Kelsea Ballerini swore she wouldn’t do any collaborations on her new album. “The last couple of years, I’ve been tied to songs with other people,” says Ballerini, who featured Kenney Chesney on her 2020 song “Half of My Hometown” and the band LANY on her 2021 song “I Quit Drinking.”
Then she wrote a song called “You’re Drunk, Go Home” and the promise she made to herself went out the window. “It’s this sassy Honky Tonk bop, and I couldn’t get the idea of me and two other girls out of my head,” Ballerini tells StyleCaster: She immediately knew who she wanted on the song: Carly Pearce and Kelly Clarkson. “To have a song with one of my peers in country music and one of my heroes at the same time, it’s such a gift,” Ballerini says.
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Ballerini first called Pearce, who said yes to the feature before she’d even heard the song. “We’re friends like that,” Ballerini says. Then she texted Clarkson a demo of the track. By the end of the day, the song was almost done. “I texted her the demo in the morning and she was in the studio doing vocals that night,” Ballerini says. “It was the craziest thing. That’s Kelly Clarkson in a nutshell. She’s ride or die. If she says she’s gonna do something, she just does it. I’m so awestruck by her.” As for if Clarkson and Pearce could make a surprise appearance on Ballerini’s national Headfirst Tour, which kicks off in New York City on September 24, she teased that she plans to make each date “special.” “I have 10 shows. I’m definitely trying to find ways to make each of the 10 special,” she said.
“You’re Drunk, Go Home” is the 12th song on Ballerini’s fourth studio album, Subject to Change, which debuted on September 23. Ballerini, who calls the record her “first grown-up album,” wrote more than 80 songs for the album before she narrowed it down to 15. “When it’s time to start making a record, I listen to the year and a half or two years of demos I have. I try to find what the throughline and theme is,” she says. “With this record. I was listening through 80 songs at the time. I realized there was a lot of self-reflection, a lot of juxtaposition, a lot of contrast, but a lot of feeling settled. I loved that theme because it’s certainly where I’m at as a 28-year-old woman where I’m coming into myself. I feel like I’m finally an adult all of a sudden. I’m waking up like, ‘Oh my gosh. I’m not a kid anymore.’” The album’s title also reflects what Ballerini, as well as millions of people across the world, have experienced after two years of change and unpredictability. “You hear a lot of that self-realization in the record. But then there’s also acknowledging that life happens in seasons,” Ballerini says. “We’ve all had that lesson the last couple of years. Everything is subject to change, but zooming in and appreciating what you have in the moment is a huge lesson I’ve taken away.”
Ahead, Ballerini talked to StyleCaster about how she came up with the title for Subject to Change, the other title she considered and the song she relates to the most at this moment.
How did you come up with the title Subject to Change?
It was when I was sitting down listening to those 80 original songs, and I realized what the theme was. I wrote down the title Subject to Change in my phone, and I knew that that was going to be the title of the record whether I wrote the song or not, but I went into a session with with Karen Fairchild and Alyssa Vanderheym, and I just said, “Hey, guys, I think this is the record title. Can we write it?” We had the discussion on do we make it really broad? Do we tap into the fact that everyone’s had to deal with change in the last couple of years? Or do we make it oddly specific? We ended up making it all these specific things and it makes me chuckle now because for point-two seconds I had brown hair because I just felt like it. In those point-two seconds, we wrote “Subject to Change.” In the song and the chorus, it’s like, ‘I haven’t decided if I’m gonna stay brunette.’ And indeed, I decided I’m not going to stay brunette, and that’s just telling of the whole record.
Were there any other titles you considered?
I went through lyrically every song. There’s a lyric in a song called “Walk in the Park” that says, “I’m always one season away from everything changing.” I really liked the title One Season Away, but to me, it didn’t encapsulate the whole thing.
How is this album different from your past records?
I’ve been saying this is my first grown-up album. I didn’t shy away from talking like I talk in real life.You hear some sharper lyrics. You hear things without so much of a filter. Another thing is I really leaned into the ‘90s influence. I listened to so much Shaina Twain. I also listened to Sixpence None the Richer and Sheryl Crow. The whole record sonically came from the music that I grew up on.
How is this record your first grown-up album?
I’ve had this internal dialogue with myself for a while of, ‘How do I still honor the girl that sings ‘Dibs’ and ‘Peter Pan? for the people who have been with me on the journey from the beginning? But how do I also honor the almost-29-year-old that is actively growing up? How do I do both? I realized the last few years the way I do both is to be who I am now. I’m a combination of all the me’s I’ve been since I was a little girl. The way that I honor all of it is to be present as I am. That’s what gave me permission to have certain lines on this record that are a little more sharp than what I put on past records.
Growing up has been a gradual process over the last few years. Having the time to sit with myself and my thoughts during the pandemic, it was the first time I was forced to slow down since I was 19. Just in that stillness, I had a lot of unraveling to do. I wrote a book and that helped me process a lot of my big feelings. We made an album and then made another album. In that forced stillness, I finally got to know myself and realized that I wasn’t 19 anymore.
You wrote a poetry book, Feel Your Way Through, earlier this year. Were any of the poems from the book made into songs on the album?
The only one that made itself into a song is ‘The Little Things.’ That was one of my favorite poems in the book. I went into a session and I just read the poem. In the south, you’re raised to think love is this fairytale, you get married and it’s grandiose and you’re going to go to Rome and the fireworks are going to shoot off a building when you have your first kiss. I realized that love is just not that. Love is in the quiet moments. My favorite thing about that song is it honors the poem, but it’s something also sonically that reminds me so much of my first album. When I listened back to it, it brings me back to ‘Love Me Like You Mean It.’
What’s the song you’re the most proud of?
“Doin’ My Best.” This is the truth of it. I was listening to the first 10 songs that we cut. I was on vacation down in Mexico. I was listening for the first time and I realized that a lot of the songs I was stepping into a character for muscle memory. It was like I was playing a role. I love that and those songs are gonna be so fun to play live, but at the same time, I felt like I was doing myself a disservice, especially after writing the book, not having songs that were just painfully honest where no one questioned who wrote it. I had my friend send me a track. I sat down by the ocean with my AirPods listening to the track, and I made a voice memo with just a stream of consciousness saying, ‘Doin’ my best.’ That’s what you hear on the record.
What’s the song you relate to the most at the moment?
“What I Have.” It’s the album’s closer and the original demo. It’s the purest song because it’s just as we recorded it. The messy guitar, one-track vocal, one-track harmony. The record, on purpose, starts with a song that’s a bit chaotic like, some days I miss and everything in between is the journey. And it ends with, but what I have now is meant for me, that might change tomorrow and I accept that fully with open arms. As of this moment, my life is as it should be.
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