Sixpence None the Richer – Still Burning
Updated: Sep 4
Sixpence None the Richer
Sixpence None the Richer
by Jay S. Jacobs
What could be worse? You are member of a band since high school. As you tour hard and record your band’s poppy sound and positive message starts picking up a buzz. People want to hear what you have to say and you want to get it out to them. You rush into the studio to put your music down on tape. But while you’re working on it your record label hits some money problems. They may go under. Suddenly you’re in limbo while lawyers and record company execs try to hash out contracts and who has the right to your art. And you wait… And wait… For two long years.
What could be worse? How about it happening to your band twice?
That’s what happened to Sixpence None the Richer.
It’s a far cry from the band’s humble beginnings in a Texas high school. Songwriter and guitarist Matt Slocum wanted to put together a band to record his first song.
“I was about four years younger than Matt,” recalls lead singer Leigh Nash. “We didn’t really have the same friends or travel in the same social circles, but he heard me sing one time at school and liked my voice… I think he’d had another girl sing the song, but wanted to see what it would sound like with me singing it. That was the beginning and we just never stopped working together.”
Being a very spiritual band, they took their name from a story in the C.S. Lewis book Mere Christianity. At first the band was Slocum, Nash and bassist T.J. Behling. The group started recording demos and was signed to a religious label. Their first album The Fatherless and the Widow caused some notice in the religious rock scene.
Behling left the band and their new incarnation, including drummer Dale Baker, rhythm guitarist Tess Wiley and new bassist J.J Plascencio toured to support the album and then headed straight into the studio for the 1995 follow-up This Beautiful Mess. By the time they released the "Tickets for the Prayer Wheel" EP on the R.E.X. label later the same year, the band had grown quite a following. Then the business intruded…
R.E.X. was having serious money problems, eventually going out of business. It took the band nearly three years to get out of their contract and sign with Squint Entertainment. By then the band was bursting to get their self-titled fourth album out to the people. It came out in late 1997 and sold relatively well for a Christian rock release. But it was their least religious platter and it hadn’t crossed over as the band had hoped.
But a strange thing was happening. The propulsive folk-pop love song “Kiss Me” was sticking around the lower reaches of the pop singles charts for an extremely long time. Normally if a song doesn’t take off right away it fades off into the mists of the charts. That wasn’t happening this time. The song obviously had some people in the business that believed in it.
“The first time the we heard ‘Kiss Me’ on the radio, we were all together in a van driving out of Austin,” Nash says. “The station was starting to break up when the song came on, so we pulled over and got out and were so excited.”
The only problem was to get “Kiss Me” more exposure to the general public. A&R exec John Kalodner knew exactly what could break the song. It became a featured song in a new comedy called She’s All That starring Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Rachael Leigh Cook. With the added recognition from the movie and TV’s Dawson’s Creek, which also took on the song, it became one of the biggest hit singles of 1999… almost two years after the song was originally released.
“We weren’t expecting that,” Nash admits, “but we were working very hard on a daily basis to get the song out there and get it heard, and so was our record label. They are really good at what they do. I think it was just a lot of things happening at the right time that made it finally go over the top."
“Kiss Me” opened the floodgates for Sixpence. Which is a double-edged sword, because even though it is a wonderful single, it’s not necessarily characteristic of the band’s sound. But people started buying the album and seeing the band live and liked what they heard.
“I think most people are pleasantly surprised that we’re much more than just a pop band,” Nash says. “It wasn’t our intention to mislead people. It just had everything to do with the record label and what they wanted the single to be. But we’re happy with the way things have gone for the most part.”
The album was re-released on Columbia Records. The band followed up the smash single with another big hit, a remake of the La’s early 90s classic “There She Goes.” This single was not on the original Sixpence None the Richer album… the group had been playing it live and the label urged them to record it as a single, adding the song to later pressings of the album.
But by now the record was almost three years old and the band wanted to do new music. They went into the studio and threw themselves into working on the follow-up album. All was going great. But then the guys in the suits intruded again. Now Squint was having serious money problems. And Sixpence was in limbo again.
The group did their best to keep busy, and to keep in front of people while they waited for everything to be worked out. They released a new single called “Us” from a live recording for NBC’s Today Show. Nash also recorded a solo single called “Need To Be Next To You” for the Ben Affleck and Gwyneth Paltrow melodrama Bounce. (A remixed version of the last album’s “Love” was also featured on the soundtrack.) Another movie single was a remake of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” for the Kirsten Dunst Watergate comedy Dick. Nash also lent her vocals to the acclaimed band Los Straightjackets’ version of the Skeeter Davis heartbreak classic “The End of the World” and the dance floor hit “Innocente (Falling In Love)” by Delirium.
