Kelleigh Bannen is ushering in Christmas in her own special way. Just when you thought you heard every possible version of “Deck The Halls” or “O Holy Night,” Kelleigh is putting her own soulful spin on the Christmas classics.
“I love Christmas music. It was some of the first music I knew as a child,” Kelleigh tells One Country. “I was always singing along to Bing Crosby’s Christmas album. I didn’t know what the important songs were – I always loved the quirky ones. I think what is so tricky about Christmas music, is there are so many incredible traditional versions. It feels, to me, almost too intimidating to take on a lot of those songs in a serious traditional way. I have to approach things form a heartfelt way, but I felt that we needed to do something playful or experimental just because the traditional versions are so great.”
Kelleigh and her good friend and producer, Justin Glasco, went through about 25 carols that they thought they could have fun with in the studio, finally landing on “Deck The Halls” and “O Holy Night.” The goal? “To mess them up a little bit and see what would happen.”
What happened were some of the most unique and fun-loving renditions of the two of Christmas’ most classic songs.
“I think in country we do play it a little safe. What was actually really freeing for me in this project is we really didn’t even have an intention of releasing it,” reveals Kelleigh. “We were like, ‘if we are going to do it at all we have to do something really different and playful.’ It just felt like an experiment so I didn’t feel any of the pressure, that I often do in the studio, when I know something is going to be a single. It was really freeing, it was really just like let’s just play.”
With the experimental tunes gaining attention, could a full Christmas album be in be next for the Tennessean native? “I hope next year,” Kelleigh said. “We just had so much fun doing it. There’s so many fun ways to connect–with Christmas carols there are so many great stories you can tell with videos and things like that it kind of made me excited about what we can do. I love a lot of the hymns. Maybe we should do a two-parter and one is the Naughty and one is the Nice.”
As Christmas approaches, Kelleigh will be keeping things low key this year, spending her time off with family. “I grew up in Nashville, so my family is here. We just keep it really quite on Christmas. We do Christmas Eve together and we always open Christmas pajamas on Christmas Eve. Then we usually have a really simple dinner. Christmas morning I go over to my mom’s house first thing in the morning and we make a fire and we have coffee and catch up and sit together in the quiet hours before everyone else gets up and then my husband comes over and meets us. It’s pretty low key.”
As for 2018, Kelleigh has a lot on her plate with new music and a new season of her podcast.
“We have a stack of new music. We have music ready to go, it’s just kind of figuring out a timeline. I’m really excited about it, it’s fun,” Kelleigh adds. “We have five in the tank right now ready to go, so I think there will be a handful of singles early in the year. And a new season of the podcast around the first of February, it’s called “This Nashville Life.” In the past we’ve done interviews with industry insiders and this year we are looking at three songs that are important to the genre and we are telling the story of those songs from beginning to end, over the course of the whole season. We’re looking at “Girl Crush,” “House That Built Me” and “Live Like You Were Dying.” I’m really excited about it”
11 RANDOM CHRISTMAS QUESTIONS WITH KELLEIGH
Favorite Christmas song?
‘Tender Tennessee Christmas’ by Amy Grant. Amy was one of my first idols as an artist. I just looked up to her so much.
What Christmas song makes you cringe?
“Grandma Got Run over By a Reindeer.”
Best present you ever received?
This is weird. My brother passed away in ’08 and he was a character. He had a chronic problem of giving other people for Christmas, what he most wanted. One year he gave–I think he probably gave it to Jeff, my husband but I have kept it for my own–he gave us a Samurai sword. He bought this elaborate Samurai sword and we still have it. It’s under our sofa because where are you going to put a Samurai sword? It’s not the best gift I ever got but it is the most memorable.
Real tree or fake tree?
Your go-to Christmas movie?
I love ‘Love Actually’ and I never get sick of seeing it. It’s a guilty pleasure.
Frosty the Snowman or Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?
White lights or colored lights?
Gift wrapping or gift bags?
Egg nog or hot chocolate?
Let’s spike the hot chocolate.
Favorite Christmas meal or dish?
We do a breakfast casserole every Christmas morning. It’s egg and sausage and stuffing bread and cheese and bake it til its all bubbly on top. I love that, I’ll eat that all day.
Have you been naughty or nice this year?
I think I’ve been nice but if you asked my husband, he would probably say I’ve been naughty.