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Story behind the song: "Don't"

It’s a simple song, but deeply profound. 

 

Have you ever wanted something so much, that you can't even talk about it because it starts stirring up feelings in you?  Feelings that won't be 'put back to sleep' easily if you wake them up?  Feelings that you are working so hard to 'get over' that it feels like a full-time (emotional) job just to make it through the day?  I'm talking about wanting something, or someone, so much that when it looks like it's not going to happen, when it's falling apart, when its breaking down, you go through a season of soul-searching depression and you start to question everything about your purpose and meaning in life?  Have you ever felt that way? 

 

Yeah, that's where this song came from. 

 

Allow me a short preface before I tell you the story behind this song... Here's what I love about art and what I've found to be true and consistent in all my songwriting: what is deeply personal is also deeply universal.  In other words, we all believe our deepest emotions are completely personal.  We think to ourselves, "I am the only one feeling this way.  No one else feels this way.  I am totally alone here."  But the truth is we are all feeling the exact same things, we just hide it from each other, for fear of being vulnerable. 

 

You see, as a songwriter, I'm always trying to connect with a larger audience.  I want to write songs that everyone can 'identify' with.  So, a few years ago, I spent a season writing songs that I thought encompassed a larger demographic.  It was an intellectual experiment and it backfired.  The songs fell flat.  No one really cared about them, including myself.  They lacked the 'je ne sais quoi' that made them special.  I would play them at a concert, and I thought they'd be everyone’s favorites, but people didn't ‘feel’ anything about them.

 

Then I wrote a song out of a deeply personal place.  I didn't try to craft it to make sure everyone who heard it could ‘insert themselves’ in it.  It was SO personal about MY deepest longings and hurts and losses and hopes... and guess what?  People loved it.  And more than just loving it, they identified with it.  They made it their own.  They would come up to me after the concert and say, "That song. Ugh. That song... that's MY song."  

 

That's when I realized, what is deeply personal is also deeply universal. 

 

The more honest I am, I am astounded by the mass amounts of people who give me feedback that they share the exact same sentiments.  Of course, our stories vary, and the details are wildly different, but the core emotions are the same.  I wish we could all peek behind the curtain of our hearts and see that we are more similar than we are different. 

 

All that to say, I have a very distinct and exacting POV from where I wrote this song, and I'll share that with you.  However, I would hate for MY story to replace YOUR story of why it speaks to you, IF it speaks to you.  Because it's highly likely that you DON’T have the same circumstances I was in, but it's also highly likely you DO have the same core emotions as me.  So while you hold on to your 'story behind the song'... here's my story behind the song:

 

You can read more details in my bio, but here’s the short version: I was signed to Capitol Records at 17 years old.  It was everything I had hoped for and imagined could happen in my life.  It was the definition of a ‘dream come true’!  But pretty quickly, that dream morphed into a living nightmare when at 21 years old I was dropped from the label.  I tried to gain interest from any other people in the music business, but no one wanted to touch me with a 10 foot pole.  For a season, I ended up going to a junior college to take some classes because I didn’t know what to do next with my life.  I felt so sad and confused and lost in the world.  I had peaked already but I was just barely old enough to legally buy a glass of champagne to toast my ‘retirement’.  It was a dark time.

 

I can't tell you the emotional rollercoaster it is to be an artist, putting your music out music in the world.  Songs that you've poured your heart and soul into, only to be criticized and rejected with one "listen" (or sometimes not even that!).  You start to feel like you don't belong.  You start to wonder, does anyone think what I have to offer is valuable?  

 

And then one day, I had a phone call with an A&R executive at a record label who was interested in signing me. He was so nice.  He was so complimentary.  He made me feel like I was important, and like I had something worthwhile to add to the world. 

 

When I hung up the phone, I was in a full spiral of intense emotions.  I was elated.  I was scared.  I was hopeful.  I was doubtful.  I was up.  I was down.  And all of this happened in in rapid fire and it took a total of about 5 minutes to cycle through.

 

Then I decided I needed to do something productive, that’s when I wrote the song “Don’t”.

 

I wanted to call this guy back and say, "Listen, don't get my hopes up!  Don't tell me things that I want to hear!  If this isn't going to end well for me, I'd rather hang up on you right now, cause I literally can't afford the emotional investment.  I've gone 'emotionally bankrupt' on this dream of mine.  I have put my whole heart in, and I've come up short.  And I have accepted my loss."  I wanted to tell him, "You think this is just a casual/get-to-know you conversation, but I am hanging on every word.  My heart is beyond vulnerable right now.  Whatever you say has the potential to make or break me."

 

Of course, I didn’t call him up and say all that!   Cause I didn’t want him to think I was CRAZY!  (Even though that’s how I felt.). But I did write a song exposing my feelings for all the world to hear, so maybe I’m even crazier then I think I am?! Haha.

 

Regardless, in the end, they did not want to sign me.  And I grieved that as best I could when it finally ended.  But what I was left with, after I hung up the phone that day, was a reckoning.  A reckoning with my own desires.  A reckoning with my own hopes.  (And yes, I'm stealing this 'reckoning' idea from Brene Brown - I am obsessed with her and I owe her tens of thousands of dollars in therapy hours she saved me through reading her books.) 

