Kelsea Ballerini launched onto the country music scene with the infectious “Love Me Like You Mean It” in 2014. Her debut single and first No. 1 hit, it was just the start of the artist’s reign on the country charts.
Ballerini co-wrote the song with Forest Glen Whitehead, Josh Kerr and Lance Carpenter, and the song would become each writers’ first No. 1 as well as the first No. 1 song released by her label, Black River Entertainment. In an interview with Carpenter during the 2017 Island Hopper Fest in Fort Myers Beach, Fl., the songwriter tells Sounds Like Nashville how “Love Me Like You Mean It” came to be.
The four friends wrote the song one night over pizza at the Black River offices. As Carpenter recalls, Ballerini had recently signed a publishing deal but didn’t have a record deal yet. Meanwhile, Carpenter and Whitehead were roommates at the time and were both signed to different publishers, giving little time for the friends to collaborate. So, Monday nights they headed over to Black River to write together and when they got there one evening in 2012, Kerr and Ballerini were also hanging out. The four songwriters soon learned Kellie Pickler was looking for a single so they began to write a song for her.
“We got a verse and a chorus in and we were chasing something radio would like and we weren’t having any fun so we stopped,” Carpenter recalls. “I ordered pizza, we started eating pizza. We were listening to music and just hanging out and playing songs that we liked. There was a Rihanna song that came on called ‘Take A Bow’ that’s a very sassy song and Josh said something to Kelsea like, ‘Kelsea, you don’t have any sass like that in you do you?’ She’s such a sweet, gullible, awesome person and she said, ‘Oh, hey!’ and snapped her fingers and said, ‘I got some sass in me.'”
Carpenter recalls Kerr wearing a flat-billed ball cap that night and he then threw out a line to his fellow songwriters: “Well, hey, Josh has his hat back.” Ballerini’s response? “I kinda like that.”
“That’s the first line in the song. ‘Oh hey, boy with your hat back / Mmm I kinda like that.’ And then we said, ‘Well, let’s see what happens,'” Carpenter explains. “We were just strumming some chords. I don’t even think I picked up my guitar that night. We wrote the whole verse like, ‘Here’s what maybe the song should say. Kelsea, how would you say that in the way you talk?'”
When the writers got to the chorus they weren’t quite sure where it was going. Whitehead kept singing “If ya gonna, if ya gonna,” and the songwriters thought it might be unique to use those lines to have the girl in the song talking to the guy. “If you’re gonna love me, if you’re gonna hurt me, if you’re gonna kiss me, if you’re gonna leave me.” Carpenter says they had 12 different versions of things to say and paired them down.
“Then someone said, ‘What if we double it? If you gonna love me, love me / If you’re gonna leave me, leave me.’ And that was cool but it still wasn’t flowing for us. Then someone said, ‘What if we had this response — if you gonna hurt me, hurt me like I’m somethin’ / If you’re gonna leave me, leave me like I’m nothin’ / If you’re gonna love me, love me like you want me.'”
The songwriters knew they were onto something and as they found the groove of the chorus it was then time to put the right puzzle pieces together for the lyrics.
“We didn’t think ‘Love Me Like You Mean It’ was going to be the title until we finished the whole song. There’s not really a more powerful statement then, ‘If you’re gonna love me, love me like you mean it,'” Carpenter concludes.
The four friends finished the song around 12:30 a.m. and recorded a work tape that sounds similar to the final product heard on Ballerini’s 2015 debut album, The First Time. While Carpenter and Whitehead knew they had a good song on their hands, during their drive back home they admitted that they had no idea who would sing it.
“Even my publisher when we turned it in — I still have the email — it says, ‘I love this vocal but it won’t work on country radio… yet,'” Carpenter recalls with a smile. “It was two years later when she finally recorded it and put it out. It wasn’t a groundbreaking song, it was just catchy and conversational and had a positive lyric. She sang the fire out of it and it worked.”