Sixpence None the Richer sprang to life in the early ’90s and slogged it out on the Christian underground circuit for several years before hitting the bigtime with their crossover pop smash “Kiss Me“–a tune that topped charts, soundtracked the on-screen romantic travails of Freddie Prinze Jr. and James Van Der Beek (separately, of course), and is still in heavy rotation on radio stations named “Jack” and “Ben.” The Nashville-based quintet enjoyed the limelight for a while, then called it quits not long after 2002’s Divine Discontent. Singer Leigh Nash and guitarist/songwriter Matt Slocum pursued solo careers for much of the ’00s, but reunited a few years ago to try to recapture some of that old magic. After nearly two years of delays, the revamped quartet finally issued a new album, Lost in Transition, in August. We reached Nash by phone this week for a round of “Reviewing the Reviews,” wherein we read her excerpts from a handful of recent Transition reviews and got her reactions–she ended up talking about life, hitmaking, stabbing people in the face, getting kicked in the boobs, and more.
Nash’s voice has strengthened as she’s gotten older; the breathy warble is still there, but there’s a grainier edge to it, and she wields it with more confidence and power. And she and Slocum have evolved into a truly top-notch songwriting team. (Allmusic.com)
That’s very nice. That grainy sound they’re talking about is the product of a lot of crying [laughs]. I started making records when I was really young–the first Sixpence record we made I was 15 when we went in the studio–so I was a child, and now I’m a 36-year-old woman that had an 11-year marriage fall apart and my father passed away five years ago. So my voice has definitely changed. For the better. I’ve taken a lot of hits and keep gettin’ up, and my voice is hopefully a little stronger every time.
Sixpence disappeared in the ’00s, and others rushed to fill the void–not just the Weepies, who borrowed the group’s whole bag (and who’ve acknowledged the influence), but also many singer-songwriters who saw the group’s marriage of blithe coffeehouse folk, Crowded House-style songcraft and inspirational music as a formula worth working. Lost in Transition, the band’s first album in a decade, further supports the idea that Sixpence was ahead of its time. (NJ.com)
I completely agree. I’m Sixpence’s biggest fan, but we’re the band that could that really has very little confidence as a whole. When I’m onstage I have a ton of confidence, we just don’t have a lot of confidence in our position, because we left it. We walked away and now we’re a little bit shy about things. We’re just kinda trying to meekly raise our hands and say ‘We’d still like to make records if anybody wants to hear them.’ But it’s really nice to hear people say that we’re ahead of our time in any way and hopefully we’re doing things that are still worthwhile.
The album opener, ”My Dear Machine,” is a decent track, with some fine and fuzzy guitar work highlighted by lead singer Leigh Nash’s smooth and strong voice. Unfortunately, the song gets overpowered by horns near the end. After this somewhat strong start, the Nashville, Tenn.-based band runs into an inevitable truth for most ’90s-era bands looking for a renaissance. Hits are hard. And their yesteryear radio staples like ”Kiss Me” and ”There She Goes” are tough to replicate for the listener’s sweet spot. (Boston.com)
Yeah. I think we would all agree with that. That’s not even really hard to hear because we had been together since ’92 and didn’t have the success with ‘Kiss Me’ until ’99, so there was a whole body of music that…’Kiss Me’ was kind of the weird song on that record, and ‘There She Goes’ as well. Those stuck out and of course we became known for those hits, and that’s totally fine. But that’s not what had made up the body of work of the band, that music was different. We had a producer come along that had an ear for, like, ‘Oh my gosh this is a great pop song, you have to put it on the record,’ and Matt didn’t wanna put ‘Kiss Me’ on the record and kinda fought to have it not on there. But we didn’t have a chance because everybody was like, ‘You have to put this on the record, and while you’re at it you’re gonna record and put ‘There She Goes’ on there, as well.’ We were doing that live because we loved The La’s so much. We really came by the whole pop-band-thing accidentally. We were very much, we always called ourselves ‘rock’ or ‘pop-alternative’ and that’s kinda still what we are, but just more mature. So what I’m saying is, I don’t have any argument with that at all [laughs]. We’re not looking for hits, but I think Matt is among the best songwriters out there today and if anybody’s capable of coming up with a hit, it’s him.
There’s a bittersweet undercurrent to Transition. It’s not an album transfixed by its scars, but songs like “Radio” and the slower, pulse-thick “Failure” nod to illusions faded and happy endings unfulfilled. (Blurt)
Yeah, for sure, the record has a lot of darkness. But there’s some really sweet elements there as well. ‘Failure’ is about the frailty of life and what we all experience as we get older, which you can’t really have any awareness of until you start to feel your own potential or vitality slipping away.
