Ballard is someone who has never taken the easy route. At Western Michigan University, he was certain he’d become a pro baseball player. As graduation neared, he discovered music was his passion and dove into writing and performing his songs at local bars.
In 2011, Ballard released a self-titled collection that included two singles, “Tell Me You Get Lonely” and “A Buncha Girls.” While both songs received radio play, neither flew up the charts in quite the way most country newcomers hope. He questioned things, but he never gave up the dream. Which is a good thing, because he eventually earned a Top 10 country hit with “Helluva Life,” the lead single from Sunshine & Whiskey.
“Helluva Life” is a song that echoes Ballard’s can-do attitude.
“The first time I ever heard ‘Helluva Life,’ it really moved me because it’s very parallel with the journey I’ve been on,” Ballard told Radio.com. On the chorus of the song Ballard sings, “The bad times make the good times better,” and he says those lyrics sum up his musical journey.
“I’m more mature,” he said of the years since his first collection songs was released. “I feel like a better artist because of those things that I’ve been through. Because I’ve played in bars and honky-tonks and things that I’ve learned. I was selling beer long before I was selling myself as the product.”
“Helluva Life” has become an anthem for many country fans too, which doesn’t surprise him.
“I knew that it would be that way for a lot of people,” Ballard explained. “No matter what they are trying to achieve on their journey in life, it’s important to remember that those struggles, and the good times as well, everything together is what makes your life what it is. That statement of saying, ‘Man, it’s a helluva life,’ it just evokes some hope. It’s a coping mechanism for some people.”
Ballard spent the past two years working on the follow-up to his debut and has enjoyed watching the success “Helluva Life” has brought. It has in a way given him a second chance in music.
“It’s been cool to watch it take on a life of its own, people making it their own,” he said. “The lyrics mean different things to people’s journeys. It’s such a blessing to see it take on a life of its own.”
For Sunshine & Whiskey, Ballard took his time making the music, experimenting with guitar tones and arrangements in the studio while allowing the music to grow organically.
“This album was all about the process and the making of the music,” he said. “It gave me the ability to pour more of myself into the music. We did create something that sounded different, something that was me. I think there’s a sonic thread that runs through.”
The album’s title track is one of those songs that helped him find the sound he was looking for.
“The way we arranged it, sonically speaking, that sound is going to be identifiable with the record. It’s a fun song, ‘Every time you kiss me, it’s like sunshine and whiskey.’ It’s a summertime thing,” he said. “As an album title, I felt like it really wrapped its arms around all the songs. If nothing else, maybe people in Walmart will look at it and go, ‘Sunshine and whiskey?’ and at least give it a second glance.”
Before recording his latest album, Ballard reevaluated his own life and music, taking a cue from his previous record to make one that he felt exemplified who he is as an artist.
“My last record didn’t really work. It didn’t break me as an artist so you’re left with a lot of those feelings of, ‘What am I doing wrong here? What needs to happen?'” Ballard explained. “I really wanted to get my fingers into this new music, get my hands dirty and make sure there was as much of me in there as possible and I wasn’t leaving anything on the table.”
“I poured my heart into it for two years,” he added. “It feels good for it to be done. It feels dang good.”