Esteemed songwriter and producer Alysa Vanderheym has made waves across genres with her work. Vanderheym’s ability to deeply connect with her collaborators and fellow music lovers, combined with the safe spaces she creates during sessions, have shaped songs and projects that bond people together on closer level. One of those projects is Kelsea Ballerini‘s EP Rolling Up The Welcome Mat. Co-written and co-produced by Vanderheym and Ballerini, the acclaimed collection is currently nominated for Best Country Album at the 66th Grammy Awards.
Ahead of the special event on Sunday (Feb. 4) in Los Angeles, the empowering creator sat down with MusicRow to share her musical story thus far as well as detail the process of making Rolling Up The Welcome Mat alongside Ballerini.
Hailing from California’s Bay Area, Vanderheym moved to Music City in 2012 to study songwriting at Belmont University after spending some time at a school in Seattle, Washington. She began watching fellow writers such as Jimmy Robbins produce the tracks they had penned, and picked up production to help get her foot in the door of the publishing world.
Vanderheym signed her first publishing deal with Jesse Frasure and Major Bob Music in 2015. Frasure then moved on to start Rhythm House, a joint venture with Roc Nation and Warner Chappell Music, and signed her again in 2019. Vanderheym earned her first No. 1 with Jameson Rodgers and Luke Combs‘ “Cold Beer Calling My Name,” and has had cuts with Blake Shelton, Jelly Roll, Kygo and One Republic, Florida Georgia Line, The Band Camino and more. She co-produced Cheat Codes and Russell Dickerson‘s “I Remember,” among other successful tracks. Her writing credits also include eight cuts on Ballerini’s 2023 album Subject To Change.
“I’ve rarely just been a producer on tracks. But when I have been, I’ve just tried to serve the song and get out of the way,” she says. “When it comes to writing from scratch for projects, it’s the same concept in that the song comes first. Whatever serves the song is what the track will be, and sometimes that changes after living with it and thinking of new ideas later down the line. Usually, the conception of the song is the heart of it, so I try to honor that no matter what.”
When it comes to specifically penning and producing country music, lyrics are the core and Vanderheym continues to do her best to honor the story they’re telling. She also sees more opportunity to push the limits in the genre, especially when writing for country radio.
“Country radio is a box. Usually, if you go too far outside of that box, people are scared to make a single. There’s a lot of fear involved, so you have to find that line between cool, fresh and interesting, and commercial and palatable to country radio listeners,” she notes.
“It also depends on the artist. I trust the artist more than anyone else, because they know their brand better than anyone else and you have to cater to that,” Vanderheym adds. “But if an artist is excited to do something different, I’m happy to do that.”
She took her signature supportive approach to Rolling Up The Welcome Mat and helped bring Ballerini’s incredibly personal vision to life. Vanderheym held space for the artist’s wildest ideas and assisted her in pushing the envelope, resulting in something raw and real that resonated with so many.
The track “Mountain With A View” was her favorite to produce because she and Ballerini were able to build it together piece by piece. They intentionally moved slowly with production so as not to overshadow the song. “Mountain With A View” strategically opens the EP by setting the scene at 7 a.m. so that the project progresses somewhat chronologically. Vanderheym describes the positive, familial energy present when working with frequent collaborators and friends such as Ballerini and Grammy nominee Jessie Jo Dillon, among others, and believes that the open and judgment-free environment they form is what leads them to success.
“If a line is not right, we all just know we need to think about it a little more,” she says. “I think our individual perspectives and tastes allow us to challenge one another. There’s so much trust there, which makes it a really positive experience.”
The success of Rolling Up The Welcome Mat has made Vanderheym want to double down on the details of production and take more risks. She explains that although production isn’t always examined as closely as lyrics in country music, it’s still important and making something different can pay off. Vanderheym advises any aspiring songwriters and/or producers to trust their gut, especially when it comes to who they work with, as well as what appeals to them musically.
“You’re the tastemaker, you’re setting the bar of what’s cool and what people will want to listen to when they’re driving home after a hard day at work. Trusting yourself is your biggest job,” she expresses. “Maintain relationships as well. Having a good energy really matters and is one of the most important things.”