Leigh Nash is apologetic. She’s just ten minutes late for our phone interview, but from the way she’s coming across, it’s as if she made me wait for hours.
"I pride myself on being on time," she explains. A synopsis of a domestic situation involving her son Henry follows, along with another apology.
Nash surely does insist too much. Frankly, in the music world, being ten minutes late is like being ten minutes early. If you get an apology from a publicist, that’s about as polite as it gets.
Maybe the Christian music world works a bit differently. Nash, at the young age of 30, is already considered a veteran of that scene, having recorded her first album almost sixteen years ago as the vocalist for pop group Sixpence None the Richer.
Sixpence broke big in the secular world, too. The band's massive 1999 single "Kiss Me" made Nash’s distinctively sweet vocals internationally famous, with the single peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the charts in Canada and many other countries around the world. Though a few minor hits followed after "Kiss Me"—notably covers of the La’s "There She Goes" and Crowded House’s "Don’t Dream It’s Over"—despite their success, Sixpence disbanded in 2004.
Nash says a number of factors contributed to the group’s amicable break-up, including her pregnancy and business-related problems with their labels Squint and Reprise, which delayed the release of their completed, and ultimately last studio album Divine Discontent for two years.
"The label problems were a thorn in our side and exhausted us," she says. "The battle with contracts and business really wore us out. It shortened the life of the band, for sure."
Weary of business draining the life out of her solo career, Nash decided that she would release music without a major label contract. Fortunately, Vancouver-based Nettwerk Music Group put together the right deal, offering to distribute and promote Nash's music through her own label.
"This solution allowed me to be independent, something we could just never make happen with Sixpence because we were under contract. I swear – and I know I shouldn’t swear – but I swear that I’m never going to sign another contract again."
Finally able to release music on her own terms, Nash teamed up with Quebec-based producer Pierre Marchand (Sarah McLachlan, Ron Sexsmith) to craft her debut, Blue on Blue. Incidentally, by working with Nettwerk and Marchand, the Texas-born, Nashville-based artist found herself working almost exclusively with Canadians.
"I’m officially Canadian now," she laughs. "My managers all Canadian, too. I find myself all of a sudden immersed in the world of Canada."
Indeed, Nash spent most of 2005 recording Blue with Marchand at his studios in Quebec, a province she calls "magical." Things obviously worked out well between the pair, except perhaps for one less-than-magical clash while celebrating the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend in Canada.
"My mom was visiting so I invited Pierre and his family to have Thanksgiving dinner with us," Nash explains. "We were in a small town outside of Montreal and it was hard to find the right ingredients. We cook very southern, but we couldn’t find things like corn meal, so the food did not turn out that well. But I found a maple leaf cookie cutter and I made a chocolate pie and used it around the edges of the pie. It was really beautiful, but Pierre’s family wasn’t impressed."
I explain to Nash that her pie might have not been a hit because, to some Quebeckers, the maple leaf is a very political symbol, one not always seen as patriotic by the French-speaking population.
"Really? The store I went to didn’t have Celine Dion cookie cutters. Maybe if I used those it might have all turned out better," she jokes.
Thankfully, Nash and Marchand had much better results in the studio, crafting a gorgeous pop record that in the Lilith Fair-era would have been an obvious hit. Now with hip-hop dominating airplay, Blue could be a tougher sell, but worthy of wide acceptance nonetheless.
"You never know with something like this, usually radio and the world is somewhat cyclical," Nash says of her album’s commercial potential. "I’m not about to do a rap duet with anyone about something dirty, if that’s what you’re trying to get at. I guess if I don’t get played, my family will go hungry."
She’s kidding, of course.
"I don’t expect my solo material to eclipse, but to live up to the success we had with 'Kiss Me.' It was a lot of hard work, really. We were hoping something would happen back then and we were doing what the label told us to do, but they were working as hard as we were. When you beat something long enough, things do happen."
However, unlike those earlier days, Nash is adamant on balancing the demands of a music career with her small family, which includes her husband and 2-1/2-year-old child.
"My first priority is my son, and while I really want to work, I’m prepared to stay home if I have to. I’ve been touring in short bursts.
"Radio has changed a ton since I was last touring, but they’re all still playing Sixpence songs, so who knows?"
About Robert J. Ballantyne
Robert J.Ballantyne is a senior editor at Popjournalism and Creative Director at Artsculture.ca. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star.