 

But I digress... 

In that conversation with the A&R guy, something had woken back up in me, something I was trying so hard to keep asleep.  When I was dropped from Capitol records it felt like the dream inside me died.  Or maybe a more accurate word picture is that my dream was on life-support in the ICU.  It was severely wounded and I was exhausted from holding out hope that it would ever come back to life.  You see, I loved my dream.  It is/was beautiful.  But the reality is, that it has not panned out the way I imagined it would.  And that is a hard truth to accept.  Especially for an idealist, like me.

 

My tendency here is to insert positive sentiments.  I like to spin everything into a little anecdote to make myself feel better.  To wrap it up in a pretty little package and put a bow on it.  I try to say something like, 'but God knew all along what was best for me, and TA-DA, now I've come to realize something so much better!' 

 

That's a 'classic-me' move.  Just ask my husband.  He gets really annoyed when I do that.  Because, the reality is, I don’t like to sit in the pain.  I don’t like to sit with sadness.  I like to move on and feel happy again, but some things need time to heal.  Some things need time to grieve.  And sometimes that “time” is a lifetime.

 

So I'm NOT gonna end it that way today.  I'm gonna be real.  And I'm gonna dare to trust that maybe what's deeply personal inside me right now is also deeply universal, and is inside you right now.  Maybe, right now, you love something but it hasn’t worked out the way you thought it would.  Maybe, right now, you love someone but the relationship has broken down, and you are still limping along and can’t shake the disappointment.

 

If I’m honest, I still struggle with this dream daily.  Part of me wants it to just lay down and die, so I can move on.  So I can stop holding out hope.  So I can pursue other things.  But it won't die on it's own, and I can't kill it, because I can't quit loving it, even though I try.  I keep on returning to it.  I keep longing for it.  I keep seeing new ways and possibilities that it can be resurrected and that starts the vicious 'hope cycle' all over again.  The hope that if I hold on long enough, it will come to fruition.  The hope that this is some test, and I only need to prove myself faithful, and it will all work out.  And here's the kicker... that might be true!  (Ugh, here we go again, the vicious hope cycle just started over in my heart! Haha)

 

Here's the deal, we all want to matter in this world.  I'll personalize it... I want to matter.  I want my art/music to matter to you.  I want it to matter to a lot of people.  And because of that, I take a risk and put myself out there.  But it is a painful reality to wake up to when I am rejected or not received in the ways I thought I would be.  And sometimes I want to run and hide and say, "Just don't.  Don't get me going.   Don't stir up these things in me.  Don't wake up my dormant dreams.  Don't tell me my songs matter, because its hurts so much when it doesn't work out the way I had hoped it would... so just don't." 

 

But… I still deeply hope it matters to someone.  In fact, I hope it matters to YOU.  And if it does, then you are my ‘someone’.  And that means the world to me.

 

I would love it if you would reach out to me, and tell me YOUR story.  Email me at: kendall@kendallpayne.com

 

And, if you want to support me and hear more “Kendall Payne” music, click on the link to my Patreon page and consider becoming a contributor. 

 

Much love,

Kendall

Comments Section

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I, too, have struggled with this mightily. And, I love your amazing vulnerability in it. You are so gifted, by the way, and I have loved your writing from the beginning. I don't know why things ended the way they did, but maybe it was because the gift of you is vulnerability, and a machine can't do that very well. Maybe God was preserving the very soul of your art. All I know is you are supposed to sing and share, and I am so glad that you do.
Your writing, whether songs or introductions to and explanations of them are I believe a spiritual gift! There are a select few people I consider to be psalmists but you are definitely one...thank you for being used.
Precious Kendall, I have admired your talent from your first release! I appreciate your passion & vulnerability! You are an incredibly relatable writer!! You literally pour your heart and soul into every lyric and melody. Thank you!! Thank you for giving words to our unexpressible heartaches! Thank you for sharing joy and tears with us! Please just keep being you!! Brave enough to bare your naked soul and vulnerable enough to blush! I’d like to remind you to enjoy the journey! Trust God’s timing! Rest in Him. You will always be a writer, a poet, a psalmist!! These are just some of the giftings God has given you and no one can rob them from you! Many times in the word of God, a truth was prefaced with, “Those with an ear, let them hear” I think this rings true with your music as well, “those with an ear to hear, WILL HEAR! Keep writing, keep singing!! I’m praying for your breakthrough but, in the meantime, just enjoy the process! Your not yet what your becoming!
Ouch. That hit right in the gut. It's kind of phenomenal that you describe the process of the personal becoming universal becoming personal, and that's exactly what happened here. Your story is my story, and possibly the story of many, many others. For me, it's writing, the ghost I can't quite let go of, the prospect that either makes me hope for the moon or sinks me into the mire. I've always appreciated the beauty and honesty of your work, and though it's not a solution--because there are none--it is a comfort and a hope to know that we're not alone. Thank you.
 

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