On a Wednesday night nearly 10 years ago, singer/songwriter Kendall Payne walked into the coffeehouse where I worked and sang her butt off in front of 21 people (her band included). A few weeks before, her record label—Capital/EMI—had called and asked if she could come and play. I’d never heard of her, but since she was doing it for free, I agreed. Capital sent me a pre-release of Jordan’s Sister—her debut record—and for two weeks I listened and fell in love with the voice and music of an 18-year-old, a prodigy whom I believed was destined to be a star.
In the months that followed, Kendall landed an opening gig on the much-heralded Lilith Fair, playing next to names including Sheryl Crow, Joan Osborne and Sarah McLachlan. After that, a few radio stations began spinning her first single, a cleverly mixed pop ditty called “Closer to Myself.” When Sparrow Records in Nashville caught wind of Kendall’s little-talked-about faith, they decided to partner with their mainstream big brother and sent her out with big named Christian acts such as Third Day, Nichole Nordeman and Delirious. Her songs got put on movie soundtracks—including Drew Barrymore’s Never Been Kissed—and she received some airplay on TV shows including Popular and Felicity. I suppose that everyone who heard the young singer’s music must have believed like I did: Kendall Payne was destined to be huge.
But to Kendall, who’s 27, all of that seems like distant history now. The machine of record company folk that handled her appearances, PR and radio promotions are all gone. And the big names that she used to share the stage with have other people opening for them now. However, that hasn’t stopped the girl with the bombastic voice and the crazy ability to write her heart into song from doing what she loves. Today, the California-native, who’s married (he’s a doctor), makes music in the comfort of her own home, and by the sound of it—Paper Skin is her latest independent offering and is available at her website and on iTunes—the very talented Kendall Payne is closer to being herself than ever before.
So, maybe that makes it appropriate for me to introduce this conversation with Kendall the same way I introduced her when she came to the coffeehouse back in 1998: Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce you to a brand new singer/songwriter, Ms. Kendall Payne.
Kendall, your new record is named Paper Skin, and it’s perhaps more revealing than anything you’ve released before. Is it scary for you to show that much “skin”?
Heck yeah, it’s scary! I think whenever you put your creative soul out on the front lines for Tom, Dick or Harry to shoot their weapons of criticism or critique at, it’s frightening. I’m like any artist, really. I’m scared of rejection. I’m scared of being misunderstood. I’m scared of not being “hip” enough. I’m scared of being wildly successful. Really, the real question is: What am I not scared of? But if the fear were gone, I’d probably write safe and boring music. So, I guess that’s the trade off.
Well, you’ve certainly not shied away from putting your own story into song, but how do you feel Skin is different from your first two records?
Yeah, I’ve put story into my songs, but never like this before. I think this album is as honest as I’ve ever dared to be. I’m sure I’ll get blacklisted from most Christian bookstores, but hopefully the truth I sing and speak of on Paper Skin will be a key to unlock many a chains for a ton of Christians who do not shop at the previously mentioned bookstores. Not that I have anything against Christian bookstores, but I’ve just been warned that they might not be too happy with me. That’s yet another thing I’ll have to add to the list of things to be scared of: pissing off Christian bookstores.
How has being in love and experiencing marriage changed your songwriting?
I can’t even describe the endless ways my man inspires me. For example, he makes “to-do” lists and then executes them, deriving tremendous pleasure from crossing them off with one big black line through the middle. How inspiring is that? I make “to-do” lists, but end up loosing them half way thought the day, find them a month later under the seat of my car and still haven’t gotten anything on the list completed.
You know, Matthew, I used to be afraid of people who were different than me. But that’s because I was childish and didn’t want to grow up. My husband is similar to me in so many ways, but drastically different in other ways. And that is what makes it fabulous. I had always felt disingenuous writing love songs. Now, I understand why. Though, I had plenty of loving feelings toward plenty of adorable boys, I never knew the real stuff. And that’s all I can say about that, because it’s much deeper than words can ever express.
What do you know to be true about Jesus today that maybe you didn’t know when you recorded Jordan’s Sister?
Where would I even start? I guess what I didn’t know about Jesus 10 years ago is that He couldn’t be wrapped up in a pat answer. Recently, a friend paid me one of the highest compliments of my life when he said, “Kendall, your faith used to be like a neon sign, blinking at the passer-bys, cold, distant, but (to your credit) informative. Now your faith has become like a good cup of coffee, sipped slowly, in front of a dwindling fire.” That imagery is so drastically different. And yet, that barely scratches the surface of how different my understanding of Jesus is now than what it was back then.
You named your first record Jordan’s Sister because you kind of felt like you lived in your sister’s shadow. Do you still feel like Jordan’s little sister? Or is this record representative of where you are, comfortable in your own skin, if you will?
Nope, I no longer view myself as simply Jordan’s sister. I’m no more anyone’s anything, really. I’m just me now. There was no great “ah-ha” moment, just countless days of digging deep inside myself and allowing Jesus to carve me out. It’s scary to walk through pain and darkness; that’s why people avoid it like the plague. That is also why certain people won’t like my new album, because they have never gone to those places in their own lives. All I know is the freedom that enveloped me on the other side destroyed even the memory of the fear that held me back for too long. It’s good to be free, even if it’s still on a continuum for now.
To find out more about Kendall Payne and her music, visit www.KendallPayne.com.
Visit author Matthew Paul Turner’s blog at www.JesusNeedsNewPR.com. His latest books include What You Didn’t Learn From Your Parents About Sex (Think) and How To Ruin Your Dating Life (Navpress).