A Beautiful Voice and a Beautiful Soul: Kelleigh Bannen
I was lucky enough in college to be roommates with one of the greatest teammates and the best people you could possibly ever meet, Shawn Redhage. While Shawn has been in Australia tearing up the Australian basketball league with MVP’s, championships, and even Olympic appearances; his brother Chris has been living in Nashville making a name for himself. Similar to Shawn, but with a soccer ball, Chris was a stud soccer player at the University of Richmond. I was privileged one summer to have Shawn, Chris, and a coyote (long story), live with me. As beautiful of a soul that Shawn has, it can only be rivaled by that of his brother Chris. Knowing this, I decided while I was in Nashville that I was going to connect with Chris to show me around the town. Unfortunately Chris was on a journey in South Africa while I was in town, but it didn’t stop him from sending messages out to friends asking them to meet with me. Seriously, this guy is a stud!!! Because of Chris’ huge heart and connections, I had the opportunity to meet with country singer, Kelleigh Bannen. This was a discussion and a meeting that would leave a lasting impact on my heart and one that I am excited to share with everyone who follows my blog (hurry and tell your friends to subscribe so we can continue to spread love and inspiration with all).
As I am driving through Music Row in Nashville, pumping my favorite bluegrass band “The Warren G. Hardings, website:” I am a bit mesmerized by all of the recording studios lining the streets. Just thinking of all the legends who have recorded in Nashville and now I have the opportunity to meet a country star in just a few minutes. I park and stroll into 40 Music Square West and Starstruck Studios to meet Kelleigh Bannen. I sit down in the waiting room and spark up a conversation with a couple local songwriters there for a meeting hoping to get one of their songs cut. Out from the back walks a stunning women and her manger, I recognize her from the picture and it is Kelleigh. We say our hellos and we walk back into one of the conference rooms. I am feeling super official and wondering if I need a media badge to get access for the interview (It is a good thing they don’t know that Mr. Jordan gave me a B in Senior English and It is a good thing Mr. Jordan doesn’t read my blog, because after reading all of my grammatical mistakes, he would probably be upset he didn’t give me a C). I started to feel a little nervous about the interview and I was hoping that I would leave a solid impression.
We sit down and go through the basic introductions. She is fully attentive and exudes energy as I am telling my story.
“Wow, she is an amazing listener,” I think to myself.
I was so impressed with how engaged she was with my story and what I had to say. I could feel her genuine spirit as she asked amazing questions about my depression, my cancer, my basketball history, and my lost love. I immediately felt very comfortable with her and I could tell that her soul was just as stunning as her appearance. She was asking some of the most amazing questions and our conversation seemed to flow like we had known each other for years.
For a second, I was thinking:
“Who is interviewing who here,” but I have to admit it loved it. I loved her energy and what an amazing listener she was and how her responses were so loving and caring.
My nerves quickly settled down as I realized that she was just as excited to meet me and hear my story as I was to meet her and hear about her story.
We move away from the reason for my journey and into her Passion:
“My Passion is music. I just love the idea of being a story teller/a story keeper. Sometimes my passion can be at odds with my husband and even sometimes with God,” Kelleigh shared.
I know exactly how that feels. Sometimes our passion takes over and it is all that we can think about. It can be hard to explain to someone else about how it makes us feel and why we put so much love and energy into trying to perfect what we love.
“How did you find your passion for music?” I asked
“I really had no affirmation from the outside world growing up that I could be a professional singer. I was a little bit awkward growing up and I went to college thinking I would just get a real job, but I knew I loved music. I was scared though, because I just didn’t know if I could do it. I knew I loved it, but I had this fear.”
