A new band previously enthused about in the pages of Cross Rhythms and now about to play British fests are SIXPENCE NONE THE RICHER. The penny drops for Tony Cummings.
Few American bands have experienced the kind of rave reviews that greeted the debut by Sixpence None The Richer. One American fanzine called the group's debut "a masterpiece" while influential US trade publication Billboard wrote "There were few more pleasant surprises in 1993 than the release of Sixpence None The Richer's 'The Fatherless And The Widow". With a sound like a speeded up Cowboy Junkies and a slowed down Sundays, the Pence struck an immediate chord..."
Not that the band's accolades were limited to their stunning studio performance. Recently the band completed a 4-city mini-tour as the opening act for the men from 10,000 Maniacs (because of legal restrictions the Maniacs are unable to claim back their '10,000' until later in the year). The Pence received rave reviews. The Buffalo News wrote, "The Maniacs more than lived up to their expectations, but the opening act Sixpence None The Richer also were outstanding. The young band from Texas, featuring 17 year old lead singer Leigh Bingham, was mesmerising. Bingham has a remarkable vocal range. She sounds at times, ironically, like a young Natalie Merchant. The band featured a natural, invigorating style."
Sixpence None The Richer's outing with the Maniacs kicked off the secular release of 'The Fatherless...' originally on REX Populi. What astonishes all observers of the band is their youthfulness. The two founders of the group Leigh Bingham and Matt Slocum were both teenagers when they recorded The Fatherless...'
Slocum is currently attending the University of Texas, but Bingham is still in high school in Texas. The two met en route to a church youth group retreat. On the bus, Slocum asked Bingham to sing the first religious-oriented song he'd ever written. "At the time, my whole influence was country music," Bingham says. "I really didn't start listening to alternative music until the past year. I had, however, been singing in a local honky tonk since age 12 - but only on senior citizens' non-alcoholic nights.
"Matt gave a copy of our first tape to Dave Bunker, who conducts seminars on how to make a professional sounding tape. He heard it and really liked it, and presented it to someone he knew at REX Records. They liked us and put us in contact with Armand John Petri, who is from New York, and (REX executive producer) Gavin Morkel, who is from Chicago. We recorded The Fatherless And The Widow' at The Sonic Temple in Elgin, Illinois." It was as easy as that. Petri, of course, has helmed recent projects by 10,000 Maniacs and the Goo Goo Dolls - and even he was struck by the duo's wholly original sound.
"As you can imagine, I was kind of nervous," Bingham says with a laugh. "I was 16 when we started recording the album and actually turned 17 while we were in Chicago. But Armand put me right at ease."
The New Braunfels, Texas, high school student currently travels to Dallas with Slocum once or twice a month to rehearse with their band, which now officially includes drummer Bill Baker.
"Hopefully this is something I can continue to pursue," Bingham says. "From the beginning, I've felt that this is something that God wanted me to do. I'm going to keep on praying, of course, but right now it still feels right. I love what I'm doing and definitely want to go where I'm being directed."
At the hoary old age of 20, Matt Slocum is the "grand old man" of Sixpence, but his musical and writing talents are those of someone far older. He's only been playing guitar five years and has only been writing for the past two or three.
"I've discovered classical music here at the University of Texas," Slocum says. "I'm now majoring in cello at UT, learning more about music in depth as I go along. I've always enjoyed listening to the Sundays, XTC, the Cocteau Twins and Innocence Mission. I never really got into the Beatles when I was younger, but I do now. But mostly, lately I've been listening to bands with female vocalists."
Actually, Slocum is not a novice in performing. His Austin-based group Love Coma is a popular cover band, performing songs by the Church, Mission UK and others. "But as Sixpence, we signed the record deal without playing a show," he says, almost apologetically. "We've played some since around the country, but we're still a young, young, growing band. I guess you'd say we really haven't paid our dues yet."
The one question that crops up in every interview is where the band's surreal moniker comes from. "It's a quote from C S Lewis," says Matt. "I was reading Mere Christianity and came across the part where the child goes to the father and asks for some money to buy him a present. The father gives him the money for the present and the kid goes and buys the present. The father is pleased and everything, but the father isn't any better off from the transaction because he gave the money to the child in the first place. When I read that I was like,'Wow, God doesn't need me for anything.' He gives you the gifts and you give your gifts back to him and he's pleased, but God's not any better off. I kind of realised that and made up the phrase 'sixpence none the richer' and thought it would be a cool name for the band.
"We have some musical gifts and we are trying to give those back to God; applying the philosophy. We hope this will always be the basis for what we do and that we'll be humble about it."
Their music is not only a gift returned to God, but a platform for reasoning and learning to understand our lives and our relationship with the Creator. Matt explains, "I mainly write about my own experiences. There's a song on there that is about my father passing away. I titled the album 'The Fatherless And The Widow' because I wanted it to be a dedication to that incident. When it happened, I didn't really deal with it properly and thought that maybe the way to deal with it now is through music." Leigh shares her objectives, "I want people to get a message from our music and I want that meaning to be clear and of God. I want it to give people a peaceful feeling and for it to clear their minds. I think the music is healing and very calming."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.