Sixpence None the Richer is primarily Leigh (Bingham) Nash and Matt Slocum, though they have had many notable contributors come and go throughout the years including Tess Wiley, J.J. Plasencio, Dale Baker, Justin Cary, Rob Mitchell, and Sean Kelly. They formed in 1992 and have released six albums, including their self-titled album which featured “Kiss Me”, one of the biggest hit songs of the late 90’s. Due to the massive status of “Kiss Me” and only minor mainstream hits to follow, the band is sadly underrated and sometimes thought of as a one-hit-wonder. My music-writer friends and I decided to not only pay tribute to the incredible “Kiss Me”, but also to some of the other fantastic songs in the Sixpence catalog. This is by no means all of the great songs in the Sixpence arsenal, because there is lots of them, but these tunes are a great starting point for someone looking to start digging in.
I’m not sure whether to credit Awana Clubs or Sixpence None the Richer for my memorization of Proverbs 3:5-6, but I can tell you that the way it’s most often brought to mind is through song. And oh, how many times this song and scripture have come to mind.
You see, I’m one of those overly-dramatic people who makes everything harder than it really is. Call it anxiety or whatever, but my life, which is absolutely wonderful, feels so difficult much of the time. This results in me focusing on my problems and leaning on my own understanding, rather than on my Lord and Savior, way too often. It’s no wonder that I find a friend in Leigh Nash when she starts off one section of the song with the line “Lord, sometimes it gets so tough to keep my eyes on you when things are going rough.” That this sentiment leads her to this particular section of The Bible has often caused me to follow in her footsteps when I mirror this mentality.
I’ve been really struggling with how to articulate the value this song has had in my life. I have no particular instance in which I specifically remember this song coming to mind and putting me in the correct mindset, but I know that it has been mentally close-by many times, gently nudging me towards scripture when anxiety hits hard; Leigh’s tender voice reminding me not to be weary with the troubles of this world, for Christ has overcome…and there I find solace from my anxieties.
Eric McClanahan blogs right here on Ineverglow.com. You can follow him on Twitter here.
“Circle of Error”
Just opening the jewel case and sliding out the liner notes, nostalgia immediately overtakes me and I’m transported back to the first time that Sixpence and I met. I immediately knew it was “the one”.
“This Beautiful Mess” was the starting point for a lifelong devotion to the the works of Slocum and Nash.
From start to finish, it remains my favorite collection of songs by the band, and my favorite roster lineup .
“Circle of Error” became a high school anthem for me, perhaps aided by the fact that it hinged on a picking pattern that I was able to play and sing simultaneously as a beginning guitarist, or maybe just that the more straightforward words of the poet Matt Slocum were easily resonant with the common mortal. It was a song that served as a bit of a respite amongst a punchier, more driving track-listing as a whole; and most importantly, it contains the unmistakable harmonies of Tess Wiley. Her often underrated vocal timbre has always been one of my favorites and the unique blending with Leigh helps to shape the song.
Cara Dziak is a member of the synth-pop/ dark-wave band, Seaside Holiday. You can follow them on Twitter here.
The tape was rolling and my head was spinning.
Thirteen-year-old me was listening to a brand-new band with a wordy name on a cassette borrowed from my youth pastor’s lending library. What I heard from Sixpence None the Richer was mystifying; though I didn’t have the musical lexicon to say all this at the time, it was beautiful, brooding rock that owed debts to The Smiths, R.E.M., The Sundays and Belly without ripping any of them off.
Matt Slocum’s guitars churned, Leigh Bingham’s voice made me swoon, and the songs had more in common with what I heard while sneaking the forbidden fruit of MTV than anything on Christian radio. Just more than halfway through the band’s debut, “The Fatherless and the Widow,” arrived “Falling Leaves.”
Darkly swirling guitars and fanatical drums framed Bingham’s modal singing. The storm clouds didn’t break up until 1:45 in, when the shimmer of a tambourine and a sunburst melody brought something to warm the blood. Darkness suffused with light, melancholy pierced with hope. “Oh, let these falling leaves cover me / Let me sink into the ground / Never to be found,” Bingham sang as if relishing the prospect.
This was Thoreau with a distortion pedal. This was a romantic painting made with big brushstrokes. This was wisdom literature. This was refuge for a teenager who held Jesus dearly but sometimes wanted to burrow and stay hidden. This was art and faith and paradox all wrapped up in each other, and a key that unlocked the door to more of the same.
– Aarik Danielsen
Aarik Danielsen is the arts/music editor for The Columbia Daily Tribune. His writings also appear regularly at ThinkChristian.net and FathomMag.com. You can follow him on Twitter here.
