In the weeks ahead of the release of her debut country solo album, Leigh Nash wondered how fans of Sixpence None the Richer — the quasi-Christian band she fronts — would receive it. After all, she’s best known as the doe-eyed singer of the platinum-selling band’s 1997 hits “Kiss Me” (a song that conveys the joy of enviable young love in equal parts sentiment, innocence, and naïveté) and “There She Goes” (a song that’s a staple of sorts on romantic comedy film soundtracks and TV shows). Now 39, the Fairview, Tennessee, resident is crossing over to country music. Her bold new album, The State I’m In, is filled with songs she wrote or co-wrote about regret and the soul-squeezing heartbreak of infidelity. Oh, and then there’s the song in which she sings about the therapeutic benefits of marijuana. And don’t forget the one about loneliness. And then there’s the one…
Nash gets her signature red bangs trimmed at Super Cuts in Fairview. Two days ago, she paid $14 for the service, and the color is her own — scout’s honor. And below her bangs are green eyes that, she says, fall in love easily and rarely hide her feelings. When she talks about The State I’m In, they get serious. It’s clear that she’s infused much of herself into her forthcoming country record.
“I’ve talked about wanting to make a country record since I was 15,” she says. “In many ways, The State I’m In feels like my debut album. Certain songs might sound a little like pop-country. But mostly it’s classic country. This is my version of what I love.”
Over the 16 years since Sixpence hit the charts, the group disbanded, reunited and, says Nash, is currently together but on hiatus. She has recorded and released four solo albums, married, had a child, divorced, found new love, and married again. Nash doesn’t seem surprised to find herself leaving pop stardom behind and re-establishing herself as a country music artist. By doing so, in fact, she’s honoring something that’s been within her since she was a child growing up in New Braunfels, Texas — a tumbleweed town located between Austin and San Antonio. She reached deep into her Lone Star State roots to steer the artistic direction of State.
“Being from Texas, that mariachi sound — those horns are something I heard a lot,” Nash says. “We would go to the Riverwalk in San Antonio and mariachi music was a big part of the landscape. And it obviously embedded itself in my mind and memories and heart.”
Nash makes no attempt to hide her vulnerabilities, either onstage or during interviews — which may be part of what makes the songs she wrote for The State I’m In so believable, so relatable, and perhaps so well-suited for country music. There’s a Hank Senior believability in what she sings.
“I feel like I’m exposing myself,” Nash told the standing-room-only crowd at her July 30 show at the Basement in Nashville. “My feet are sweating.” Sweaty toes or not, she delivered a strong six-song set, with her husband and songwriting partner Stephen Wilson backing her on acoustic guitar.
Part of the strength of State is how genuine the lyrics feel. And to that end, Nash cried when she sang the slow-burn sentimental charmer “Somebody’s Yesterday” that night:
Texas is bigger than I remember
The road seems to end in the sky
This drive back home feels like forever
Hoping I’m still on your mind.
Part of this record is firmly rooted in old-school heartbreak realism country (think Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette), and part of it is right at home in the rapidly evolving corner of mainstream country that seems to embrace earnest songwriting over the tired hooks (cue the heartfelt pedal steel) and well-worn party anthems of so-called bro-country. Nash enlisted rock heavy-hitter Brendan Benson to produce the record. Benson, a solo artist in his own right, is best known for his work as guitarist with the Jack White-led, Grammy-winning foursome the Raconteurs.
“I met Brendan in February when I played a show at the Basement,” Nash says. “It was my first time playing out as a country artist. It turned out to be a great show; one of my best over the past 20 years. There was a creative spark right away with Brendan. It felt natural. When we went into the studio, it just felt right. To find lightning in a bottle like that where it’s natural, is pretty rare. Whether we sell records or not, I feel like we struck gold.”
Nash co-wrote “Doing It Wrong,” the last cut on the album, with Benson. In addition to Benson and her husband, the aforementioned Stephen Wilson (AutoVaughn, LazerSnake), Nash also enlisted the songwriting talents of Jesse Hall (Bear Cub, American Hotel), Emily West (a Capitol Records recording artist whom Nash describes as “one of the greatest singers of all time”), and Gerry House, whose previous songwriting credits include cuts by Music Row icons George Strait, Reba McEntire, LeAnn Rimes, Pam Tillis, Brad Paisley, Randy Travis, and the list goes on and on.
“I was a really big fan of Gerry’s radio show [Gerry House and the House Foundation], and I would find myself offering to take people to the airport just so I’d have an excuse to listen to his program,” Nash says. “I knew he’s a really good songwriter, and he was a fan of Sixpence.”
House and Nash co-wrote two of the songs on State, the aforementioned infidelity-born heartbreaker “Somebody’s Yesterday” as well as “The Promise Break,” perhaps the most lonesome song on the album.
As much as State features songs about heartache, betrayal, and regret, the album also offers clever toe-tappers. One cut in particular has the Sixpence frontwoman a bit apprehensive about what her longtime fans’ response might be: “High Is Better,” a song about marijuana use that she wrote with her husband.
We can’t afford the therapy we need
So we rely on cheap wine and decent weed.
“My mom loves that song, and she’s a little teetotaling Baptist,” Nash says, laughing. “She is a smart lady, and she has been one of the calming forces about that song, because I’ve had a lot of worry — I don’t want anybody to be upset or sad. It’s too late to worry about whether I will lose old fans because of it. But I hope I don’t.”