Kelleigh then really opened up and shared a deep part of her past that caused her to reflect on her journey, her life, and her goals. Her brother had been battling drugs and alcohol and had overdosed several times during his battle before he finally passed away from his addiction. As soon as she shared this news, I felt a deep pit in my stomach. Thinking of the pain she went through losing her brother is one that I hope I never have to experience. She went on to explain that one of the times he was in the hospital, she was riding up on the elevator in the hospital to visit him in the ICU while he laid in a coma. She had this feeling come over her as she was in this moment of reflection about life and her brother:
“What am I so afraid of? I knew I wanted to play music, but taking action was scary to me. The idea of making a phone call or visiting someone to ask them to listen to a song or hear a song I wrote was sometimes terrifying to me. Here I am going up to visit my brother who is laying in the hospital unconscious. This is real life, this is life/death, so why am I so scared to go after what I want.”
The idea that what we want in life seems so big and scary, but at the end of the day it is not life or death. We have this fear in the back of our minds that is holding us back, but even if we don’t succeed it isn’t the end of the world, but instead it is just a blimp in our journey through life.
“I lived in a lot of fear.”
“Me too,” I added. So much of my life I have had this fear of failure, this fear of letting people down ,and just not being enough. When I reflect back all of this fear was self created, because I wanted it so badly and the idea of failure almost felt like death.
Kelleigh jumped in “It just replays like a record in our mind. Over and over it goes, you are not good enough, that song wasn’t good. This person is better than you. This person got a record deal in one year, why is it taking you so long to get that big deal. You are not going to make it.”
As we continued to talk, I could feel pressure being let out of my soul. She understands and she gets it. We have the same record playing in our heads. My record was about basketball and her record was about her music career, but the message from the songwriter on our records playing in our brains was the exact same negative message.
Kelleigh talked about how she then started doing little things to build relationships. How she stopped listening to the record in her head and she start to push forward. She just wanted to make art: She wanted to write, to record, and she wanted to perform. The doors started to open and in 2012 she signed her first major record deal.
I then asked:
“What did it feel like when you got that first major record deal? Did the record in your head stop playing?”
“Music is just ridiculously fun,” she said with a huge smile on her face.
“I love performing, I love connecting with people. I want to be everyones friend and music allows you to do that with people you don’t even know. When you are performing and you are connecting with your audience and you can feel they are in that moment with it, it is magical.”
“but…… that record is still playing. I have had success, but I am still striving for more.”
I know exactly what she feels like. I go back to the record in my head that plays all the time. In reality, I went from Malta High School (enrollment 78 kids) to play basketball at Arizona State University, part of the 1 percent that move from high school to college basketball. I then spent years making money playing basketball as a profession, again part of the 1 percent, but in my head my goal was to play basketball in the NBA and when I think of that goal, I failed and it eats me up. I had dreams of going back home to Malta and reopening up our school that shut down, setting up my family for life, and creating basketball clubs to help other youth athletes realize there dream.
As I explained this to her, she goes:
“Do you hear what you are saying? You are such a success, you have done what most dream about. You are amazing.” I do know exactly what you feel like thought . I still don’t have that number one record or song that I am striving for.”
I respond to her by saying:
“Do you hear what you are saying? You are amazing, you have had two top 50 hits, you are an accomplished performer, singer, and song writer.”
At this moment we both kind of looked at each other and smiled. It was funny that we both could see the others success, but personally we could not acknowledge our own. It is amazing the way our mind works and the records that play in our head. The record that is on repeat is often interpreted in a much different way by others than we hear it/see it, but still it is enough to drive one into depression, anxiety, or even hopelessness. This idea that in our minds we create this fear and often the fear is just an illusion and it is not true. To have someone hear your record and tell you the truth was a powerful experience. I have heard this from others I loved and often I ignored what they would say and tell my self that they just love me and they are biased. To hear someone that I just met 30 minutes ago tell me that my record was wrong and that the truth and the view from the outside perspective was completely opposite of what I was telling myself, was exactly what I needed to hear.
