TO HEAR “ KISS ME,” THE SMASH SINGLE BY SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER, is to be overcome by a series of romantic images: a young, awkwardly beautiful girl feeling the first flush of love, shedding her shyness in the arms of a good-hearted hunk on prom night; a pair of teenagers tingling with the knowledge that their relationship is more than that of the archetypal boy and girl next door; and in the ultimate romantic fairy tale, a prince and a princess joining together in holy matrimony.
Yet these scenes are not from singer Leigh Nash’s life, and they aren’t allusions to song lyrics. They’re clips from, respectively, the hit teen movie She’s All That, the ultra-trendy teen TV show Dawson’s Creek, and the BBC broadcast of the Prince Edward—Sophie Rhys-Jones nuptials. Each of these very high-profile moments came off with the simple sentiments and indelible melodies of “Kiss Me” playing in the background, making Sixpence a contemporary success story—the hottest Texas band that isn’t the Dixie Chicks.
Consider the numbers. After releasing two unheralded albums earlier in the decade, Sixpence recorded a third, self-titled CD in February 1998 for the Nashville-based independent label Squint. Largely because the group already had a following in the Christian-music scene, the record sold 38,000 copies over the next four months. But in January 1999, She’s All That hit the theaters, and with that exposure the album was in another 100,000 homes by April. The song then became the lead single off the Dawson’s Creek soundtrack, adding Columbia Records’ marketing clout to Squint’s efforts. By the end of May, Sixpence had sold half a million CDs, earning its first gold record, and “Kiss Me” was the number one pop song in the country. June’s royal wedding, with more than 200 million television viewers around the world, was icing on the cake.
Of course, topping the singles charts is a grand accomplishment, but in today’s youth-driven, attention-deficit-disordered market, it can sometimes be your swan song. “The music business has changed so much,” acknowledges Matt Slocum, Sixpence’s 26-year-old guitarist and songwriter. “Everything’s based on just one song. Being a one-hit wonder is a pitfall that we weren’t prepared for.”
Six months later, however, Sixpence is doing its best to rise above it. The band’s summer included a well-received stint on the popular Lilith Fair tour, as well as visits to Japan and England. A new single, “There She Goes,” hit the airwaves in July, beating out a song by ’N Sync as radio’s most added track that week. Sixpence has sung for both David Letterman and Jay Leno, and an Austin City Limits taping is not far off. Since June the album has sold another 250,000 copies, and that’s not taking into account the full effect of “There She Goes” (which hit the Top 40 on October 2) or the band’s current two-month U.S. tour alongside Better Than Ezra. In addition, the critics, never an easy bunch to please (and especially skeptical when it comes to bands who’ve been embraced by radio), have noticed that Sixpence’s music goes deeper than its chart-topping calling card: Band members have been showered with positive comparisons to the likes of R.E.M. and 10,000 Maniacs.
Now if only the press would stop lumping them into the teen movie— TV phenomenon. “After a while,” says 23-year-old Nash, “all the questions are like, ‘So, who do you think is cuter, James Van Der Beek [“Dawson”] or…?’ I don’t even know the other one’s name!”
OKAY, SO NASH CAN’T QUITE CALL TO mind the name of Joshua Jackson (“Pacey”). But the truth is that Sixpence’s own story is a high school drama worthy of prime time on the WB. Growing up in the Central Texas town of New Braunfels, Slocum was your average teenager—he abandoned piano lessons, had a summer job at Schlitterbahn, and received an electric guitar for his fifteenth birthday—when he first heard Nash, then a thirteen-year-old Patsy Cline fanatic, singing in the local church choir. He asked if she would lend her voice to a song he had written. By the time they were classmates at New Braunfels High (he was a senior when she was a freshman), they had a serviceable demo recording.
Slocum, who had rebelled against his father’s Catholicism and mother’s Episcopalianism only to embrace Christianity on his own, was a veteran of various religious youth camps and summer festivals. He was attending the 1991 Cornerstone Festival in Bushnell, Illinois, when a Nashville-based Christian label called R.E.X. offered him a deal. Taking the name Sixpence None the Richer from the C. S. Lewis novel Mere Christianity, he and Nash recorded their first effort, The Fatherless and the Widow, in Chicago, and it was released in the summer of 1993. “It’s kind of weird—we didn’t even have a gig before we got signed,” says Slocum, who played everything but the drums on their debut. There would be plenty of gigs to come, however, so the duo hooked up with drummer Dale Baker, a Branson, Missouri, native who now lives in Nashville. (The current lineup also includes bassist Justin Cary and guitarist Sean Kelly, though Nash and Slocum remain the only members actually signed to a record contract.)
At the time, Slocum had enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin, gaining admission to the School of Music as a cello major despite little formal training. Yet his presence in the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World didn’t have any real ramifications for Sixpence. With Nash so young—she was still in high school—the band couldn’t play the repeated gigs required to make the Austin scene, and their music was too poppy, too slick, and too Christian to gain any truck with local tastemakers (Fun facts: Like Hootie and the Blowfish and the Dave Matthews Band, Sixpence is a big-name act that was rejected early on by the South by Southwest Music Festival, though they eventually did play the conference. And they once shared practice space at