Frankie Ballard jokes that practice makes perfect when it comes to his alcohol-soaked songs. One of the Michigan native’s trio of No. 1 hits is “Sunshine and Whiskey,” and he just put out “It All Started With a Beer.”
“That’s just how I was raised in the good ol’ USA,” the singer cracks to Billboard. “We like to have party favors and celebrating with something in our hands. You gotta do your research to have the proper emotions and feelings.”
The singer says the new record isn’t exactly a party song, however. “It’s a song about a relationship and how these two folks are looking back on years of trials and triumphs, and they’re amazed at how simply it started. That really stuck with me. It’s amazing how the biggest things in our lives — when we’re around the fireplace and talking about them when we’re older — the things that matter the most to us start off amazingly small and in a humble way. There’s no more humble way to start something than with a beer. It’s also cool for somebody who’s not in a relationship to understand that tonight might be the night that something big starts in my life. It can happen when you least expect it. I love that feeling and that message. I think people are going to love it too.”
The single is the lead release from Ballard’s sophomore album, which is targeted for a 2016 release. The creative process for this album was a little different, as the recording took place in El Paso, Texas — an area not noted for being a musical epicenter. He says he simply wanted to get away from Nashville and its distractions.
“I live here, and there are wonderful studios here. After all, it is Music City, USA. But when you try to work in a place that you live in, sometimes there can be too much going on outside of the door that you’re trying to work in to avoid it. People stop by, or you need to go run and do something. I didn’t like being distracted in the studio, and I’ve felt that way numerous times in Nashville. Maybe I’m not able to focus as I should, and it always seems that people are in a hurry. You’re only 20 minutes from your house. I just really wanted to eliminate that and focus ourselves — the band, myself and everybody — to put us in a situation where all we have to do is make music. I really wanted to simplify the production and get the whole stereo image happening and put the air back into it. It’s an old-school way of recording music, but that’s the way I am. That’s the music I love: the frying pan I cook out of. I’m not trying to be in the face of anything, that’s just what I know.”
What sets the upcoming album apart? “I think the production,” Ballard says. “It’s still me picking songs, writing songs and singing the songs. I think I’m singing better — I think my vocal delivery and sound is better. I need to get better. If I’m not getting better, what am I doing? What people expect to hear on this album is there. It’s Frankie Ballard, but it’s better. The playing, the songs and the arrangements are better — but it should be. We pushed ourselves … but that’s what people deserve. If the music’s not better, it’s not worth it. There’s no reason for it to be out if it’s not. People don’t need that.”
Ballard is currently gearing up for the holidays, including his annual benefit concert at the Kalamazoo State Theater on Dec. 18. He says it’s an event that is close to his heart. “I was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, about 20 miles from Kalamazoo. I lived around there for about seven years. That community is one that I really care about. We started doing a show at the Kalamazoo State Theater, and every Christmas it’s become a charity event. This year, the proceeds will go to an organization called Notes for Notes, which is a cool group of people that open recording studios for kids. There are community centers where kids can go and play basketball or football, but there isn’t really anything musical for kids to do. That’s what they do. I was part of opening one in Detroit at this old junior high school that has been completely revamped. If you have a 3.0 GPA, at 3 o’clock, you can walk on in and play basketball or climb a rock wall, but you can also walk into a room where there’s guitars, a drum kit and there’s a recording studio. We are trying to do something local, which will be a cool charity thing for the community.
What else is Ballard looking forward to about the next few weeks? “The holidays for me are all about family time. I’ve got an incredible family that I never get to see. I’ve missed so much. They know how much my career means to me, and they allow me to go and be the workaholic that they never get to see. They support me in that. I don’t know if that’s always the right decision to make. I’ve missed weddings and a lot of important events because of my career. So those holiday times are special.”
The season will also serve as a time of healing. “I’m having shoulder surgery on Dec. 21. I tore my ligament doing a stage dive in Texas last February, and I’m going to get that fixed up. I’m really looking forward to getting that all bandaged up and not do anything but spend some quality time with them. I’m just going to dive into family time.”
Will that include sitting in front of the television on Thanksgiving while cheering on the Detroit Lions, as they host the Philadelphia Eagles? “As much as I can. You want to talk about heartbreak? That’s the Lions,” he says.