Kelleigh Bannen Is Painting With All Her ‘Favorite Colors’ On New Album [Interview]

Earlier this year, Kelleigh Bannen offered fans a taste of her new music, with the confident, smoky “Deluxe.” Co-written with Danielle Blakey, the track is a churning, sultry ode of high praise for a lover who gives the relationship that extra spark. Sparkling production from Jaren Johnston (of The Cadillac Three) adds an extra jolt to the track.

When her full-length project Favorite Colors releases Friday (Oct. 11), the indie release will find Bannen’s signature blend of intensely personal songwriting and the engaging pop-soul stylings that infuse her blend of country music intact throughout the album’s 14 tracks, all of which Bannen co-wrote.

Bannen has a long-standing musical kinship with Johnston, who produced the majority of the album—and not only because they are both Nashville natives who grew up around Music City’s creative industry.

“We met at a writing session years ago,” recalling one of the first songs they co-wrote was a never-released track titled “The Wild Wild West.” “What I love about Jaren—even then—is how he embraced imperfection on his demo. Everyone knew Jaren wasn’t turning in a master when he turns in a demo, but there is something really compelling about the way he would turn in these funky demos, that were not perfect, on purpose.”

“’Deluxe’ was such an obvious Jaren match in my opinion,” she adds. “He’s so good at getting those dirty tones and a rowdy vibe. He can navigate sounds that are country but are a little bit left, or analog.”

The new album also incorporates the three songs from Bannen’s 2018 EP The Joneses.

Last year, she stepped outside of typical song release protocol, by issuing three songs simultaneously: “John Who,” “The Joneses,” and “Happy Birthday.”

“It was hard for me to release them at the same time. It wasn’t our original plan. We had just started making our plan and J.R. [Schumann] at SiriusXM heard them, and he was incredibly supportive. He came to us with the idea of doing three simultaneous songs as ‘Highway Finds.’ We had to think about it because you want to give every song a chance to be discovered by fans in its own right and have its own moment. I know how many airBNB guests I have to have in my house and I know how much it costs for each hour in the studio. As an independent artist, those champions who are willing to step out for you are so vital, that we just had to say ‘Yes.’ So we released all three songs together, something Sirius had never done before. I didn’t want those songs to get left behind too quickly, and that’s why they are included on this album, too. I couldn’t imagine not having those songs on this album.”

“I need a reason to forget/get you the hell out of my head,” she sings in “John Who,” a soulful kiss-off to a dream guy-turned-nightmare. But she also highlights the doubts that waver just beneath the breezy confidence, on the line Is she prettier than me, what do you see in her that you didn’t see in me.

Bannen says the vocal on the finished master is in fact the scratch vocal.

“I was so sick when we were recording ‘The Joneses,’ ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘John Who,’ and Jaren was on the road so much that we couldn’t find the time for me to get back in the studio to sing ‘John Who’ and ‘Happy Birthday’ so we put the demo vocals on the master. Then as we listened, we had those versions and everyone was loving them.”

The album’s most haunting track is “Long Shadow,” co-written with Will Bowen and Tia Sillers, and produced by Bowen.

“We kept re-writing this song. I think I have five versions of it,” Bannen notes. “To me that image of grieving anything—a loved one, a relationship, a season of life—that comparison between grieving something and it having a long shadow was super powerful to me.”

Bannen recalls thinking about her late brother Grant, who died in 2008.

“I was teary on some of those takes. I was thinking about my brother Grant, and my sweet dog, who was like our first dog that my husband and I ever got, and died in December right about the time I was singing this vocal. I was afraid the vocal would sound contrived like people would think I was trying to sound really emotional about it.”

“I’m always attracted to things that are a little rough around the edges,” she says of her songs. “For myself as a woman, I think I have a tendency to think, ‘I need to clean up before I let people in,’ and that’s such a barrier to connection.”

In addition to crafting the new album, Bannen has been behind the mic, gearing up for another season of her podcast, This Nashville Life—another place where she disposes of barriers, in an effort to bring listeners deeper into the nitty gritty of the music industry.

“It’s a place where I can be really nerdy, which I think sometimes as an artist, you are trying to convince people that you are cool,” she says with a laugh. “This is a place where I’m definitively not cool, but it’s fun to just geek out about this thing we all love and that we are making, or trying to make, our living doing.”

Previous episodes have welcomed songwriters Tim Nichols and Craig Wiseman, Sandbox Entertainment’s Jason Owen (manager to artists including Kacey Musgraves, Little Big Town and Kelsea Ballerini), engineer F. Reid Shippen, attorney Chip Petree, and more, to delve deeply into the behind-the-scenes mechanics of the music industry. Bannen says she’s looking forward to highlighting more female voices in upcoming episodes.

“As the host, I do get to kind of tell the stories that I’m passionate about and that I think are interesting and important to tell. As a woman, and a Nashville native, I’m going to lean kind of heavy on voices that I don’t think as big of a platform. I also want another mark of the podcast to be that we shine a light on songs we think are incredible. Those songs are the reason this town exists.”

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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