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Leigh Nash has one of the most distinctive voices in modern pop music history. Those breathy, whimsical pipes helped Sixpence None The Richer become one of the biggest buzz bands of the early 2000’s with hit songs like “Kiss Me,” “There She Goes” and the Crowded House cover “Don’t Dream It’s Over.”
These days, Nash is enjoying the simple life with her son Henry and husband Stephen Wilson. But music fans will be glad to know that her relative silence over the past seven years is about to be broken with a new hymns album and next year’s anticipated Sixpence release.
In this Whole Notes interview, Nash talks about how her fondest memories of the Sixpence craze, how motherhood has changed her, how a collection of obscure hymns have challenged her and what we can expect in the near future:
Chad Bonham: How often do you reflect back to those early days with Sixpence None The Richer?
Leigh Nash: I started in the band when I was 13 and nothing really happened until I was in my early 20’s, so we had a really long run of just touring and working really hard, making records. There was a lot of struggle in there that I recall pretty well but I think a lot of it, your youth makes you forget because you’re young and you’ve got tons of energy. But yeah, I look back at memories of those times and I can’t believe we stuck with it as long as we did. And then “Kiss Me” and all that stuff started to happen around ’99 and 2000 and things started to pay off or take off and it was a really great time. I’m glad that we have those memories and that we got to do all that great stuff together. It was amazing.
Bonham: During those early years, you seemed very shy both on and off the stage. Have you completely come out of that shell or is there still a certain level of discomfort for you when you perform?
Nash: I am naturally pretty shy. I’ve come out of it a pretty good bit because I’m kind of a strange combination of being really shy and also being a born entertainer. I’ve got both in me and I guess it depends on my surroundings as to what’s going to come out more prominently. But I’m definitely really shy on some level. But on another level, I’m all entertainer. It’s a strange dichotomy, but it’s true.
Bonham: So early on as a teenage performer, you weren’t as nervous on stage?
Nash: Oh no I was really nervous on stage. I still get nervous on stage. Off the stage, I have a pretty bold personality, but I have to know the person before that comes out.
Bonham: There have been a lot of descriptions and comparisons made in regards to your very distinctive voice. But what do you think of when you hear your own voice?
Nash: It’s probably different from what other people or a fan might hear. I do appreciate it very much. I’m really thankful for it. I love my voice. But I’d be the first one to make a criticism of it, so I’m not the best person to critique because I’m pretty hard on myself.
Bonham: When things were going crazy between 1999 and the early 2000’s, was there a point where your head started to spin and you couldn’t believe what was happening?
Nash: It was so gradual, everything that happened. We had been together for so long. I felt prepared. I had really good people around me, so it never felt like that much of a whirlwind. Some of the travel was pretty overwhelming. We were doing a lot of flying. For some reason, my brain decided to be paranoid about flying during those years. That’s the one thing I wish I could back and try to get a handle on. I really did try at the time, just not successfully. I worried about flying every single day and I ruined a lot of great times for myself because of that. That really stinks. But I had a really good time otherwise. We enjoyed each other. The band, we laughed a lot. We had a ball, other than the fear of flying. But we never got full of ourselves about fame or anything like that. We were luckily always the kind of band that could go through the airport at the height of everything and not make a big spectacle. We were a pretty calm, pretty tame bunch of folks.
Bonham: Any surreal moments you’ll tell your son about when he gets older?
Nash: Yeah, definitely. Henry, my son, is seven and he doesn’t really care that much. He loves it when I perform. He really enjoys that. But when we’re in the grocery store and we hear one of our songs, I’ll say, “Hey that’s mommy.” And I’ve gotten to where I don’t tell him because he just kind of looks at me like, “So?” He’s not impressed. But he’s great. He’ll be interested one day maybe.
Bonham: Other than humility, what are some other things that motherhood has brought to your life?
