Looking back; an interview with Leigh Nash

This is story number four in my series celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Sixpence None the Richer's This Beautiful Mess. It began with this review I wrote in February :
Sixpence None the Richer’s This Beautiful Mess
Then I wrote and published an extensive oral history on the release date, April 18:
Sixpence None the Richer’s “This Beautiful Mess” turns 20 
Most recently, I wrote an article about the song "Love, Salvation, Fear of Death."

If you have not already, read those three stories before you proceed. Later this summer I will publish the full interviews I conducted with Matt Slocum, Tess Wiley, J.J. Plasencio, Dale Baker, James Arhelger, Joel Bailey, and Armand Petri.

Here is my March email conversation with Leigh Nash:

Leigh in 1995.
AP: As you and Matt began Sixpence, the rest of the band members fluctuated for a few years. From a fan’s perspective, it seemed the This Beautiful 5-piece line-up was the first “permanent” band you had during those early years (obviously no band is ever permanent, and looking back this was just one of many line-ups Sixpence has had). What was it like having Tess, J.J., and Dale in the band all at the same time, and how did that affect the sound of your music?

LN: It's amazing what 20 years does to a mind! My memories are scattered but the ones that remain are pretty vivid. From my perspective, the dynamic at the time between members musically was great. I think the sum of everyone's influences at the time made for a harder sound. It was so early in our life as a band that our identity hadn't yet been formed. 

AP: Sixpence got much more “aggressive” between the release of The Fatherless and the Widow and This Beautiful Mess. How much of that was intentional? Or can it just be credited to the members of the band at the time? How much of that sound was where you intentionally wanted to take the band or was it just your personal influences at the time? 

LN: I think the sound was due to influences at the time... certainly Tess playing another guitar freed Matt up to do more and probably opened up new inspiration in his writing as well. I don't think it was intentional as much as it was a natural progression- trying things out. I loved the rock songs live, those were always my favorite live songs to sing with the band. 

AP: When I found Armand’s email last week, he wrote back immediately, and said This Beautiful Mess was one of his favorite albums he ever worked on. How did you originally connect with Armand, and how did he help you along early in your career? 

LN: Armand was great to have in the studio. He brought humor and intensity and gave us a sense of our potential that was maybe not quite formed in us yet. I hope that makes sense. 
Also for me, he represented a bit of a parental figure for a while. I wasn't the most independent kid. I still got really homesick when we were away and Armand felt somewhat familial.

AP:  Was “Angeltread” meant to be a statement (that the band’s sound was changing)? Were you trying to record a song that was radically different than what you had released previously, or was it more of an organic process and just a representative of what the five of you were doing at that time?

LN: I always felt that my position in the band was to interpret Matt's lyrics from my heart the best I could. Even when my voice was "new" and very much still developing, I was eager to share the beauty Matt was coming out with in those lyrics. I wanted you, the listener, to get chills the way that I did when I read them and performed them. That was and always has been my place, I feel. I did not get involved in the music beyond being the voice. I recall feeling pretty out of my league when it came to discussions about guitar sounds or even parts for that matter. I'm not good at ALL of it- ha ha ha. But very good at some of it. Those decisions were in very capable hands. I felt a huge amount of pride in who I was sharing the stage with and what they, and we collectively, were capable of.  I loved the harder sound. Being so young, I was up for anything and I do love a challenge. Tess for sure was a big part of that bigger, louder sound and it was welcome. 

AP: The motivation behind this interview is the fact that This Beautiful Mess is 20 years old. How do you feel about the fact that so many people are still so emotionally attached to it? Myself and other fans feel it holds up remarkably well over that time period. Do you agree or do you think it sounds dated? When you were making this album did you ever imagine you would be questioned about it 20 years later?

LN: I'm so happy that there are people wanting to know more about us- always! 20 years or 50! It's hard for me to listen to my voice from back then. So in that way, for me, it doesn't hold up. But the songs, the lyrics, the guitar, bass and drum work... so much artistry in what got put down. And I don't mean to put myself down. I did my best, I was just so young. I'd grown up on Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette but found myself in this amazing situation where this incredibly thoughtful, smart guy was giving me words and beautiful melodies to sing and man, I dug it. 

AP: In my opinion, the addition of Dale Baker made a remarkable impact on the band. Often times, drummers don’t take part in the song-writing process, but Dale obviously did (song-writing credits on “The Garden” and later “Puedo Escribir”). What was it like adding Dale as a consistent player and having him contribute for such a long period?

