Ask Kelsea Ballerini what her favorite song on her new Kelsea album is and she'll say "Half of My Hometown," her duet with Kenny Chesney. Ask her which song scares her and she'll fly you to the other side of the country.

Not literally, of course, but the answer is "LA," the final track on the Knoxville native's third studio album. "I got a love and hate relationship with L.A.," she sings to open a pop-friendly track with beats and snaps and no hint of a banjo. The sound and lyrics are metaphors for where she's at right now. It's colorful and emotional and appropriately, she wrote it herself.

"I think you can listen to it through a lot of different lenses and I think depending on how you listen to it you can pull something out of it," Ballerini tells Taste of Country, leaving her answer as open-ended as the question.

Kelsea is an album that leans into more fine-tuned, universal emotions that normal people battle daily. Now married, and nearly a decade into a rising career, the country singer is focused on balance. As it turns out, that's a pretty scary proposition for someone who's been running since "Love Me Like You Mean It" was first released to country radio in 2014. Among women in country, only Carrie Underwood has more Top 5 singles than Ballerini during that time.

"Club" and "Half of My Hometown" are two additional songs that spotlight the tug of war between her love of travel and a growing desire to plant roots and water friendships. She says she's taken the introvert/extrovert test and falls smack in the middle (husband Morgan Evans is much more of an extrovert), something that paints her just-released album.

Planting roots doesn't mean slowing down, however, as you'll see by the end of her Taste of Country Q&A. Ballerini's first single from Kelsea is "Homecoming Queen?" and it's currently just inside the Top 20 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart.

kelsea album art
Black River Entertainment

Did you purposely push yourself in new directions sonically?

Well that’s one of the lenses you can listen to “LA” with. You know, I never let myself write outside of Nashville before this album. And with this project I was like, it’s my duty as a songwriter and as a creative person to push myself and to try things and to fail and to see what else I like. So I found myself writing, not only just in L.A. but with different people that aren’t necessarily exclusively country. I had this moment where I was like, "If I put a beat drop on a song instead of a banjo, will Tennessee be mad at me?"

Not only just mad at you but writing headlines or tweets that say “Kelsea Ballerini Goes” —

Goes pop. Yeah. It’s a real fear.

The Instagram view of your life the last few years has been pretty happy. Was there heartbreak that inspired this album?

I don’t know if it was necessarily heartbreak but I think it was self-discovery. I just kind of kept my head down and really worked since I was 19 and for the first time last year, I had a couple of months where I wasn’t super busy and it was to allow me to work on this album. But I got home and I was like, “Do I have friends? Do people like me? My husband is on the road. I haven’t really done this before. Why am I so insecure? Why am I so anxious all the time?”

I had to start going to therapy to meet me now and re-get to know who I am now and know it’s not who I was at 19 and know that that’s normal, but unpacking all these things that I’ve kind of been too distracted to know about myself these last five or six years.

What does your therapist tell you?

Oh, I mean it is ongoing. It is ongoing. The thing is, I’m trying to grow up and do everything right. I’m trying to grow up and do everything right, publicly. And I’m also trying to push myself and be better as an artist and be better as a woman. Trying to do all that gracefully is a lot of pressure and I put it all on myself, so it’s just trying to balance all of that.

You have handled your career with a lot of grace. Is it harder than it looks?

Thank you for saying that. I think the greatest gift that I had was starting so young because I was just so naive and so hungry and so driven that I didn’t think about anything else than, “I love this song. Let’s go work it to the bone!”

Now, I’m 26 and I think I’m starting to stand up for myself more in a business sense. I’m starting to learn more about business … and I think that makes it a little more difficult.

Have you already started writing for the next album?

Yeah. Yeah.

Can’t turn it off can you?

I can’t, but I’m so excited. I already know what’s next so I’m like — it’s healthy for me.

Kelsea Ballerini's Kelsea album is available in stores and at digital retailers now.

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