Kelleigh Bannen’s “Church Clothes” Dresses Up Dysfunction in Its Sunday Best

Daring New Song Invites Followers to Drop the Facade

Some people parade their crazy on the front porch and give it sweet tea, while others work hard to try and hide it.

The couple in Kelleigh Bannen’s new song “Church Clothes” are masters of disguise when it comes to hiding their dysfunction. Hitmakers Nicolle Galyon and Liz Rose co-wrote the song about a couple who attend worship and play off like everything about their marriage is as perfect and put together as the clothes on their backs. In reality, it’s on the rocks. The husband slept on the sofa the night before and once came close to getting his own place after an argument.

She sings, “Miles apart but careful that it don’t show when we’re wearing our church clothes.”

Fans don’t have to be in their Sunday best to relate to the song. In a way, Facebook is like church clothes for the more than 1 billion people who use it. Every day, it gets easier for people to build glamorous digital lives online outside of the one they’ve been given.

But who knows if the couple in “Church Clothes” will have to change their relationship status anytime soon. It sounds like they’re comfortable living in disguise.

“You don’t know if they break up and you don’t know if they stay together,” Bannen says. “But I think what you can take away on the positive side is that it’s almost like it’s a mirror. It begs the question what damage do we do to each other, if we’re all buttoned up and have this facade, and we’re not giving each other permission to be not OK sometimes? Or if your life has to be perfect what do you do when it’s not perfect? And the fact is, it’s not all perfect. ’Church Clothes’ is really that invitation to drop the facade.” What made it your song?

Bannen: I haven’t cut a ton of outside songs. Anybody who’s been in this town knows you’re going to have a couple record deals, you’re going to have a bunch of albums that never come out probably, and I think I have three records that haven’t come out over the past five years. So, we’ve maybe cut three outside songs in that amount of time. This was one of them.

I just immediately connected to it. When I heard it for the first time, my parents were separated and they were married for 40 years. When we first cut “Church Clothes” in 2013, they were separated and they ended up getting divorced. For me, it was about how much of my childhood had we all been wearing the facade. I don’t mean that in a blameful way. You just get comfortable wearing your “Church Clothes.” You get comfortable behind your makeup. You get comfortable when people ask how you’re doing, and you say “Oh, great!” When maybe that’s not always the truth.

Performing it on the road for the last four years, it has just become my song, in a way. And the songwriters have been really generous with me about it. They definitely had much bigger artists that were interested in the song, and I think they just continued to fight for me because they know how much I care for it. They would say that, too.

To me, those albums you made are milestones within themselves, because you’re tapping into different chapters of your life and putting them out into the universe anyway. What life lessons have you learned in that process?

I’m not patient. And I do think, in this world, you can orchestrate a certain amount of things to happen on a timeline but the gifts — the really good stuff — you can’t orchestrate. Even the way that “Church Clothes” has happened and the passion fans have for it, the best stuff is happening when I’m not the author of it.

It’s like Tom Petty said, “The waiting is the hardest part.”

Waiting is the hardest part. I think to other artists, yes, it’s really competitive, right? This is a competitive business, but the more you know yourself, the less you have to compete with. The more specifically you you’re going to be, no one else is going to do that. I think it’s taught me to not constantly be comparing myself to other people and instead focus on how to become more myself or make music that’s more representative of me in my heart and what I care about and the people I care about care about.

Is “Church Clothes” easier to sing because you didn’t write it?

I couldn’t have written “Church Clothes,” but I wish I had. I think it would have been too personal for me to write. That was also a season that my husband and I were having a hard time. Marriage is hard even when it’s good. I think I was on the road a ton, and it was not good.

I feel like I never could have written it, but I can perform it because it feels so honest. It feels so truthful. And I like it because it doesn’t feel judgy. It’s just telling a story. As a listener, you can insert yourself or not. And I really like that. I think it really represents what Nashville does best — truth-telling.

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.