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Sixpence quite a bit richer

First printed in the Irish World in September 1999. I spoke with Sixpence None the Richer's lead singer, Leigh Nash, about their skyrocket to stardom -- with hits such as Kiss Me and There She Goes -- and maintaining integrity in the music industry.

Until this year, few people outside certain circles had heard of a band with the cryptic name of Sixpence None the Richer. Then they hit pay dirt with a single called Kiss Me, which made itself comfortable at Number One in the United States, and Number Four in the UK. The single received a higher profile when it was featured on television programs like Dawson's Creek, Daria and The Young and the Restless.

Sixpence's cover version of There She Goes, originally recorded by the La's in 1990, released earlier this month, is currently sitting pretty in the Top 20 in the UK.

Lead singer Leigh Nash seems unaffected by the band's success. Softspoken and unassuming, even shy, the petite 24-year-old speaks in a musical Texas drawl long enough to pace the Boston Marathon. She sips her bottled water and struggles to speak over the noise of the restaurant around us; Sixpence are on a lunch break during a busy day of radio and television appearances.

The success has been hard-earned, Nash implies, because the band's original record label, R.E.X. Music, floundered under financial troubles.

"We had a really terrible time for a couple of years. It was so bad because we couldn't record and we were having a lot of difficulties with our previous record label. We had some very painful times, and I can't believe we made it through them," Nash says.

The band is now signed to Squint Entertainment, and released their third album as a self-titled debut project for the label last year. "We knew they were going to work as hard as we would work, so it's worked out really well," Nash says of Squint.

Many of the lyrics in Sixpence's songs are literary, not only reflecting passages from the Bible, but also references from W.H. Auden and Pablo Neruda. Kiss Me is based on a Dylan Thomas poem. Nash points to main songwriter and band founder Matt Slocum for the literary references in the lyrics, but she confesses to being an Earnest Hemingway fan who listens to Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright and the Cardigans.

All the band members -- Slocum, a burgeoning wine connoisseur, Justin Cary, Dale Baker, Sean Kelly and Nash -- seem strikingly down-to-earth, approachable and even humble -- in other words, not stars. The band, who take their name from a passage in C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity, makes no secret about their alliance with evangelical Christianity.

"Musical integrity is definitely the band's greatest strength, and the fact that we realise where our gifts come from; we try to keep that in focus at all times, and try to be humble. People always ask, 'How do you handle being a rock star?' and it's not like that. When you realise where your gifts come from -- if you realise it's not coming from you -- then it's a lot easier to keep your feet on the ground so there's no reason to get a big head about anything. That's the secret, I guess," Nash says. "The only difference that I feel, from a year ago or a year-and-a-half ago, is that we're a lot busier. There are a lot more demands on our time, and it's more physically exhausting. We lead very normal lives. Our home lives are really normal; we're all married and have wonderful spouses. My husband is my anchor in a lot of ways."

Nash continues. "Keeping ourselves grounded is just knowing where our gifts come from, and then the gifts we definitely feel are God-given and that's the only reason we're here and the only reason we were put together."

Nash says the band members like being on the road, but they also like to get home, too, for a rest. She has been married nearly four years to Mark Nash; the couple met when she was 18.

"We don't thrive on life on the road. For a lot of bands, that's their life; that's where they're happy," Nash says. "It's not that we're unhappy on the road, but we can become really exhausted and then we start to not enjoy it. That's not a good thing, but it is for us because we're married and we have lives other than this that we're not able to focus on right now, so we start feeling a little lost in the fog after awhile."

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