If Nash and Slocum lean towards minimalism, it’s the right call. Transition’s refreshing lack of gloss gives it a crisp quality where the pianos, guitar arpeggios and vocal melodies pulse with warmth and life, without any goop to get in the way. (GMC TV)
Yeah, our producer, Jim Scott, we had a similar opinion where to go on this record and we’re really big fans of him already. He’s worked with Tom Petty, Wilco, Crowded House, his discography is amazing. Radiohead. Everybody we love he’s had something to do with. We didn’t know how it was gonna be, but he was all about focusing on the songs and the voice and kinda keeping it trim. Some of our fans have had a problem with that and didn’t appreciate that one bit, but I think it was good that we did what we wanted to. When we did the last record [Divine Discontent], that one was very grandiose, we had the means to put a lot more stuff on it and we did, and we’re really proud of that record. Fast forward seven or eight years and we have different ideas about things. I think things are just evolving as we grow up and our taste changes.
I know that artists create their best works out of their innermost feelings, but I think this album just might be too personal for most of us. Someone will love it and be encouraged by it, I’m sure, but it’s just too depressing for me, despite Leigh’s beautiful voice and the great performances of the rest of the band. (Amazon user review)
I can see that. Especially if you’re expecting to hear one thing and you hear something different. I can get with that. I think there’s plenty on the record that’s very sweet. Maybe not uplifting but positive. It kind of came out of a dark time for me, and we’re changing all the time. We’re humans getting more human all the time.
That these tracks sound nice is irrefutable and they are an undemanding, relatively pleasing listen. But they’re just too nice –too vanilla, too insubstantial, too eager to please. (Under the Gun)
[Laughs] That’s kind of the opposite of the last guy, isn’t it? I guess I would tell them both maybe to give it one more listen and meet in the middle. I dunno. We had a fan that wrote something on Twitter that was just unforgivable. I mean, I wish there was a Twitter-stab–like you wouldn’t really stab the person in real life, but you’d stab them, like a stabbing icon, because I would have stabbed him right in the face. Over Twitter. He said basically that it sounded like we hadn’t even tried with this record. And that…man, I wrote him back and I said, ‘If you ever give us another chance I hope we get it closer to your mark, but I can assure you that it wasn’t for a lack of effort.’ It just goes to show you that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I took it very personally, it was rude. This record took us so long to get out, and it’s so personal for us, it was sorta like getting kicked in the boobs, or the balls, whatever. Both at the same time. He said, ‘Some of your fans are talking about this.’ So, all of you get a Twitter-stab from me [laughs].
It feels more like a long cup of tea with a friend than a mini-sermon or pep-talk, but in the end the message is clear: life is hard, people fail, but there’s a sun shining behind the clouds that dump their rain on our parades. If you’re looking for another love song you can buy yogurt to at the grocery store, look elsewhere. (ThinkChristian.net)
I love that, that’s perfect. That’s one way to put it. I know I buy yogurt to ‘Kiss Me’ sometimes. It’s so funny and so weird. Sometimes I’ll be having the most horrible day, like something where I’m crying in the car and things are awful and I’ll get out at the gas station and [2002’s] ‘Breathe Your Name’ is blaring over the speakers. It’s not necessarily great and it’s not necessarily bad. It’s like, ‘Wow, life is really weird.’ Things can be bad, and yet there I am singing to everybody at this gas station. I’m thankful, I’m so thankful, but it’s weird, not, ‘Awesome, what an encouragement!’
Slocum and Nash clearly have a musical friendship that has survived the test of time. They’re working with the artists and producers they want to work with (alt-country producer Jim Scott does great work here), and writing the songs they want to write. It’s not perfect, but Lost In Transition may be the first album in 20 years that Sixpence None the Richer have made on their own terms. That’s reason to celebrate. (Relevant magazine)
That’s really sweet. I like that. I think it says a lot, and I know who wrote that. I know those guys [at Relevant], and I know where they’re coming from. I’ve sat with them since I was a teenager and they’ve gotten to know the essence and the personality of the band. And working especially in the Christian industry, these guys know some of the background and some of the stuff going on behind the scenes with the business garbage and the things that we’ve been through, so I think a lot of that is speaking louder, almost, than what they think of the music. Like, ‘These poor kids are still at it’ [laughs]. I think the band has fostered goodwill and I think people generally have a good feeling about us and at least want to see us keep working, if not succeed. So I appreciate that. Of course, no record we ever make is gonna be without some faults, but if we love it, it’s perfect.
Sixpence None the Richer plays City Winery tonight at 9 p.m. Tickets are $25-$35. 155 Varick St. www.citywinery.com