American singer/songwriter KENDALL PAYNE has hardly had a fair deal from the record industry. But she remains upbeat, as Tony Cummings reports.
You are hardly likely to get a better example of the vagaries and the sheer marketing madness of the music industry than the career so far of Kendall Payne. Signed to Capitol Records in 1999 she made a brilliant debut album with 'Jordan's Sister' which somehow captured the abrasiveness of an Alanis Morissette with the poignancy of a Ginny Owens, 'Jordan's Sister' became a critic's favourite, enjoying six figure sales, a Dove Award for Best Alternative Rock Album and inclusions on the soundtracks of high profile movies Drew Barrymore's Never Been Kissed and Minnie Driver's Beautiful. Yet what happened next simply demonstrated the perversity of the mainstream multi-nationals, Capitol dropping her from its roster.
Shifting from the status of industry-darling to vagrant performer was something of a shock, as she recalls. "I found myself standing in my living room, ironing something while in my pyjamas, wishing the phone would ring. It was quite humbling, I must say. I had made and found my identity as an artist. If I wasn't that anymore. I didn't know who I was. When I say I got 'let go' from Capitol, everyone says, 'Let's just say you parted ways,' and I'm like, 'Why?'" Kendall asks as she shrugs her shoulders. "Basically, a new president came in and he decided that he just didn't have the same vision that I did."
Not abandoning her musical ambitions, however, Kendall went back to the studio to record some demos and pursue another record deal. But after nothing came of those efforts, she pursued something she hadn't in a while: "normal" living. "I woke up in the same bed, in the same city and at first it was frightening," Kendall recalls. "You spend a couple years waking up in a new city every morning; then, all of a sudden, it's the same people, the same trees, the same car and you're like, 'What is this? I don't know how to function.'"
In the meantime Kendall reconnected with a church, something she describes as "long overdue", and signed up for classes at a local community college in the field of psychology, something she also hopes to pursue further in the future. But, despite being satisfied with this consistent kind of life, she simply couldn't shake her need to write. "Rainer Maria Rilke talks about writing out of necessity in the book Letters To A Young Poet," Kendall elaborates. "It says, 'Ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night, "Must I write?" And, if at the end of it all, you arrive at a strong and simple "I must," then write and don't care who affirms it.'"
"When I sit down to write a song," Kendall says, "I'm not trying to write a hit and I'm not trying to write what I think everyone else wants to hear. For me, the process of writing is wrapped up in the challenge of coming before God and saying, 'I'm here to be raw before you, and I'm here for you to change me and use me.' I really think with all my heart that lyrics and music are God given and that most of the time we're just vessels through which they flow. That's why I'm most effected by a song when the writer has the guts to be real and honest. That quality touches me, and I hope I can reach other people that way too."
Kendall told CCM magazine how a platform for her new compositions came about. "In January of this past year, a buddy of mine came to me and said, 'I want your album. Go and make it because I'm ready to listen to it,'" Kendall recalls. "So he gave me some funds and said, 'Have at it.' That doesn't happen very often; he's an incredible guy."
The resulting album 'Grown' is a highly impressive work, slightly darker in hue than 'Jordan's Sister' it still pulls together delightful acoustic textures with anthemic pop hooks. The title has its roots in the song "23". Written on the eve of her 23rd birthday, the track mourns the increase in cynicism with age. Yet it's also there in the track "Aslan", clearly inspired by C S Lewis' epic children's series. The process of re-reading The Chronicles Of Narnia saw Kendall "falling in love with Aslan all over again", and as she returned to the realm of her childhood, so she discovered fresh revelation for the here and now.
Despite 'Grown' being an independent release, it's already been picked up for Christian retail distribution in the UK by Fierce!. Will the album lead to another bout of touring? Kendall doesn't know but doesn't seem too worried about what the future might hold. "I keep on telling everyone, 'Life is far too short to waste time on bitterness. I'm grateful for every label experience I've had. I value all the friendships and the life lessons. Most of the time we learn a lot more through the failures and hardships than we do through the successes. So when you take that posture, I think you look back and say, 'How can I not be grateful?' so I look forward to any possible label relationships as lessons to learn. And if it's not successful, then I'll learn a new dimension of my own heart."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.