There is a spirit to Kelleigh Bannen’s new song “The Optimist” which makes one believe that the accomplished singer/songwriter is speaking straight to her listener, that she can see what they been going through and feel what they are growing weary of in the midst of this pandemic, that she knows that they could use a healthy dose of optimism right about now.
But actually, “The Optimist” was written…last fall.
“It was one of those sweet days when you are able to slow down enough to see love and hope in minute detail,” she recalls in a recent interview with American Songwriter. ‘Most of the time its hard for me to do that when I am in the middle of writing a song, but on that particular day, it was just easy to feel that.”
And then, the fresh-sounding song sat idle.
And then, the coronavirus hit.
And then, the little song with the big message got another chance.
“Producer Will (Bowen) called me weeks ago asking if I could record myself singing the song,” Bannen says of “The Optimist,” which she co-wrote alongside Bowen and Claire Douglas. “I sang it twice in the kitchen, in my sweats and with food in the oven and the dogs running around.”
She pauses for a moment.
“I had just been feeling so depleted,” Bannen says quietly. “It was the first time I had sang in awhile and it felt good. I mean, it felt so good. It was almost as if the song had refocused itself for exactly this moment in time.”
“The Optimist” was quickly sent to her team, and immediately they too assumed the song had been written in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.
“What makes this song feel special is that it doesn’t even feel like I wrote it,” Bannen of the song, which follows Bannen’s highly-successful and independently released album Favorite Colors. “This song is a lesson to me. And some of the images in this song that we wrote months ago are so zoomed into what is happening right now…it’s crazy. It’s really about finding that next little place of hope.”
These days, Bannen is much like the rest of us, trying to cling to that hope while she drives herself down back roads leading to nowhere in particular.
“It’s really hard to hide from yourself these days, you know?” chuckles Bannen, who has made a career out of irresistible songs like “Famous,” “Happy Birthday,” “Church Clothes” and her 2012 debut “Sorry on the Rocks.” “But I believe in hope and I believe in second chances and I believe that right now, you have to find moments to be silly and be joyful and maybe even dance in the rain.”
Bannen is enjoying many of those moments right now alongside her husband of 17 years, who she calls the optimist in her life.
“Our marriage has never been easy, but it has always been hopeful,” explains Bannen. “We basically taught each other to be optimists in our own life and in our own relationship.”
It’s an optimism that Bannen herself has had to lean on throughout her life and career.
“A lot of my story has been about grief, and I know that if you don’t make it to the other side of grief, you become bitter,” says Bannen, who lost her brother to a drug overdose back in 2008. “But there is a massive gift on the other side of grief, and that is in the knowing that anything is possible. You can go through the most terrible thing, but it doesn’t have to be the same on the other side. It can be ok.”
And its going to be ok.
Bannen knows that better than anyone.
“You just have to remember to delight in the small things,” she says. “You don’t always have to have some sort of agenda. Do what feels good. Bring joy to someone else. Could it be that simple?”
Yes, it can Kelleigh.
Get The Optimist on your favorite service, here.