full tours this year.”
How has your style evolved over the last year?
“I’m such a girlie girl. I’ve always loved imaging. I always loved that you could tell Taylor Swift was Taylor because she had on sparkly dresses, boots and curly hair. And you can tell Carrie Underwood is Carrie because she has her legs looking fierce and awesome shoes. And I wanted to find something where people can know it’s me, so playing with style over the last year, we’ve come up with fun rompers and sparkle, and fun boots, usually over the knee. It’s fun to play dress up every night.”
You developed a lot of good will with your fans by being very approachable and taking selfies.
“I call them ‘Kelfies.’ When you go through a meet-and-greet line, do you really want to wait a day and go on a website and get the picture, which was taken from far away? No. You want to have a picture on your phone that you can post on Instagram as soon as you leave the meet and greet. I know this because I did this. I was a fan. So I just grab people’s phones and take Kelfies and it’s become a thing and I love it so much. I try to be as available and approachable as I’m physically able to be. So we have giant meet and greets before the show and then most of the time after the show I’ll go out by my bus or to merch and meet as many people as I can.”
Tell us about your tattoos.
“The first tattoo I got says ‘how sweet the sound’ from ‘Amazing Grace,’ which is the first solo I ever sang. Then the week that ‘Love Me Like You Mean It’ went No. 1, I received letters from my mom and dad. I was in New Orleans, and I took the letters and got ‘love’ tattooed in my mom and dad’s handwriting. My third tattoo is because of my song called ‘Square Pegs.’ The hook is ‘square pegs make the world go round’ and it’s about embracing what makes you different and knowing that flaws are not a bad thing. It’s what makes you who you are and embracing that. I got that tattoo in L.A.”
As you start working on your next album, what are you going to do differently?
“When recording The First Time, I didn’t really take music videos and live shows [into consideration], because I’d never experienced either. Now, even when I’m writing songs, I have both in the back of my head. I love a good five-minute heartbreak ballad, but that’s not good for a live show and that’s not good for radio. But I think I’d still put one out if it felt true to me. I have those filters of wondering, ‘Is this going to react in a crowd in an arena? Is this going to react well if we make it a single and make a video for it?’ I think those are going to help me make a better record this time.”
photo by Amy Richmond/Sweet Talk Publicity