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St. Louis singer Theresa Payne explores heartbreak, loss and healing on new album

Theresa Payne performs.
Provided by Theresa Payne
Theresa Payne performs.

St. Louis singer Theresa Payne has been through a lot since 2014. She went through a devastating breakup. She lost her job. And she lost confidence in her voice after competing briefly in the reality TV show "The Voice."

But Payne regained her musical footing while working on a new project. When she thought about recording her album, she abandoned the inspirational, gospel-infused style of her past recordings. The result is “Get My Heart Back,” an album Payne says is raw and honest. 

Panye, who immersed herself in music by writing to the instrumental B-side of cassette tapes as a teenager, says the mature and direct nature of “Get My Heart Back” is a strong departure from those earlier attempts to define her sound. Co-created by local producer Trifeckta, the recording is a frank depiction of her emotions during trying times.

I recently spoke with Payne about her album, and how it helped her evolve personally and musically.  Here's our conversation:

What would you say this album is about?

Payne: This album is about finding healing through your pain. It’s about attacking those issues head on, things that we have bottled up inside, and really facing them.  A lot of the times for some reason we think we get to skip struggle, like we think automatically we’ll be these great people without having to endure some kind of hurt or disappointment. With this project, with those hurts and pains we’ll discover ourselves, we’ll discover our strengths and that will lead us to being better versions of ourselves.

What did you learn about yourself through the process of writing and recording this project?

Payne: I know my mom raised me to be very strong; we weren’t really emotional. If we did have emotional moments we didn’t spend a lot of time on it. “Let's suck it up and move on.” So I learned that I had emotions and it was okay. Through this process of writing this project, I started to be more honest with myself, even realizing my part in some of the disappointments that I had.

Can you explain how you came to recognize the album as going through the stages of grief?

Payne: So after we finished recording it and I pretty much had all the songs done I would listen to it over and over. Sometimes the subject matter would still have me in tears and I would just be crying as I was writing. But after it was all done and I was listening to it on repeat, I realized one day that I had literally written myself through the stages of grief. That was the biggest takeaway — you have to accept things as they have happened in order to move forward. 

That’s quite a step from the gospel-infused inspirational music you’ve released in the past. What was that like?

Payne: I’m kind of a private person, so I’m like “I’m getting ready to tell all my business; oh my God.” But ultimately, when I realized it was like therapy for me, it meant so much more. Now I’m looking forward to how it’s [the album] going to help other people who have been in similar situations as myself.  

It seems like the album is really about being a strong black woman and that’s something that’s been discussed a lot in pop culture. How do you feel like this album factors into that discussion?

Payne: I joke and call it “Lemonade Jr.” because Beyoncé really just has us all in formation right now. If you’re a woman you’re definitely in formation.  Beyoncé was like completely open. I won’t say it’s all based on her life but the experiences she talks about in “Lemonade” are something that every woman has gone through. To me it’s more than about being a black woman. It’s for any woman. It’s for anybody who has had any hurt, any heartbreak, any pain. That’s why I like factoring in Trifeckta. I always joke with him, “if you didn’t make the beat so good, I don’t think I would have a lot of guys listening to the material.  But because the beats are so good the guys [are] listening, then they’re like, 'oh, yeah, I can relate.'” 

You have another singer on the last song “Crown.”  Is any of that connected to this idea of acceptance or moving past the hurt that you’d been feeling?

Payne: Yeah, that’s where it comes to the acceptance part. The other artist on it was Aloha Micheaux and we both had very similar experiences.  We were both on singing reality shows. She was on "American Idol" and I was on "The Voice." I just wanted to show that acceptance and we have each other’s back as women. We go through it all but we’re going to lift our heads up together because we need each other. I want women to know they aren’t alone and that they aren’t the only ones to go through these types of things. And a lot of the time we are afraid to have these girl talks because we don’t want to be embarrassed. We don’t want our girlfriends to know how crazy we have been or stupid decisions we have made. It’s like “you have my back, I have your back.” As women, we can come together and own our strength and own our power and just be proud of that.

What is the most important thing listeners can take away from this album?

Payne: The most important thing that I think listeners should take away from it, and hopefully they will take away from it, is healing. To know that we are going to go through storms and we’re going to have disappointments and heartbreak and upsets — but the important part is that we don’t let that continue to keep us down.