Matt Slocum of Sixpence None the Richer
I recently had a chance to spend a couple of late night hours chatting with Sixpence None the Richer's Matt Slocum via an AOL chatroom. We discussed everything from Matt's love of literature and film to the current status of Sixpence to Matt's true desire to reclaim his old position as fryboy at Burger King.
[Editor's note: Matt has exquisite taste in movies. He and I should talk.]
Phantom Tollbooth: You seem to be very well read. For example, Sixpence's material makes references to writers such as C.S. Lewis, Annie Dillard, Madeleine L'engle, Rainer Maria Rilke, etc. How has literature influenced your writing?
Matt: I suppose much of the lyrical content comes from reactions I have to characters in literature or poetry. I find a lot of my identity in identifying with books and the things they have to say about life. I wouldn't consider myself well read; there is so much out there, and I have only delved into a small portion of that vast sea. But the writers you mentioned have had a special influence on my life.
PT: What are some of your favorite works or authors?
Matt: Most of C.S. Lewis's works; The Day Boy and Night Girl,The Princess and the Goblin, both by George Macdonald; Shakespeare's Hamlet; A Consent by Wendell Berry; The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde; Goethe's Faust; the poetry of Rilke and many of Thomas Merton's writings.
PT: Since the old band history has been covered adequately in the past, I thought we'd skip that and stick to more recent events and future plans for Sixpence.
Matt: Bless you.
PT: What happened with Tess Wiley's departure from the band? Was that a mutual thing?
Matt: For the most part. Her dream had always been to have her own group and write her own material. Sixpence was a temporary thing for her, and after a while she decided to move on. She is a very talented woman and should have a bright future ahead of her. We all miss her.
PT: Do you feel that Tess's addition to the band gave Sixpence a harder edge? This Beautiful Mess definitely seemed to have a more edgy feel than Fatherless and the Widow. And the live show seemed a bit more aggressive while Tess was in the band. Did she help push Sixpence in that direction or was that where you were headed anyway?
Matt: I think it was inevitable that the second record would have evolved into a more energy filled or "edgy" feel. We were beginning to play as a band, and that always fosters more energy. But the harder edge is definitely her element, and I think she played a vital role in shaping the live show and This Beautiful Mess. It was a great ingredient to add to the melting pot we were stirring at the time.
PT: By now, it's old news that Leigh has gotten married. How will her marriage impact her involvement with Sixpence?
Matt: Mark (her husband) definitely understands the nomadic life of musicians and really supports her involvement in the group. It's been working out well lately because we haven't been touring much, and Mark has been filling the rhythm guitar post when we head out on the weekends.
PT: Are you still a four piece at this time?
PT: It seems that there hasn't been much news from the Sixpence camp as of late. It has been a while since Tickets for a Prayer Wheel was released. There have been a couple of songs on compilation albums, but no word of a new album. What's going on with Sixpence? Are you still on REX?
Matt: Well, there hasn't been much to speak of. Our record company (REX) was purchased last summer by a large holding company called Platinum Entertainment. Platinum also owns Light Distribution which distributes REX. There are many reports that the acquisition was fraudulent, and there are multiple lawsuits against Platinum. REX has been suffering the affects of these dealings since last January, and it has frozen us up as well. We've consciously decided not to work with Platinum and are trying to come to a settlement that will free us from our contract. Until then, we are barred from making any recordings or releasing anything. We may even end up in a court battle. I think our main goal is to survive until we can make our next recording.
PT: It doesn't sound like Light is too keen on the idea of cutting Sixpence loose.
Matt: No, we're having a very difficult time coming to an agreement, and lawyers are so expensive!
PT: So I guess any plans for a new album have been put on hold indefinitely.
Matt: Unfortunately, yes.
PT: I would think you would have a number of new songs written. Is this the case? How do you feel your new songs compare to the material contained on This Beautiful Mess?
Matt: We're stockpiling demos and trying to keep creative. We're performing many of the new songs live. Some of the new stuff retains the edge of This Beautiful Mess, some of it hangs towards that catchy Beatles melody pop thing. It's hard for me to describe, I guess...
PT: Has Sixpence been playing live much as of late? And do you have any future touring plans?
Matt: No major touring plans yet. But we have been going out on weekends, and we'll be playing a lot of the festivals this summer.
PT: It seems that a lot of bands really enjoy playing at C-stone. What are your thoughts on playing there?
Matt: I love Cornerstone. There are so many bands to see and such a wide variety of music to listen to. It's great playing there because the crowds are so supportive; you always come away encouraged. And you see all your friends there and make new ones, too.
PT: You've performed fests such as Greenbelt and Flevo in Europe several times, correct?
