Singer/songwriter Kelleigh Bannen stopped by the Nash Country Daily studio last week to talk about her new single, “Church Clothes,” but before she dished about her layered ditty, the feisty, fun-loving lass conversed about a number of topics, including the genesis of her name, her podcasting prowess and being a CMT Next Women of Country alum.
NCD: You’ve got a fine Irish name. “Kelleigh” means “feisty.” Does that fit your personality?
Kelleigh: “Yes, and nobody knows that. You know what happens is people actually think it’s a millennial name, which I’m probably like one of the oldest millennials, if it’s even possible that I’m a millennial. But people are like, ‘Oh, Irish?’ because now it’s even common for names like Ashley to have an “E-I-G-H” on the end. But you’re right, it’s a Gaelic spelling.”
You host your own weekly podcast, This Nashville Life. As a singer/songwriter, native Nashvillian and a woman in the industry, you’ve got a unique perspective that befits the world of podcasting.
“Thanks. I really love this city, and I’ve seen it change a lot, even in just the last 10 years. I’ve really been making music full-time for 10 years. I also just love sharing what I think makes this city special. I think a lot of it is the music and a lot of it is the business of the music. I felt like I have a story to tell and I’m passionate about doing it. It’s fun for me to get to do it. I feel like I have a story to tell, and I like the journalistic aspect to it too. We kind of use me as the experiment, my artist career, being a woman in country music, those kinds of things as the lens, but then we’re looking at other people’s stories too. So we’re not just telling my story, but we use it as the jumping off point.”
You were a part of 2014’s CMT Next Women of Country class. What’s that experience about?
“CMT, in some ways, is uniquely positioned to be a great platform for women to tell their stories, to make music. I just think Leslie Fram [CMT senior VP of music strategy] thought this was a way that she could encourage and shine a light on women that maybe weren’t getting the airplay yet. The other really cool thing about Next Women is there’s been several tours. I haven’t been a part of any of those yet, but it kind of becomes a little group of other women that you can connect with and cheer on and support, who get it and understand.
“It’s odd at times that we’re still talking about the woman card. I think it’s only worth talking about because there aren’t very many female voices. I love our guys. I think they’re making great music too. It’s just like we need to encourage the people that maybe aren’t getting as much opportunity.”
You recently released a new single, “Church Clothes,” which was written by Liz Rose and Nicolle Galyon. It’s a sorrowful ballad. What was your first impression of the song and why did you decide to record it?
“I was just so impressed with how brave the song was. It’s fairly truthful. I loved it. I loved it from a songwriting perspective just how well written it was and I loved it too because it really connected to a lot of things that were happening in my life at the time. I sent it to my manager who immediately started—she was freaking out, too. Their publisher actually had it in mind for someone else, but we just begged them to let us have the song. That was in 2013.”
The song is about covering up what’s really going on in someone’s life.
“I think that’s a great way of saying it because it’s specifically about this couple that’s getting dressed and ready to go to church and what they’re hiding, which is that their marriage is falling apart. You don’t really know what happens to this couple. That’s one of the things I really like about this song. Then also there’s this other layer. Your church clothes can be a metaphor for all kinds of ways that we’re hiding or covering up—and not in like an ugly way necessarily—just in a fear of what would people think or what would people say.”
The song is so literal that when you made the video, you went another avenue with it. The video is a dreamlike sequence.
“The song is so literal and so specific that it was kind of like we can either act out exactly what this couple is doing or we’ve got to take it out and put it in this more dreamlike setting where we’re not being compared in a very literal sense to the song or maybe adding another layer to it.
“I had a lot of fear about doing that because it’s such a restraining song in some ways and it’s such a vulnerable song. I was almost afraid that we’d just detract from that if we kind of put in this other weird or otherworldly setting. But I actually am really proud about the way that it turned out and the reception to it has been really strong.”
You strip down in the video. What did Mama Bannen think of that?
“Mama was in the front row as one of the extras. She’s in the blue dress. I was feeling really bashful about that. I will say it got dialed back a little bit. The original idea, which I was really kind of concerned about but also thought it could be really cool. We were trying to get the permits to shoot it out at a state park on the edge of a lake. It’s really hard to get those kind of permits. We didn’t want to just sneak out there and do it. The original idea was that I would actually strip all the way down to that slip and then wade into the water like this kind of cleansing, which I think would have been potentially even more provocative. I’m kind of relieved now I didn’t do that, knowing my mom was going to be one of the extras in the front row. Also my husband was there, but my husband wasn’t the groom in that. He gave it his blessing though [laughing].”
photos by Jason Simanek