By Brian Ives
Frankie Ballard, like many other country singers on the rise, is hoping to take his career to the next level with his latest album. But to get it right on his new album, the recently released El Rio, he felt he had to leave Music City.
“I have done a lot of recording in Nashville, and I get distracted very easily in Nashville,” he explains to Radio.com. “People stop by the studio: ‘Hey, man, how’s things going in here?’ and ‘Can we bring you anything?’ I live there as well.
“I knew that we needed to take this next album to a new level, and the only way to do that was to get focused and not have any of those distractions. So I found this place called the Sonic Ranch down in El Paso. I treated it like a mission: ‘We gotta go down to the border; we gotta bring back the treasure!'”
He notes that the studio had a lot of vintage equipment, which was very appealing to him. “I’m 33, I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, but I kind of feel like I grew up in the ’50s because of the music that my dad played for me. He played me his favorite albums: Elvis, Johnny Horton and Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings and Kenny Rogers. I fell in love with the album experience.”
And while it often feels like we’re living in a singles world, Ballard still loves the art of the album. “I think human beings like to watch three minute YouTube videos, they like to watch fifteen minute cartoons, they like to watch thirty minute TV shows, they like to watch two hour movies. People like to consume music differently too. People like to [listen to] a couple of hot singles on the way to work to get jacked up. But sometimes it’s nice to put an album on, something that has a feeling, that brings back memories, that takes you someplace. I’m one of those people. So I don’t think the album will ever be dead, until artists stop making albums.”
Besides the aforementioned country music legends, Ballard is also a fan of classic rock, and he pays tribute to one of the icons via his cover of Bob Seger’s “You’ll Accomp’ny Me.”
Ballard grew up in Michigan, Seger’s home state. “I cut it as a tribute to Bob and all the things that he’s given me musically. ’Cause I looked up to him in a big way, and in Michigan Bob’s played on every radio station, so I was obviously hearing him a lot, and I wanted to pay tribute to that the best I could. I was excited about trying to turn on the next generation of people to a great song by a great artist.”
Like many other country artists, Ballard was influenced by Seger and his peers: “Heartland rock ’n’ roll, the John Mellencamp, and Tom Petty, the Eagles and stuff like that that had that rock and roll thing to it, but had these country songs and country lyrics. I always felt like I fit more in that spot than anywhere else, and I’m proud that that’s what country music is today. But I definitely have some rock and roll influences, and I’m happy to be a little bit more honest about them on this album.”
Another artist that has influenced him profoundly is the late guitar slinger Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“I was just kind of a cowboy chord dude when I was younger, and my dad and I would kind of play: ‘Here’s another one from Kenny Rogers.’ And I’d play the chords, and he would sing. I didn’t really know much more about the guitar. Past the third fret was just the dusty part. I would stay down here and play these chords.”
“And [then] I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan on Austin City Limits, and I’d never seen anything like that. And it changed my life. I stopped in my tracks. It was a Sunday afternoon, my mom was making dinner, and there it was on the little kitchen TV. And I was glued to it. And I went down into my bedroom, and I’ve been determined ever since to try to play like Stevie Ray Vaughan. I really think at the core of my guitar playing is bluesman, really. I’ve always felt like I’ve had things I needed to get out, and one of the best ways for me to do it is on guitar. And I put it down every once in a while. But I don’t know how else to describe it. It just seems like such an integral part of how I present myself. I can’t just sit down and be lyrically poetic without some kind of melody to help me along. So for me, it’s a big deal.”
He mentions, though, that he’s isn’t yelling “get off my lawn!” at younger artists and newer developments in music.
“I understand that there’s a lot of people that are putting synthetic sounds into their music, and I celebrate it. I’ve always celebrated it. I love Nine Inch Nails; I think Trent Reznor is an artist. I just don’t do that. I don’t know how to do that. I’m a barroom guitar slinger that knows how to arrange a band.”
Catch Ballard and his band on the road; check his Eventful page for his upcoming shows.