Kelsea Ballerini will kick your butt on Iron Chef. The Nashville native is famous for her country albums, but now that she’s “in proper lockdown” instead of on tour, Kelsea’s channeling her onstage energy into cooking challenges. “I never made the time to make my own meals before, but it’s becoming a real passion,” says the musician, whose newest single The Other Girl” is a collab with Halsey. (And a certified bop, P.S.)

Here’s what the Grammy nominee is doing while staying at home… besides making her dad’s eggplant parm recipe from scratch.

Your new album, Kelsea, is out now… but you can’t perform live for a while. What’s that been like for you?
Hard, obviously, but also a good opportunity to reflect on who I am and why I do what I do, you know? In a way, I’m recalibrating my creative process. I’ve been living on tour buses and hotel rooms for years. I’m not used to being home. I’m not used to having a schedule or routine, so I’m having to learn what works for me as an adult. When I write songs on the road, I’m most creative right when I walk offstage. I go straight into the tour bus and write until 2 or 3 in the morning because I’m in that head space! But at home, I’m my sharpest and my least filtered during my first cup of coffee in the morning.

Welcome to the magical power of caffeine.
Right? A cup of regular coffee is my holy grail. I can write a song and a half in 45 minutes after that!

You have millions of social media followers. Do you feel pressure to put on makeup and do your hair every day, even if you’re just baking bread on your Instagram Stories?
No, but if I’m recording some performance videos, I’ll put on my makeup. I actually really enjoy doing my own makeup; it feels like an art form to me. I swear by The Honest Company’s Everything Primer Glow—it basically just makes you look dewy all day, and I love glowy skin like J.Lo! And The Honest Company products don’t have any nasty chemicals, so I enjoy that. Then I do Boy Brow by Glossier because you have to, right? And then Pillow Talk eyes by Charlotte Tilbury.

What’s a weird thing you keep running out of in quarantine?
Onions?! I’ve never cooked before, so I didn’t realize that literally every recipe has onions.

What’s an obstacle from quarantine that’s actually making you better at your job?
The isolation. I’ve been writing a ton completely by myself. That’s what I did when I was 12, 13. When I moved to Nashville, I always wanted to be in the room with people that are better than me, and I was lucky enough to work with the best songwriters out there. But in doing that, I stopped trusting my gut and trusting my own voice. And now I’m getting back to that.

How did you and Halsey collaborate on “The Other Girl?”
I had a note on my iPhone that just said “The Other Girl” for a while. I had this concept in my head, like [Brandy and Monica’s] “The Boy Is Mine,” because you don’t see a lot of female collaborations anymore! It’s a lot of guy-with-a-girl. But where’s the female power? And Halsey, I mean, she’s all female power.

Were you friends before the collaboration?
Yeah, we met backstage at her last tour in Nashville and hung out all night. We’re the same age and came up around the same time, and we connected on the level of being a young woman in the music industry. Being a songwriter and doing it with grace but also being bold. We’re really parallel in the way we envision our work… The blend was really nice. [I] recorded [my vocal part] in my tour bus.

You made that song on a bus?
Oh yeah. If you turn up the track, you can hear the road rattling in the background, and if you isolate my vocals, you can hear the air conditioning!

What’s your advice for collaborating on a work project with a friend?
Really listen to each other, and don’t be afraid to be honest. If you hear something that should be better, say so. But do it with grace, and listen with grace when your friend tells you something you can do better.

You’re part of a group of young female country artists who are getting a lot of attention right now, and a lot of success. How do you support other women in your field while maintaining your own drive to be the best?
Ah, that’s such a hard and good question! Because we all go through that, don’t we? Don’t you?

Absolutely. How do you handle it?
So in a field like music, there’s a level of competition that’s healthy. It’s drive, passion, it fuels you to work as hard as you can. Competitiveness is great until you can’t support people having their own moments. Then it’s a problem. Compete against yourself and your own stats and your own work. When you can’t root for someone else the way you’d root for yourself, that’s when you know it’s toxic, and you have to ask yourself, “Why do I feel this way? How can I make peace with this for myself?”

How do you know when a song is done, and when it still needs work?
I’ve always trusted my gut. That sounds like a cop-out, but it’s the truth. I always just have this gut feeling when something is supposed to be on an album. I try to listen to that. It’s easy to get disconnected but if you can carve out the space and see how you’re feeling, it’s the purest form of a reaction. Aim for that.

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