July 4, 1998
Squint's Sixpence None The Richer Gains Acclaim
By Deborah Evans Price
NASHVILLE--With the light, summertime feel of its single "Kiss Me" catching fire at Triple-A and modern rock radio and a potent grass-roots marketing effort being undertaken by its label, Squint Entertainment, Sixpence None the Richer is poised to pucker up to a mass audience this summer.
A sold-out show at the Roxy in Los Angeles, an upcoming slot on the Lilith Fair, and an appearance on Billboard's Heatseekers chart are among the steppingstones the band has secured in the march toward gaining a nationwide audience.
Taking a guerrilla, no-holds-barred approach to reaching the masses--much like the indie attack route blazed by the Squirrel Nut Zippers--Sixpence has been steadily garnering friends at radio and retail through relentless touring, in-store appearances, and radio promotional events. The pay-off could be just around the corner.
"The record sounds good on the air," says Jody Denberg, PD at KGSR Austin, Texas, of the single. "It's a very bright pop song in the same vein as the Sundays. Sixpence None the Richer played a promotion for us, and they were very well-received. Live, they were even more cutting-edge than [on] the single."
Jaron Cupak, wholesale music sales rep at the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis, says Sixpence has been enjoying success in the Midwest and sees the group nearing a breatkthrough on a national level because of its broad-based appeal. "Somewhere between heaven and earth lies this kind of parallel world dominated by spirituality and beauty," Cupak says. "To me, Sixpence is kind of like the house band."
Sixpence None the Richer, which takes its name from a C.S. Lewis story, is composed of lead vocalist Leigh Nash, guitarist/cellist Matt Slocum, and drummer Dale Baker. Slocum and Nash (formerly Leigh Bingham) began working together when Slocum was a college freshman and Nash was still in high school.
"In December 1991, we went to a studio in Dallas to record [a demo]," Slocum says. "In January, we had 200 copies printed up. We sent it to little underground magazines and The Austin Chronicle."
The band members had no idea how far word about their music was spreading until they went to the Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Ill., and Slocum attended a seminar on making a demo. At the seminar, a record company executive held up the band's tape as a good example. Slocum says he didn't know how the man got the group's music, but he approached him afterward and introduced himself.
That led to Sixpence signing a deal in 1992 with R.E.X. Records, a Nashville independent specializing in modern rock and alternative music. The band had three releases on the label.
During the group's tenure, the label began faltering. It was purchased by Platinum Entertainment in early 1996, but it closed its doors in 1997. Just prior to the label's demise, Sixpence was freed to sign with Steve Taylor's new Squint Entertainment label.
Nash and Slocum relocated to Nashville in 1996, but not before they logged countless miles on the road headlining club dates and opening for 10,000 Maniacs, the Smithereens, and other acts.
Sixpence's members learned early to take a grass-roots approach to promoting their music. "We started developing this attitude that we'll do what it takes to make this work and not expect help from anyone else," Slocum says.
A great deal of what helped Sixpence endure label turmoil and keep forging ahead was the creative synergy between Slocum and Nash. "I'm his biggest fan," Nash says of Slocum. "I love singing his songs."
"I've loved her voice from the first time I heard it," Slocum reciprocates.
That musical chemistry is what drew Taylor to sign the band and make it Squint's flagship act. "Sixpence's music draws from a deep ocean of influences, from Radiohead to Patsy Cline," he says.
Bob Clearmountain, known for his work with the Rolling Stones and Peter Gabriel, became a fan of the band after Taylor approached him about mixing some tracks on the album. "Their songs immediately jumped out as something refreshingly different and quite appealing to me," he says. "I found myself totally mesmerized by Leigh Nash's dreamy yet provocative vocals. Steve Taylor's brilliant production made mixing the three songs I worked on a real pleasure. Having come up with a fantastic album, I believe they've embarked on a potentially long and extremely successful career."
Slocum, an accomplished musician who plays cello on Natalie Imbruglia's "Left Of The Middle" album, admits that the Sixpence sound is hard to define. "I've heard us described as sort of like the Innocence Mission, with less innocence and more mission," he says.
Jangly guitars, Slocum's moody cello, and Nash's ethereal vocals are all signature components of Sixpence's sound, which has been capturing the attention of key industry players such as Artist Management's Shauna Gold, who coordinates the Lilith Fair. She placed Sixpence on the Nashville date in August.
"We got thousands and thousands of submissions for the Lilith Fair, and Sixpence's new album totally stuck out," she says.
Sixpence's self-titled Squint debut was released in November and has sold some 38,000 copies, according to SoundScan. The label is disctributed to the general market through Alternative Distribution Alliance.
"One thing we've done is taken our time," says Squint VP Stephen Prendergast. "This has been a long-term artist development process."
Prendergast says the record was worked at college and public radio for 12 weeks and then moved to triple-A. "Now we're going to take it to modern rock, modern AC, and top 40," he says.
The single is going to modern rock stations July 14, but it's already garnering airplay on such format giants as San Diego's XHRM. In mid-August, Prendergast says, it will go to modern AC radio, then to top 40 by September. On Aug. 12, Squint will release "Kiss Me" as a commercial single that will include two new mixes of the song, as well as a new cut, "Sad But True."
"We've been taking a market-by-market approach," Prendergast says. "I think that's the only way to do it in this day and age."
Squint is initially targeting Chicago; Boston; Seattle; Nashville; Minneapolis; Philadelphia; San Diego; Los Angeles; St. Louis; Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; and Tampa, Fla.
The label also plans to increase the band's visibility via in-store appearances, such as recent dates at Sam Goody locations.
Sixpence is managed by Mark Litten and Norman Miller of Proper Management and is in discussions for a booking agent. Plans call for the band to tour U.S. clubs this summer and fall; European dates are also in the works.
Sixpence Lenses a Truffaut Tribute
by Deborah Evans Price
NASHVILLE--While video has not played a huge role in Sixpence None the Richer's career development thus far, that could change with the act's clip for "Kiss Me."
Directed by Squint Entertainment president Steve Taylor, the video was shot in Paris with noted photographer Ben Pearson as cameraman. The clip plays homage to acclaimed director Francois Truffaut. "There was a film Truffaut did called 'Jules And Jim' about two guys and a girl footloose in France," Taylor says. "It felt like a good jumping-off place to do a video... three friends running around France. And of course, the whoe French new wave cinema is a fun approach, especially if you don't have a million dollars."
Taylor admits to being a fan of Truffaut's, and in filming "Kiss Me" he used many of the techniques that marked much of the French director's best work. Taylor says, "We used the same model camera and the same approach. At the end, to tip our hats to Truffaut, we filmed a shot at his grave."
Taylor says that scene, in which Nash lays a flower on the director's grave, was difficult to shoot. Even though they had gotten permission from Truffaut's family and had the necessary permits to film in France, the cemetery wouldn't grant them permission to film. So the video shoot morphed into a covert operation.
Nash and Taylor entered the cemetery first, with the cameraman and assistant following 60 paces behind with the equipment. The film crew was caught and sent back to the van. So they tried again, concealing the equipment in clothing and backpacks, filmed Nash placing the flower, and beat a hasty retreat.
"We were like a SWAT team," says Taylor. "It was like, 'Go, go, go!' [The cameraman] got the film out of his pants and put it in the camera. We got the shot and took another take for safety. Then we all left in different directions."
Sudden Impact, a Reno, Nev.-based firm, has been hired to promote the video. As with the band's radio approach, plans call for a strong push to local shows to build an awareness before taking the clip to VH1 and MTV.
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