It has been four years since Kelleigh Bannen first heard “Church Clothes” and her passion to release the song as a single has only grown over time. That time has finally come as the singer shared the song with the world on Friday (March 10).
Bannen first stumbled across the song in 2013 while working on a demo session with songwriter Nicolle Galyon, who wrote “Church Clothes” with Liz Rose. As Bannen recalls, she saw the title written down and instantly loved it, asking Galyon about the track. Galyon told her it’s not what she thinks and that it, in fact, is a really sad song. Weeks later, when Bannen got her demo back she was still curious about “Church Clothes” and reached out to Galyon’s publisher to listen to it.
“They were hesitant because they definitely had some bigger named artists in mind for the song,” Bannen tells Sounds Like Nashville over the phone. “They were trying to be careful [with] who they shared it with. But he did send it to me.”
Bannen shared the song with her manager and says they “were losing our minds.” The demo had a simple piano part backing Galyon’s beautiful vocals and it embodied a more contemporary Christian feel, Bannen recalls. She begged the songwriters and publishers to let her cut it and after some convincing, the song was hers. It was a long four years until “Church Clothes” would see the light of day, though. While Bannen frequently performed the song live, her label at the time didn’t think it was the right fit for radio as it was tough to get a female, let alone a ballad, played. Regardless, the singer knew she had something special as every day on social media she’d be asked by a fan about the track and whether it would ever come out.
“Fans would share live videos of it. I think there were even some covers floating around before we ever put a version out,” Bannen says. “We knew there was a passion. There’s a truthfulness in it.”
“Church Clothes” paints a vivid picture of a struggling marriage where both sides want out. All the while, the couple keep up appearances while their problems remain hidden from those around them. It was a theme that struck a chord for Bannen as her parents had recently separated after 40 years of marriage and later divorced. “We’re turning to the Book of John / And I’m thinking how I can’t go on / But we smile and give it our Sunday best / If we’re lost, couldn’t tell by the way we’re dressed,” she sings on the second verse.
“It was so exactly what I was going through with my own family at the time when I first heard it. It was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my world,’ at the time we recorded this because I was on the road a lot and was trying to figure out how to make my marriage work in that setting too,” she confesses. “We started to share it out and play it out [and] so many people can connect with it. Whether it’s a family that went through a divorce–even if they’re not churchgoing–but if they feel that pressure to clean up for the world or to put on the smiling face or to not be real about the stuff that’s going on in their lives.”
Bannen hopes the song’s vulnerability gives people permission to not be perfect. Instead of looking at the world through social media’s glossy filters of each other, she urges people to own their “messy glory.”
“People have to see your mess. You have to see theirs to really see each other and be with each other,” she advises. “The invitation of ‘Church Clothes’ is to let people see the real you and to trust that in doing that, you may actually have more love or you may be more accepted. You open yourself up to connection in a totally different way instead of covering it up and hiding and all those things that we do so that nobody knows who we really are and what we’re really going through.”
Now calling the shots as an independent artist, Bannen knew it was time to release the song into the world. Additionally, she and director Michael Monaco teamed up to craft the video’s storyline. The music video paints the picture of an estranged relationship more artistically as Bannen is shown in three different forms of “Church Clothes” — dressed for her own wedding, donning funeral attire as well as wearing her Sunday best for Sunday service.
“We felt like it either had to be so literal that it almost felt like it would be acting out the lyrics, which we didn’t want to do, or it had to be other-worldly and trippy which is really how we landed on that idea,” she explains.
The video was put together with a limited budget and Bannen laughs as she cites all the people featured in the four-minute clip including her mother, a guy she works out with who plays the preacher, Luke Bryan’s assistant tour manager who portrays the groom and the marketing company she works with seated as extras in the church pews.
The video for “Church Clothes” comes across as a dreamlike scene and is vague and open to interpretation as is the song, something Bannen admits she loves.
“It doesn’t actually give you the answer to what happens in the story. You don’t know if they make it work or if they break up or how it actually ends for this couple and I think that’s one of the things that’s so great about the writing,” she reasons. “Anyone can put themselves in the story. It’s open-ended . . . I care a lot about this song and really wanted to be able to share it. I’m touched by the stories that I see people sharing about it. Getting to see fans connect to it and see that they care about it, it’s an honor to carry this song and be the little messenger for it.”