What began in 1998 as the brainchild of two teenagers from Texas is now an international triumph.
After relying on a small but devoted fanbase for the last several years, this once obscure rock band is on the verge of becoming a household name. With their Grammy nominated self-titled album climbing The Billboard 200 sales chart, and the #1 smash hit "Kiss Me" leading the way at several formats in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., Sixpence is cherishing every moment of hard-won acceptance.
"It's all about timing," explains Leigh Nash, Sixpence's endearing vocalist. "I think it was the right song, with the right band, and the right record label-at the right time." With a reflective pause she adds, "After seven years of lessons learned, I'm still just very thankful for the opportunity to make music, and I'm trying to take it in stride."
The formation of Sixpence was set in motion in 1989 when a 16-year-old Matt Slocum heard 13-year-old Leigh sing in a small town just south of Austin, TX. After signing with a small independent label three years later, they debuted in 1993 with THE FATHERLESS AND THE WIDOW, an impressive introduction which landed a Billboard Critic's Choice as one of the Ten Best Albums of the Year.
Sixpence began to evolve into a dedicated touring act, and even laid tracks across the United Kingdom their freshman year. Early '95 found the increasingly seasoned group releasing their sophomore effort, THIS BEAUTIFUL MESS, and venturing further into the live circuit. The band relocated to Nashville in 1996, but not before they had logged countless miles on the road, and shared the stage with a wide range of artists including The Proclaimers, 10,000 Maniacs and The Smithereens.
Upon their arrival in Music City, Sixpence was greeted with two years of sweating out contract hassles, the demise of their original record label and a near breakup. As a result, the members grew more disciplined in taking a grass-roots approach to promoting their music. "We started developing this attitude that we'll do whatever it takes to make this work," recalls Matt.
The mood of Sixpence's next album would be directly influenced by the turmoil the band experienced after transplanting in Nashville. Turning to a trusted friend, they found an innovative ally in producer Steve Taylor. This union proved to be the catalyst from which Squint Entertainment would soon be launched. SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER is the self-titled, flagship release for the new record label / film company.
Entering the studio with Taylor, Sixpence began to creatively build upon their guitar, bass and drum foundation. As they experimented with more subtle and intricate texturing, the band added new elements such as acoustic piano, muted trumpet, accordion, pedal steel guitar, cello and other string arrangements. (In addition to performing the guitar parts, Matt arranged the album's string section and played cello.)
Initial mixes of the new Sixpence material were sent to world-renowned engineer Bob Clearmountain. After hearing the project Clearmountain immediately called Taylor at home, anxious to mix the album's emphasis tracks. "My assistant and I were skimming through a large stack of recently collected tapes," recalls Clearmountain. "The minute the Sixpence album started we just looked up and stared at each other. This band's work is exceptional, and I'm really glad to be a part of it. I love Leigh Nash's voice-she's become one of my favorite female singers."
SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER opens with an interconnected trilogy of songs that set the stage for the remainder of the album's 13 cuts. "I'm a big fan of the SKYLARKING album by XTC-the way the songs run into each other in a whole story," explains Matt. "After those first three songs, 'Kiss Me' is just a nice breather." While "Kiss Me" is a striking pop gem which celebrates the whimsical spirit of romance, "Sister, Mother" is inspired by a passage in the book of Proverbs. Indeed literature leaves its signature throughout much of the album. Matt's songwriting references the work of authors like W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas and Pablo Neruda. "The lyrics to 'Puedo Escribir' are literally from Neruda's poem, 'Puedo Escribir Los Versos Mas Tristes,'" explains Matt. "I saw the film IL POSTINO a couple years ago, and really liked the movie-especially the Neruda character. That was the catalyst to get to know his poetry."
Meanwhile, "The Lines of My Earth" is an introspective response to the often tense relationship between art and commerce. "This song is definitely a favorite. Every chord seemed to fall into place after the previous one," says Matt. "I like the way a lot of literature compares the soul to a field or land. It can be dry or wet. It can produce, or it can be barren. I think it's a good way to take stock of the condition of your soul." A joyful curtain is drawn on SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER with a spirited rendering of the enigmatic "There She Goes." A cult favorite originally recorded by The La's in 1990, "There She Goes" is hailed by both Matt and Leigh as "the perfect pop song." A live favorite for Sixpence and their fans, the cover has been a staple in their set-list since early '98.
Immediate critical response to SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER earned the band a spot on last summer's Lilith Fair stop in Nashville. The group spent the next several months on the road playing clubs and visiting radio stations to build support of the "Kiss Me" single. November of '98 marked a pivotal endorsement when VH1 invited Sixpence to debut nationally on their new series, THE MIDNIGHT MINUTE. The band performed special acoustic versions of "Kiss Me" and "The Lines of My Earth." "Everybody at VH1 was really knocked out by them when they came in to perform," recalls executive producer, Bill Flanagan. "Sixpence is so advanced musically and at the same time offers a youthful optimism. It's wonderful to encounter a band who has the best of both worlds."
With the increased profile came increased sales and additional radio airplay, enabling "Kiss Me" to crack Billboard's Hot 100 Singles chart. A few weeks later VH1 added the original "Kiss Me" video to their rotation, and MTV began airing the clip on 120 MINUTES. The stage was set and immediately Miramax Films chose "Kiss Me" as the featured song for their upcoming motion picture SHE'S ALL THAT. The film hit theaters on January 29 and opened #1 at the box office. With television programs like DAWSON'S CREEK, DARIA and THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS also electing to spotlight "Kiss Me," the exposure was tremendous. In a matter of weeks both VH1 and MTV had Miramax's new "Kiss Me" video in heavy rotation, and the song was soaring up numerous charts. Sixpence made guest appearances on LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN, THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO and LIVE WITH REGIS & KATHIE LEE. As the month of April came to a close, "Kiss Me" was certified GOLD and penetrated the Top 5 of ten different major charts. On May 16 Casey Kasem announced "Kiss Me" as the #1 song in the country to his AMERICAN TOP 40 audience. Sixpence, who continues touring, received an invitation to join the first eight evenings of Lilith Fair '99.
"When we recorded our album, I think we were all at a point in our lives where we ready to give up our dreams," Matt concludes, reflecting on the past two years. "I know I was. So, hope was the message-don't ever give up hope for yourself. And this has all been really great, because the record was made, supported and then nominated for a Grammy. It's good to see how far it's come."