“It was very frustrating,” Nash recalls, “and I think we all dealt with a little bit of depression because of it. But we tried to stay busy. I did those side projects and they were fun. And Matt seems to always be playing on other people’s records. He plays cello and did a bit of that. He spent a year living in Berkeley and really enjoyed that and made some great friends. All of us kind of did different things, but still were kind of heartbroken about the lack of their being a release date for this album. So, we’re obviously really, really happy now that it’s out.”
Finally in 2002, after many starts and stops, Curb Records purchased Squint and the band was let off the hook. Through Curb they were able to sign a new contract with Reprise Records. But by now it had been three years since “Kiss Me” was a hit and almost five years since the last album was first released.
One casualty of the long layoff was the loss of long-time drummer Dale Baker. “Actually [on] half the record… Dale was still with the band, so everything was status quo for five songs on the record. Then he left the band about midstream. I think he was just ready to move on. The future was looking uncertain at the time. And all the record label problems I’m sure were very frustrating. But he’s moved on, he’s got a child now and he’s really happy.” By now the band’s lineup had pretty much gone through a total overhaul, with only Nash, Slocum, guitarist Sean Kelly and bassist Justin Cary still around from the last album. They rounded out the group with keyboardist Jerry Dale McFadden and drummer Rob Mitchell.
The new album, Divine Discontent, finally saw the light of day in October 2002. It was worth the wait. It is quite possibly even better than their self-titled breakthrough album, no small feat since that was a pretty terrific piece of work on its own.
But Divine Discontent works better as a whole statement. It covers the wide spectrum of Sixpence’s music, from the hauntingly beautiful acoustic pop of the first single “Breathe Your Name,” there is also the terrific pop-rock anthem “Tonight” and the power-chord assisted rocker “Paralyzed,” which features world-weary lyrics many light years from the band’s secular beginnings. Nash gets a stunning vocal display on the lovely “Down and Out of Time,” the folky ballad “A Million Parachutes” and a terrific cover of the classic Crowded House single “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” which the band recorded for the popular TV series Smallville.
Surprisingly the band did not include the two-year-old single “Us” on the new album, as it had only been released as a live single and was not on any of the band’s albums. Nash explains, “We released it for The Today Show soundtrack and I think that whole experience kind of wore the song out for us. We felt it was just one of the weaker songs at the end of the day.”
One benefit the new album got from the band’s popularity is that for the first time, the group was able to work with some musical heroes. Particularly exciting was the chance to have legendary Beach Boys collaborator Van Dyke Parks do the arrangement and string section on “Dizzy.” On "Still Burning," they also got to work with David Campbell, possibly best known now for recording with his son Beck.
Although Sixpence didn’t get the final call on making “Breathe Your Name” the first single from the album, they are happy how that worked out. “That was the label’s choice, and it seems like it will be in the future as well,” Nash says. “(But) ‘Breathe Your Name’ was the band’s choice. We would really like ‘Tonight’ to be the second single, but I think they’re going to release ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over.’”
All the time waiting also kept the band mostly off the road. It’s been almost three years since their last tour and Nash can’t wait to get back out to play for the fans. But, she does admit, “At this point, we can’t wait to get out on the road and tour. But I think if we were in the middle of a tour, we’d say we can’t wait to get back in the studio.”
Hopefully this fine new album will open more eyes to Sixpence None the Richer. “I think I’d just like (people) to see us for our entire body of work… for the whole album and not just for the singles,” Nash says. “That would be really nice. And see us as a band that really loves to play music and we make quality music, that really gets people where they live.”
But despite all the starts and stops the business has made for the band, Nash is very thankful for the exposure the singles and radio have given Sixpence. “There’s a lot of things that are kind of backwards now with the music industry. But, we’ve fortunately been really lucky at radio. They really seem to take to the songs so far and have gotten really good feedback from everyone. I have no complaints.
“A lot of people think that we’re just a pop band. We’re much more than that.” Nash pauses and laughs. “I don’t know exactly what it is… but we’re a lot more than that.”
Copyright ©2002 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted December 23, 2002.
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