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Kelleigh Bannen Talks Perfection Perseverance and Finding the Perfect Lyric

She may not have a hit at Country radio, but Kelleigh Bannen is a Music City success story.

Written by Lindsay Williams
Kelleigh Bannen Talks Perfection Perseverance and Finding the Perfect Lyric
Kelleigh Bannen; Photo credit: John Shearer

Kelleigh Bannen is the artist who sings the same note a dozen times just to get the right cadence. She’s the girl who never settles for good when she can have great. She’s the last one to leave…and the first one to critique herself.

“I am pretty high-strung, and I’m a self-doubter. I’m an over-thinker. I’m a perfectionist,” she observes, before adding, “When you wait this long to even get to make a record that you put out, you feel like everything has to be perfect.”

Kelleigh Bannen; Courtesy of Triple 8 Management
Kelleigh Bannen; Courtesy of Triple 8 Management

Bannen has waited a decade to release Favorite Colors, her first official LP, despite 10 years of paying her dues on stages across the country and in writing rooms up and down Music Row. Previously, the Nashville-native released a string of critically-acclaimed singles and EPs, building her reputation one clever turn-of-phrase at a time.

“Even though I grew up here, I came to the music-making part of town rather late,” the 38-year-old admits. “Working in the music industry as your main job is really hard. Not many people get to do it. It’s not the easiest way to make a living.”

Nevertheless, Bannen has made a name for herself the old-fashioned way—through hard work, determination and perseverance. And perhaps now more than ever, she’s unapologetically brash, but not in an obnoxious way. Instead, her songs endear the listener to the artist with quick wit and real-life candor. She simply says aloud what we’re all thinking. Whether releasing music under a label or independently, Bannen isn’t afraid to speak her truth.

“The lyric is really, really important to me; and I think that, obviously, there’s such a tradition of that in Country music,” she reflects. “Words really matter to me. I’ve been really hurt by words. I’ve been really encouraged by the right words; and I have my own kind of set of guidelines as far as what I think is cool and interesting and powerful and smart.”

For Favorite Colors, she gave herself permission to paint with a rainbow of hues, playing with an array of phrases and feelings. “I think of the songs as different shades of light and experience,” Bannen shares. “I loved the idea that this album could be made up of shades of colors and emotions. They might not all be—on the surface—pretty colors; but they’re beautiful.”

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{Hey you, You dreamer, you try-harder, you wait in liner, you fighter, you hoper, you never give-er is up-er. If there’s one thing you get from following me here…if there’s one thing you get from being a part of this 10 year journey of putting out an album, I hope it’s that one more little nudge to do the thing you’re scared of, or in love with, or can’t stop thinking about. Be brave. You’re made for it.} This is #FavoriteColors. Thank you for letting me sing to you. Love ya @thejaren. Love ya @willbowen and @toddclark. You can only tag 20 ppl on a post. So also: Thank you to the incredible, kind, generous musicians & engineers who worked on this project: @robotlemon @alenamoran @drewbollman @tronian @goretronix #NathanKeeterle @eli.beaird @hugsmcnugget #MattUtterback @nirzidkyahu @plyman #MattGreen.

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While in the studio with producer Jaren Johnston, frontman of The Cadillac Three, the perfectionist in her reared its head. Although Bannen’s initial instinct was to capture multiple takes of the same song to get the best version; Johnston encouraged her to relax and simply sing the songs she wrote with the raw passion each cut required.

“I wanted the best performance that I could possibly deliver,” Bannen says, “and maybe the lesson for me in this was that you don’t have to do more to get to better sometimes.”

Lessons like this simply become guideposts along her creative path—many of which she shares with listeners on her popular podcast, This Nashville Life, now in its third season.

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First we partied…. 📸@catherinepowell

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“I guess the reason we keep making episodes is because there’s just too many great stories to tell,” she says of the industry-focused interviews. “I love this town, and I love telling the stories of this town.”

Bannen herself is a chapter out of Nashville’s playbook, proving that you can write your own definition of success. Having experienced both the highs and the lows of the music business, she’s at a point in her career—and her life—where she clearly defines success by the caliber of people surrounding her.

“I feel like I have legitimately worshiped at the altar of my music career,” the singer admits. I love music more than anything else in my life, but it’s not enough. At the end of the day, who loves you? At the end of the day, who doesn’t care if you’ve just slayed Madison Square Garden or you had a writer’s round that nobody came to? I don’t know how you can be successful for very long without really good people around you.”

Snapshots of the significant people supporting Bannen are sprinkled throughout Favorite Colors’ 14 tracks, many of which are autobiographical. The selections that don’t tell her story word-for-word mirror emotions she’s felt at one time or another, and all of them are projected through the prism of her empowered feminine perspective.

“I love a good ‘girl in a truck’ song. I do. I don’t have a problem with those songs. I might want to be the girl in the passenger seat; but sometimes, I want to be the girl in the driver’s seat,” Bannen says. “My hope is that anybody listening to these songs would feel permission to wear those multiple roles, as well. For somebody who needs a lot of permission, like me, I hope my album is somebody else’s permission.”