I can just hear the die hard Sixpence fans now. “Seriously, you picked ‘Kiss Me’ as your favorite Sixpence None the Richer song? Have you even listened to their discography? Why does that song have to get all the attention? This guy’s a poseur! Give us the deep cuts!!!” But hear me out. I’ve actually been listening to the band since This Beautiful Mess, which I slowly came to appreciate as intriguingly dark and unflinchingly honest, compared to all of the other Christian rock bands I was into at the time. And though I initially balked at what seemed like a slower, more downtrodden approach on the few tracks from the band’s self-titled record that I’d managed to hear on my local Christian radio station’s Saturday night rock block (“Love”, “I Can’t Catch You”, “Sister Mother”), I actually made the decision to take a chance on that album before I’d even heard “Kiss Me”. It wasn’t a mainstream hit yet. I had no clue, in the fall of 1998, that the band was about to blow up with that song the following year. I’d simply heard about “Kiss Me”, as well as a few other intriguing aspects of the album such as the opening three-song trilogy, and the Spanish poetry and off-kilter time signature of “Puedo Escribir”, by way of online reviews and features in magazines like CCM. (Remember when we read actual printed magazines? I realize I’m dating myself here.) Many tracks on that album gradually wound up as dark horse favorites of mine, but to this day, there’s no Sixpence song that I have a greater emotional attachment to than “Kiss Me”.
First off, there weren’t (and still aren’t) a lot of CCM songs about kissing. This segment of the music industry tends to balk at overt expressions of physical passion – perhaps allowing some leeway when a singer is clearly discussing it from within the context of marriage. Light-hearted pop songs about young people falling in love tended to focus more on the spiritual implications of the relationship, and to indirectly address physical desire by way of metaphors… when they weren’t blatant commercials for chastity, of course. This was the era when young Christian readers were kissing dating goodbye, and among my personal circle of friends, beliefs ran the gamut from “What’s the big deal? We all did this as teenagers” to “Don’t even think about it until your wedding day”. I didn’t personally experience my first kiss until I was 20. I hate to make it sound calculated, but I knew it was coming, since a young woman I had met in the dorms the previous year had expressed romantic interest in me, I had turned her down, then later I realized I actually did have feelings for her and was just being stupid, and thankfully, she was still interested once I got that all sorted out. So I pretty much got to control the timing of when we would transition from “confused platonic friends trying to define the relationship” to “actual boyfriend and girlfriend”. I bought Sixpence’s self-titled album that week, figuring if there was ever a time for me to take a first listen to the fabled “kissing song” on that album, and to share it with a special someone, this must be it. I even put the song on a mixtape for her, then second-guessed myself about whether it was giving too obvious of a hint, and the actual kiss happened a few minutes before it came on. Ultimately, that relationship did not last – we gave it a good two and a half years and then realized we were drifting apart. The breakup was messy when things did finally end, but I never held that against the songs that were special to us in the beginning. When I think of this song, I think of the unspoken romantic tension between two people finally becoming spoken, against the backdrop of an incredibly picturesque setting, as the two of them agree that the moment is right, and then indulge, knowing they have each other’s eager consent. That’s how it happened for me the first time, and I’m glad it’s not something I have to look back on with regret.
Now, about that picturesque backdrop. I don’t like this song just because it’s about kissing. It could simply be a song about a gorgeous summer night in which creation is all abuzz, joyously expressing gratitude to a creator who put everything there simply to be beautiful. Fireflies are dancing. The silver moon is sparkling. The barley is… bearded. (OK, I never quite understood that particular line, but still, Matt Slocum had an awesome way with words, and Leigh Nash had a way of singing those words with innocent, childlike wonder.) Little details of a couple’s outing in the wilderness bring wonderful visuals to the mind of an imaginative listener – “Bring, bring, bring your flowered hat/You’ll wear those shoes and I will wear that dress.” (I feel like some pronouns might have gotten mixed up due to the song being written by a man and sung by a woman. Regardless, if a guy can pull off an ensemble that involves a flowery hat, then I say more power to him.) Probably my favorite line in the entire song is “We’ll take the trail marked on your father’s map.” I’ve always been a huge fan of the outdoors, and in my single days when I longed to be with someone, I couldn’t think of anything more romantic than the notion of traveling and exploring the wild together, just picking a path and seeing where it would lead. Why did the father have a map? Was there buried treasure marked with an X on it somewhere for them to dig up? Perhaps it didn’t matter. Soon enough, there would be a spot on that map where the two would dance and swoon and ultimately kiss beneath the milky twilight, and this shared memory would become its own X to commemorate that spot on their mental map of all the important places in their lives.
