Sunday, 25 May 2008

Sixpence none the richer

Sixpence None The Richer, named by guitarist Matt Slocum for a phrase summing up an idea in CS Lewis' Mere Christianity, was formed in 1991 by Slocum and Leigh Bingham. The pair had met in 1989 en route to a church youth retreat in their native Texas, and Slocum was enchanted by the 13 year old Bingham's voice.

A demo recording was made in 1991, with the help of TJ Behling (who wrote "Spotlight" and sung the original version) and passed around underground and local magazines. At Illinois' Cornerstone Festival, Slocum was surprised to find their demo held up at a seminar as an example of a good demo. He introduced himself to the speaker, beginning a relationship which resulted in the band signing to US-based independent REX and recording The Fatherless and the Widow with producer Armand Petri. Following this record's release in 1993, the band joined 10,000 Maniacs as support on a short tour. The album has a light feel, showing clear influences from Natalie Merchant and the Sundays among others. It was greeted rapturously by reviewers, including a positive reception in the US music industry journal, Billboard.

It was in 1994 that the band made their first venture abroad, playing at the Greenbelt Festival in Northamptonshire and Holland's Flevo in 1994.

The next release was again on REX. Beautiful Mess saw the band working on more aggressive and complex material, and lyrically continued the melancholy direction they had begun in on their debut. Second guitarist Tess Wiley and bass player JJ Plascenio made their presence felt in the extended instrumental jams.

In 1996 the band returned to Greenbelt without Wiley, but with an EP named Tickets For A Prayer Wheel, supplies of which were soon depleted. The EP contained two versions of a song from _Beautiful Mess_, and a dance remix of another, along with various other oddities.

Not long after the release of Tickets, REX records went bankcrupt and was bought out by Platinum Entertainment. Sixpence, believing that their contracts had been breached in the process began a lengthy legal battle to release themselves from that contract. In the process they met up with maverick singer-songwriter Steve Taylor, who set up a new label, Squint Records, partly in order to distribute a new album from the band.

Sixpence None The Richer, released originally in November 1997 was considerably different from the two releases which had preceded it. Slocum had studied towards a degree in music at the University of Texas some years previously, and his interest in string arrangements was strongly felt across this album. While "Kiss Me" was the obvious radio single, the album is generally much more downbeat, with complex arrangements and recurring lyrical themes.

Just before the album's release, bass player JJ Plascensio decided it was time for him to leave the band (he is now a worship leader at a church in Austin, Texas). Since that date he has been replaced by Justin Cary and the band has once again gained a second guitarist in the form of Sean Kelly. The album was re-released in February 1998, with a few tracks remixed by Bob Clearmountain, a music industry legend whose previous work had included records by Duke Ellington, Bryan Adams, David Bowie, INXS, Simple Minds, Crowded House, Rolling Stones, and Bruce Springsteen. But it was nearly a year before "Kiss Me" began to make a dent in the charts. By early 1999 however, the song was receiving airplay across the USA and beginning to receive attention abroad. The song spent most of May in the Billboard top 5 and also spent June and July at the top of the UK airplay chart.

The album was re-released with the added track "There She Goes" in mid-June. "There She Goes", a cover of a song by the Las (notably covered by the Boo Radleys), is being pushed as a follow-up single, a move which has divided fans. While the song seems to be well received by radio in the USA, many feel it would have been better for the band to release another of their own songs, to exhibit more of Slocum's songwriting and show the public something which is more representative of the band's material. Only time will tell whether it's been a good decision.


1 comment: said...

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