Nash: Everything. He is the greatest thing ever. I can’t imagine what I was ever doing when I didn’t have him. It’s been life changing. I had him in 2004 and that’s kind of when I put the brakes on everything and went into mommy mode. That’s what I’m still doing but I’m so thankful to be making records again. I live on some land outside of Nashville. We’ve got chickens. It’s wonderful. I’m really happy and peaceful. It’s a good time in my life right now.
Bonham: What other things take up your time and interest these days?
Nash: I’ve been teaching vocal lessons, which is nothing I’ve ever dreamed of doing or aspired to do. But I have a friend that works for Brent Manning who is a really famous and brilliant vocal coach. This was about a year ago and I something I thought I could because I don’t tour that much and I could make my own schedule and do it at my own pace. I’ve been doing that. It just entails me learning some new vocal techniques and some piano skills, which is interesting because I don’t play piano. I can play the heck out of scales now (laughs). But I’ve been doing that and I think it’s been a very humbling and great experience for me to try to teach. I’ve had some great experiences and I’ve learned as much from (the students) as they’ve learned from me. That’s been a challenge and something that’s very different for me. It’s stretched me, but if it’s a little bit comfortable, I feel like you should keep doing it.
Bonham: What’s the latest on potential new music from you and Matt Slocum under the Sixpence None The Richer banner?
Nash: We made a record that we’re anticipating will come out in March.
Bonham: I don’t get the sense that you want to go full scale with the band anytime soon, so what is your game plan for how you’ll promote the record and how often you might perform together again?
Nash: We definitely want to promote it. We’re going to self-release this for the most part. That wasn’t the original plan. We’re trying to figure out what we want to do, but we have great management and good guidance because we want to do it right. We want to make it known as much as we possibly can that our record is coming out. We’ll tour. We want to do shows. But we just want it to make sense because we both have kids. I’m really excited. I love this record very much. I’m looking forward to people hearing it.
Bonham: What led you to sign with Kingsway and to do this hymns project?
Nash: They approached me with the idea of doing it. It was something that I always wanted to do but I just wouldn’t have done it alone. They approached me almost a year ago about doing this and it just really excited me. I thought it would be a good time to do this. I was in a really place and a really good mindset to do something like this. The more I found out what they were all about, the more intrigued I was. They wanted me to write and co-write some new melodies to these words. I was really excited by that thought.
Bonham: Most of the hymns on your record seem to be somewhat obscure compared to the hymns that are usually recorded. Were you familiar with these songs ahead of time or were they new to you?
Nash: Most of the people I’ve talked to actually say they have heard these songs. I have not. I’m not familiar with any of them. I grew up in a Southern Baptist church and we did the old hymns, but I think these are older than the ones we used to sing. The ones that I chose, I chose because of the words. They’re some of the most beautiful, poetic words I’ve ever heard. I think it was a good thing I hadn’t heard any of them previously because I was able to make them fresh with new melodies. But the words didn’t seem old hat. It was like going into a beautiful museum where everything is stunning and inspiring. That’s what it felt like reading the words the first time. I think they’re incredible.
Bonham: Is there one of the songs that has especially had a significant impact on you personally?
Nash: Most of them are that way for me now. Some of the words are stuck in my heart like Bible verses. I’ve never recorded an album and listened to it a ton afterwards. I usually let it breathe or I don’t listen to it at all because I’ll be critical of my voice or my performance. But I have worn this out. It’s been such an encouragement to me aside from the fact that it’s me singing. The words have just been a balm in my life. That’s partially why I’m so thankful that I got to be a part of this record. It’s meant so much to me and I feel the fact that when I received those words, they were helping me and lifting me and that can only make the project more powerful to other people listening to it. I wasn’t just going through the motions. I felt all of those words and I’m really thankful I got to do it.
Bonham: Is that ultimately your hope for the project—that others will feel the same things you did when they hear it?
Nash: Absolutely. I couldn’t hope for anything more or pray for anything better. That’s exactly what I hope will happen.
Keep up with the latest from Leigh Nash by following her Facebook page.