We then spent a few minutes exchanging compliments about how amazing the other was, which honestly felt really really really good 😉
Kelleigh goes on to share about how she is a perfectionist, but when she sings she has learned that when she tries to deliver the perfect vocals or the perfect performance, she loses something with her audience. The most powerful performance isn’t perfect, it can be imperfect, but it is that connection with the audience. It is being up on stage and sharing a song that has so much truth to it and letting go and allowing people in to your world. There is so much power in the truth and when I create songs, I really want to be specific and connect people and often it becomes a form of reverse voyeurism where I am letting them see inside my heart and my truth by my songs and performance.
My mind wonders into thought as I think about her comment “the most powerful performance is often not perfect.” I think about my own life and how I have struggled so much with this concept. I have had a bad case chasing the idea of being perfect and I have failed miserably at it, because it in reality it is impossible to be perfect. Every time I make a mistake or fall short of “being perfect,” my record starts playing on full blast and I beat myself up for days, weeks, months, even years. Just like Kelleigh shared, the most powerful part of our life often comes from our imperfections and our failures. The idea that we are not perfect and that there is beauty in our imperfection and our failures and so much power can come from these experiences is a concept that I hope I can drive into my inner record that currently is on repeat:
“You are not perfect, you are a failure,”
…and when I hear this record playing, I am hoping to hear my voice sing (as beautiful as Kelleigh’s voice)
“damn right you are not perfect and here is why it is beautiful.”
I am definitely not to this point and I know it will take a lot of work on my part, but my conversation with Kelleigh and feeling her energy, her kindness, and her spirit have given me hope. As I hope that my record changes to play a more beautiful song, I also have hope that Kelleigh’s record plays the song that describes who she is “a beautiful voice and a beautiful soul.”
Who is Kelleigh Bannen:
(From her website: www.KelleighBannen.com) Raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Kelleigh Bannen has built her career on a sound steeped in the city’s past, present and future, mixing country twang, pop hooks and southern storytelling into the same pot.
She’s a songwriter. A singer. A trailblazer. Throughout a career that’s included major-label singles, independent releases, Top 50 hits, and shows alongside icons like Hank Williams Jr. and Luke Bryan, Bannen has consistently called her own shots. She continues that streak with her new EP, Cheap Sunglasses, a mix of melodic hooks and modern production whose songs were all co-written by Kelleigh.
Swaggering and soulful, Cheap Sunglasses celebrates hope, humor, honesty and just a bit of heartache. It’s an EP about life, written by a woman who’s seen plenty of it. From the thrill of playing super-sized shows — including the Stagecoach Festival and the cross-country Three Girls Rock Into a Bar” tour — to the challenge of forging your own path in a competitive town, Kelleigh has lived the country music dream: its challenges, its triumphs, and its rewards. She’s chronicled her journey along the way, with Cheap Sunglasses joining a catalog that already includes a career-launching indie album, Radio Skies, and a handful of EMI Nashville singles, from “Smoke When I Drink” to “Famous.”
Her influence reaches far beyond the stage, too. This Nashville Life, a new podcast launched and hosted by Kelleigh, shines a light on the “business” side of the music business. Featuring guest interviews, stories, industry tips and plenty of insight from promoters, radio execs and fellow songwriters, the podcast has received glowing reviews not only from Kelleigh’s fans, but from outlets like iTunes, where This Nashville Life was named a “new and noteworthy” release. Kelleigh is still chasing her own dream, but she’s sharing advice with others, too, equipping a generation of dreamers with the tools they need to create their own careers.
“It’s not just about music,” she says of This Nashville Life. “It’s about what you do with a passion. It’s about what you do with perseverance. I’m not just looking inside the music biz. I’m looking inside any kind of creative struggle.”
For Kelleigh Bannen, the past is filled with milestones and memories. She’s looking ahead now, with a guitar in her hands, new songs in her head, and Cheap Sunglasses to ward off the glare.
Kelleigh has had two top 50 songs on the country charts (Sorry on the Rocks & Famous) and after meeting her and feeling her energy, I know it won’t be long before she has several more and hopefully a number #1 hit on the charts.