The voice of Sixpence None The Richer tells the Tollbooth about her new worship album - and shopping.
The musical landscape is changing (when isn’t it?) but one of the big shifts is in the way that musicians relate to their audiences. When record companies ruled the business, they would often try to elevate the artist into an inaccessible being and fans had to grab front row seats or hang around stage doors to get near them.
Now that social networking sites give artists and fans direct access to each other, much of that inaccessibility and mystique is broken down. But some musicians still sit back from public view. Considering her before a brief phone chat on a distorted line, it strikes me that Leigh Nash, singer with Sixpence None the Richer, seems very private and remote. We know her voice, but little else about her.
I have very few clues. Is she happier in the town or the country? What does she like to do with her free time?
“I’m more of a country person,” she tells me. “I grew up in a small town. My son Henry comes first; being a mother is my first priority. I have two dogs.”
When all we know about a person is their voice, we can presume that their character is similar. Nash’s vocals, and the music that surrounds them, come across as winsome, fragile, quirky and summery. Are we a bit presumptuous to think that these define her character too? What sort of person is she?
“All of those. If you drew up a list of my top ten characteristics, they would all be there. I’m also very funny. That doesn’t come across in my voice – my voice doesn’t sound very funny.”
She says that her heart and voice are related, one feeding into the other, before adding, “Part of the job of a singer is to be an actress. You have to have empathy for the material.”
She has recently recorded two lots of material, with the later one coming out before the earlier recordings. She has just released the first of three worship albums for Kingsway, but that has overtaken a dormant Sixpence None The Richer album, Strange Conversation. It joins a growing list of problems that she has experienced with the industry. In the early years, Sixpence suffered with the demise of both the REX and Squint labels that they were signed to. Divine Discontent took a long time to come out, too.
“We’ve struggled a lot as a band. I’m not sure why. We’ve has this record that we’ve been trying to put out for a year and a half and we hope to put it out in spring 2012.”
In the meantime, the name has changed to Lost in Transition. She thinks it sounds more appropriate. But having experienced so much grief with labels, Sixpence will be putting out the music themselves from now on.
While waiting, she has released Hymns and Sacred Songs, her first worship album. With 250 years of hymns to choose from, I ask her where she started.
“I chose a few,” she says, but adds surprisingly, “My producer, John Hartley, chose most. He lives in that world and works for Kingsway. When it was my turn to choose, I looked up old hymns on the internet.”
She was mainly looking for words that resonated with her, and came across several. “Come Ye Thankful People Come” is one that she found in her day of web surfing. “The lyrics were inspiring,” she remembers.
“Out of my Bondage” is one that she says has “beautiful words.” It was these that appealed to her and she thought they were a new discovery until she realised that she had grown up singing it, only with a title that she knew as “Blessed Jesus.”
Nash tells me that it is probably her favourite out of all twelve on the album, something she has spelt out in her press release: “It is a song of encouragement, with almost a slow dirge-like movement, but the words are meant for the sad and lonely, saying, ‘Don’t be discouraged; let God hold you through this.’ We all need to hear that at some point in our lives.”
If that was a John Hartley suggestion, he has selected well, as he has with “Oh Heart Bereaved and Lonely,” another that resonates with her, having lost her father this year.
She has written and co-written new melodies to a couple of these songs. I wonder whether she created new tunes that emphasised key phrases, or changed them to suit a solo performance, rather than a congregational approach. It is nothing as strategic: “We hum melodies until we find something we like!” she reveals.
I have to ask about “Kiss Me” before we finish. How does she feel about having to give such prominence to something that is not the best in their catalogue?
She is thankful for its success, but agrees that it is not the best – she prefers “Melody of You” alongside one of the yet-to-be released songs. But she cannot get away from it, even when she is not working. For her, it is part of “any shopping experience. It’s hard to go to the grocery store and not hear Sixpence.”
Perhaps she hears it and thinks of the royalties being a discount on what she pays.