PT: Have you noticed any differences between your fan base in Europe as compared to your fan base here? Are you pretty popular over there?
Matt: We have a really good response over there, even though the trends over there lean either to dance music or heavy metal. But if the European crowds like a band, they are extremely enthusiastic about it. Almost more so than Americans.
PT: I am sure you have gone through some highs and lows during Sixpence's existence. What do you feel has been the high point for you so far?
Matt: Probably the making and release of This Beautiful Mess. It's strange, but it almost feels like we haven't had our chance to get off the ground yet.
PT: What's been your low point?
Matt: I think we're definitely in a low point right now with our record deal situation. A very low point. But perhaps this will lead to a very high point.
PT: Where do you see Sixpence going in the future? Would you like to stay in the Christian market, or would you like to try to get into the mainstream market?
Matt: It has always been our goal to enter the mainstream market, but that door hasn't opened to us yet. But when it does, we will definitely walk through it.
PT: It seems that the lines between "Christian" and "secular" have been getting blurred with the mainstream success of groups such as Jars of Clay and DC Talk.
Matt: Yeah, Christian groups outsell a lot of mainstream acts in the mainstream market. The big companies have picked up on this and purchased almost all the Christian labels. It's almost like mainstream labels want Christian bands because they sell. It's all a money thing. It's not the way the lines should be blurred, I think, but nevertheless they are and many Christian bands will enter the mainstream on the road paved by Jars of Clay and DC Talk. But hopefully they will be accepted on the basis of good art and not selling potential. But who really looks for good art these days anyway?
PT: Sixpence won a Dove award last year, correct?
Matt: Yeah, what an honor.
PT: Were you able to attend the ceremonies? What was that like?
Matt: Yes, they were quite interesting. Actually, it was a great feeling to win the award. But the ceremony shows you the small, unsatisfying world of CCM.
PT: Do you feel the award has had any impact on Sixpence, either positive or negative?
Matt: It definitely had a positive effect on us. It was a much needed encouragement in the midst of our troubles.
PT: I wanted to try and get your feelings on the Christian market and its current state. You have been involved in the market for a while now, and I'm sure you've seen some changes.
Matt: It has definitely jumped on the "alternative" bandwagon. Other than that, I think it's producing more good music as the market grows. It is definitely a market just like any other market; selling potential defines the trends.
PT: I know that you recently relocated to Nashville. Is the whole band living there now?
Matt: Yes. Everyone seems to really like it here so far.
PT: Is Nashville the clean, CCM city it's always made out to be? Can you go grocery shopping without running into Carman or Mark Lowry?
Matt: I pray I never run into them, but it is definitely possible. I think Nashville would be a great place to live even if CCM wasn't so heavily concentrated here.
PT: What are your favorite Sixpence songs?
Matt: "Field of Flowers" & "Soul" off the first record, the first four songs off This Beautiful Mess, "Healer" off the e.p., and a lot of the new stuff.
PT: Who are some of your current musical influences? What have you been listening to lately?
Matt: Oasis, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Fountains of Wayne, Beatles, Emmylou Harris, Wild Colonials. . .
PT: I hear that you've been doing some studio work lately. What are some projects you've worked on?
Matt: I've been doing a lot of session work with my cello and doing some string arrangements here and there. I recently did some arrangements for a new band coming out on Rethink. I also worked on the Waiting's new one, a new band called Plumb, and Grover Levy's new project.
PT: Are you able to make a living from Sixpence?
Matt: Yes, Sixpence is a full time thing and usually pays the bills. What I lack there I make up with session work and selling cd's.
PT: Do you see music as your career, or do you think you will get a regular nine to five job someday? Waiter at the Waffle House or something. . .
Matt: Music is just a temporary calling until I can reassume my position as the frymaker at Burger King. That's my true dream.
PT: Are you a film fan?
PT: What are some of your favorite films...older or more recent?
Matt: City of Lost Children, Hamlet (the new Kenneth Branagh version), Sling Blade, The Bicycle Thief, most of Woody Allen's films, If Lucy Fell...
PT: Do you find that films ever work their way into your songwriting the way literature does?
Matt: Definitely. The characters and situations presented are there to identify with just like in literature. Oh, two more favorite films: Shine and Il Postino.
PT: There has been a long running debate about the proper role for Christians in music and the arts. Some feel music should be used only as an evangelical tool to bring people to Christ while others feel that it's ok to be in a band and make art that is not intentionally evangelistic in nature. What are your feelings?
Matt: I think music is robbed of something when it is manipulated for propagandistic purposes. Not that evangelism is propaganda, but Christians are often expected to accept bad art because it embodies a Christian message and reject good art because it embodies a secular message. I think Christian artists should focus on creating works of beauty that will speak for themselves.