LN: Dale is one of the best drummers I've ever worked with. Very creative and so passionate about music. His joining definitely took everything up several notches.

AP: J.J. was not with the band long (A little less than 3 years?), but he was there for the writing and recording of two albums, and also made an enormous impact. When I saw you perform in the Fall of 1995, he blew me away, as I had never seen anyone play bass like that. What was it like to have someone of his capabilities in Sixpence?

LN: JJ was a great addition while he was around. Skill level- through the roof, like Dale. Together, they made a pretty rock solid rhythm section. His playing was so great it was jarring and in the best way! It was a pleasure to be on stage during one of his bass solos and watch the crowds faces. Amazing! 

AP: Tess’s time in the band was short but memorable (for fans at least). What was it like to have a second another female member of Sixpence? The harmonies that you and she recorded on This Beautiful mess are gorgeous; your vocals complimented each other’s very well (especially on “Dresses”, which didn’t make this album).

LN: Bringing Tess in was great in a lot of ways. She was funny, beautiful and extremely talented. It's always a funny situation getting thrown together with a girl on the road. You have to get in all the way or sort of tip toe around each other. I think mostly we dived in pretty far, for knowing each other such a short time. She and I had laughs that I'm STILL laughing about. I had and always seem to have a level to me that is only unlocked at certain points... like an awesome chest in Zelda. I don't know of we ever got to deeps of our depths, but certainly walked down the road pretty far. I love that girl to pieces. 

AP: The album title “This Beautiful Mess” is a great summary of the lyrical content of the album as a whole. Where did that phrase originate?  The artwork and packaging for this release is spectacular, and very complimentary to the music contained within. Were you involved in that process?

Photo by Ben Pearson from the album photo shoot.
LN: Matt had a strong hand in naming records and seemed to have strong vision even for what he wanted covers to look like. They were always great and I was proud of how they turned out, but I had my mind elsewhere most of the time. Usually up in the clouds- for better or for worse.

AP: Do you have any specific memories of what the time in the studio was like? Any funny stories from those couple weeks in Nashville during recording?

LN: I remember Wendy's # 6 for lunch. I remember missing my mom terribly. I remember the smell of deodorant and crayons in the hallway where we stayed. Sarah McLachlan had just put out a record the guys were in love with. And I heard "Lightning Crashes" by Live for the first time. I had a black velvet one piece suit I'd found in some goodwill bin and wore it like it was a ball gown, until it tore, in a most tragic spot. There were freak outs about "splicing" that went awry, I remember that. Amidst all the being young and in a band making a record,  I did notice- "This is awesome", "I love these people". Still do. 

AP: As far as I know, “The Garden” was your first song-writing credit. What do you remember about creating that song? 

LN: I think "The Garden" was my first attempt at writing something that could contend with the rest of our songs. I was just stretching my writing muscle for the first time and BOOM! Mediocre song ha ha ha but not a heinous first try.

AP: Could you talk a little about what it was like at the time to take lyrics someone else wrote (Matt’s and Tess's) and sing them? Now that you and Matt have been writing and recording music together for 23 (?) years, obviously you have gotten really good at it. But was it a challenge in the early years? You write a lot of songs now, and you have been for a while, both in Sixpence and on solo releases. Most songwriters sing the songs they write, but Matt never has. How does he present them to you? Does he sing them or just on paper?

LN: Singing Matt's words has been a great privilege. I have always been truly stunned by his gift with words. I felt it was my calling to sing them. He would usually play me the song, hand me the words, to teach it to me. Those were always the best moments, hearing them for the first time. Tess writes great songs too- it's different singing songs of someone's who is a singer. I didn't feel like I was doing anything she couldn't do better- because it was her own song. 

AP: What is your favorite song on This Beautiful Mess? 

LN: "Melting Alone" and "Bleeding" are my favorites. 

AP: What is next for Sixpence, if anything? Do you have any current musical projects outside of Sixpence? I heard through the grapevine that maybe you are working on a country album?

LN: We are in a bit of a hiatus. I am preparing to make a record I've been desperate to make sense I was very young. So all my energy is there at the monent. It's a country record, but not the kind you'd think. This is all me, for the first time. Fingers crossed. We'll see. 

When I interviewed Leigh, she had not yet announced her PledgeMusic campaign, that is now a few weeks old. You can pre-order her new album and find out much more about it here.