One of CMT’s Next Women of Country, Kelleigh Bannen is always good for a good story. And she is showing she’s got the theater of the mind thing down with her enlightening new podcast, This Nashville Life.
Already two episodes in, the series is based on her daring blog of the same title, which gives followers a front row seat at what it’s really like to make it in Music City as told by an artist and native living in the thick of it. Essentially, it is the Nashville music business explained in 30 minutes or less.
“Part love letter, part hate mail, part how-to guide,” Bannen says, “come with us as we try to live This Nashville Life.”
In the first episode on country radio, she explores the almost insurmountable work it takes to get a song up the charts and raises some valid questions.
“What’s the difference between a great song and a hit song?” she asks. “What’s the difference between a song that sells and a song that gets played on the radio? And what would you rather have? A song that 150,000 people bought or a song that made it to the top of the charts but nobody really cared about?”
Using her single 2014 single “Famous” as an example, she gets expert insight from JoJamie Hahr, radio representative from Broken Bow Music Group, which is home to the ACM’s reigning entertainer of the year Jason Aldean.
The second episode has her demystifying the Nashville co-writing experience with hit-maker Laura Veltz, who co-wrote Eli Young Band’s “Drunk Last Night,” Chris Young’s “Lonely Eyes,” Maren Morris’ “Sugar” and Bannen’s 2014 single, “Smoke When I Drink.”
A typical day at the office for Nashville songwriters usually starts at 10:30 a.m. with coffee talk with co-writers and after everyone is adequately caffeinated, the exchanging of song ideas begins.
Some songwriting sessions are more awkward than others. Versatility is key.
“Your role is changing on a daily basis based on who else is in the room,” Bannen explains. “If there’s going to be three people in the room, I don’t want to have to be the lyric girl that day. I feel like I’m a melody person. I’m a concept person and I’m a lyric person, but I want another one of those people in the room to push and pull against.”
Sometimes a session ends in a hit song. Other times, you get nothing. Sometimes great songs are written solo. Other times it takes six writers to make a track happen, or 14 in the case of Thomas Rhett’s “Vacation.” He had to give credit to the funk band War on the song because of its sonic similarities to “Low Rider.”
“But there are other people that are like, ‘Well, a song that was written 100-percent [solo], that’s a truer, purer way to write a song,’” she adds. “I think it’s a matter of opinion. And if a really great song happens, do we really care how it was written?”
Going a little deeper, the same amount of people it took to write “Vacation” it also took to write the top five singles on Billboard’s country airplay chart for the week ending Sept. 24. Only two of those songs were co-written by the artist singing the tracks, Kelsea Ballerini’s “Peter Pan” and Sam Hunt’s “Make You Miss Me.”
Three people are behind her new song “Welcome to the Party.” They are Bannen, Abe Stoklasa and Daniel Tashian.
“This has been a season of me owning my stuff and being real about what’s great about the good and the bad,” she says. “I think that’s what’s fun about ‘Welcome to the Party’ and the overall EP is about making the most of where you are and telling the truth about yourself. We think that everyone else’s life is outstanding and perfect when the reality is, everyone else’s life is kind of a mess, too. But it doesn’t mean that it’s going to suck long term. We might as well have a good time while we’re here together.”
The new video is a fun skate party that was shot at a roller rink in North Nashville and both the co-writers make cameos in the clip.
“It was sort of going back to the place where you had your kid birthday,” she says. “It was fun and complete mayhem like almost everything in my life right now.”
What Bannen is doing is groundbreaking in mainstream country music and goes beyond the usual social media updates fans have come to expect from the acts they love. Not many artists are willing to take the risk of offering an honest look at everything going on in their career in real time. It’s a bold and empowering move.
“Everything in life is one day at a time,” she adds. “And yes, I’m always looking at the future. I love planning and I love dreaming far out, but I can really only do what I can do today. And if I show up and I do the best that I can today, and then I just do that again tomorrow. And I do that the next day. I think that’s the most successful model that I have because you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Her latest EP Cheap Sunglasses featuring “Welcome to the Party,” “Landlocked” and “All Good Things” is available now.