All this, and I haven’t even discussed the actual music yet! In my mind, “Kiss Me” is pretty much the quintessential late 90s alt-pop song. It’s immediately catchy, yet not in the most conventional way. Somewhere between the swirly, guitar delay-heavy musings on depression and depravity heard on The Beautiful Mess, and the largely down-tempo, “Where is my career even going and why does God take so long to answer me?” type laments heard throughout most of the self-titled, “Kiss Me” showed up as a downright cheerful and optimistic shock to the system. Did it even fit into the narrative? Matt Slocum had his doubts, and was apparently considering leaving the song off the album, until pretty much everyone else involved in the creation of the album convinced the band that the song had potential. (And for those who worry that it might seem out of place on the album after that opening trilogy, I figure the sad heartbreak of “Easy to Ignore” was purposefully placed at track 5 to ease you back in to the melancholy.) Sure, it’s poppier than most everything they’d done up to that point, but it accomplishes this quite creatively. That opening chord progression is pure gold, and in turns out to be both easy and super fun to play on an acoustic guitar – just variations on a basic D chord (or C, depending on how you capo it), but that one note from the chord that oscillates up and down throughout the verse gives the song a melodic richness that you can’t experience with just the four basic chords of pop. Then you have the light but carefree percussion, the jangly electric guitar that is just so adorably 1990s that you can pretty much picture a highlight reel from Dawson’s Creek accompanying it… and of course, the accordion in the bridge. (Yes, accordion. I thought for years and years that it was a harmonica.) That might be my favorite part, because that’s the point where I can most easily imagine that I’m sipping a tall glass of iced tea on a rickety old porch, gazing out at the long, tall grass, the fireflies buzzing, and giving a knowing wink to those two crazy lovebirds gallivanting off into the wilderness together to finally confess their true feelings.
So yeah, I’ve been head over heels in love with this song since the first time I heard it. And no amount of incessant overplay, or lack of a strong follow-up single that wasn’t a cover, or lamentable dearth of attention given to the numerous highlights in the rest of Sixpence’s discography, is going to ruin that blissful feeling I still get each and every time I hear it.
– David Martin
David Martin is a longtime music blogger and a contributor here at Ineverglow.com. You can keep up with his writings here.
“Love, Salvation, the Fear of Death”
I’ll be the first to admit it: Sixpence None the Richer has written better songs, bigger songs, and deeper songs. But outside of “Kiss Me,” I would contend that no song in the band’s canon is more instantly recognizable than “Love, Salvation, the Fear of Death.”
My brother and I would spin this track over and over again throughout the second half of the ‘90s, mesmerized by the rippling bass line performed by J. J. Plasencio. We’d never heard anything like it at that point in our lives, and we had no clue how that guy’s fingers could move so quickly. Even after we learned about the existence of echo pedals and looping technology (as well as the talents of jazz and prog players like John Myung and Victor Wooten), we remained in awe of the precision and dexterity required to lay down a groove of that magnitude.
What really makes it such a great bass line lies in the strength and stability it provides to the greater whole, even as it whips about your ears. This is especially noticeable during the lyric-less bridge section: just as Matt Slocum’s swirling guitar work reaches its frenzied peak, threatening to tip over into free-jazz chaos, Plasencio’s progression serves as a sturdy focal point to which everything can return, just in time to re-introduce the verse melody.
As a final kicker, “Love, Salvation, the Fear of Death” contains one of my favorite Leigh Nash (then Bingham) lyrics, one of the purest distillations of teenage angst ever recorded on a Christian album:
“Come and save my soul
Before it’s not too late.
I’m not afraid to admit
How much i hate myself.”
I don’t know about you, but hearing a fellow adolescent – who just happened to be the lead singer of an alternative Christian rock band – intone those words was a salve to my wounds and a balm for my confusion. The fact that it was supported by stellar music made the song that much sweeter in my ears for years to come.
For more of my thoughts on Sixpence None the Richer, please check out the chapter on the band over at Explaining Grownup Music to Kids.
-Adam P. Newton
Adam P. Newton writes at Explaining Grownup Music To Kids. You can follow him on Twitter here.
While a majority of my music diet in my youth was 90s country, there was a shift in high school towards CCM artists like Jars of Clay, LaRue, Switchfoot and Sixpence None The Richer. Divine Discontent was the first full album I had purchased by Sixpence largely because of their cover of Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” Yet it was the song “Paralyzed” that struck me the most then and continues to be the standout track of what is still a well-worn record.
The song dates itself by talking about the conflict in Kosovo during the end of the Clinton era, but the heavy sentiments of sorrow and grief that litter the melodic landscape of the composition still speak to a culture that finds itself embattled both within and outside of its borders. “Paralyzed” becomes a reflection on how violence, wherever it may be, is never a private affair. It affects us all. Leigh Nash sings about a friend who is killed while simply covering Kosovo which begets the loss of a husband and father to his family which begets the singer’s numbness in knowing how to respond and what to do in the wake of this violence.
Nash sings a question that still rattles through my mind every so often:
Feels like I’m fiddling while Rome is burning down
Should I lay my fiddle down, take a rifle from the ground?
Within it lies a self-indictment that we might be Nero watching Rome burn after having taken part in setting the fire—the implied meaning of that classic saying—and yet feeling the urge to seek vengeance or simply being reactive, even if negatively, to break out of the paralysis and malaise of the crises we find ourselves in within our nation and world. The singer laments to the Spirit—”the Northern gale”—to bring us peace instead. Something we needed then and need possibly even more now.
⁃ Blake Collier
Blake Collier is a writer whose work has appeared at ChristAndPopCulture.com and ReelWorldTheology.com among others. You can follow him on Twitter here.
I’ll put on some records and wait for the light…