The first No. 1 single is a celebrated milestone for any artist, but for Frankie Ballard, the second one is even sweeter.
"It's so exciting to have your first No. 1 song and you're like, 'Wow,' I just can't believe this is actually happening,' [but] there's a little voice in the back of your head that's like, 'What if this is the only time I'm ever going to get to experience this?'"
After opening for acts like Kenny Chesney and Lady Antebellum, Ballard broke out on country radio with "Helluva Life" in 2014. The song became his first bona fide hit single and went all the way to No. 1 on the country charts. When "Sunshine & Whiskey" followed suit months later, Ballard breathed a huge sigh of relief.
"I'm not a one hit wonder! God!" he exclaims in ETonline's Behind the Hit, playfully burying his face in his hands. "I still feel like, 'OK, well, you gotta have another one, you gotta keep going.' So I don't know if that'll ever change about me."
The Cadillac Three's Jaren Johnston co-wrote the track with Nashville hitmaker Luke Laird and recalls sending the demo to Ballard.
"Honestly, I was a little worried because I love Frankie's stuff, but a lot of times you want a more established artist to do it," Johnston, who has penned tracks for Tim McGraw and Keith Urban, confesses. "But he goes, 'Man, I'm gonna take it all the way,' and I go, 'Take it, baby! Take it!' He's a dear friend of ours, so I'm glad it worked out."
Ask Ballard why he chose that song, and his answer is simple: "The DWK line stuck out to me the first time I heard it," he says. "I could immediately see myself singing it onstage."
(He croons, "Don't wanna get a DWK, Drivin' while kissin, they'll put you away.")
"I wrote that part kinda by myself," Johnston recalls with a laugh. "I was finishing the second verse because we didn't have one, I said it and my wife was actually in the room and she said, 'Are you really gonna put that in there?'"
Thankfully, he did.
"I was so excited to dig into that tune because I felt like sonically it was something that could really stamp my brand on to country music," Ballard says of the song. After running through the song twice with his band in the studio, Ballard and producer Marshall Altman spent a solid month perfecting the track. "I spent a ton of time overdubbing stuff," the singer says. "The tiny nylon string guitar, that wasn't on there originally. The electric parts, I put on. I played the wurlitzer on it. A lot of that stuff, we added later."
In the end it was all worthwhile. Shortly after shipping out to country radio, Ballard felt a palpable shift at his live shows.
"Right when it really started to get some airplay, I could just see every single night it seemed like more people were singing it," he says. "It was so exponential. People were getting excited and I would start playing the first riff at the top, and people were recognizing it. That's when I felt like, 'OK, this might be something.'"
Johnston had a different take.
"As soon as it hits No. 1, that's when I'm like 'Yeah!' I'm buyin' that first round of whiskeys and start calling it a night."
Amid an opening slot on the Florida Georgia Line tour, Ballard's current single "Young and Crazy" is climbing the charts. This spring, he'll get in the studio to start recording his third album. He says, "I'm already working on new material."
For more from our sit-down with Ballard, watch the video below!
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