Two years ago Leigh Nash bottomed out. It wasn’t due to any of the stereotypical rock dalliances involving substance abuse or lavish spending. Instead, Nash found herself face to face with the dark underbelly of the protestant work ethic – when giving and giving doesn’t equal getting what you always imagined.
Sixpence None the Richer, the band she had been a member of for nearly half of her life, thirteen years all told, was contemplating calling it quits. Nash and high school mate Matt Slocum had formed the group as teenagers, touring in sedans and cramped vans, slowly building a career.
In spite of the colossal success the band enjoyed with ubiquitous pop singles like “Kiss Me” and “There She Goes,” the group was continually plagued by the business woes of the trade and finally decided to split ways amicably. Disoriented by this major change, Nash and her husband left their Nashville home of ten years and moved to Los Angeles.
“It was a major life change for me because I had been with Sixpence since I was fourteen. I was 27 at the time, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. So, I started writing songs,” says the pixie-like Nash, seated on her back porch over Easter weekend.
While in L.A., Nash penned a batch of songs that would eventually comprise her first solo record, Blue on Blue, a sweetly understated collection of musings on love and motherhood due out in August 2006 on One Son Records, Nash’s own imprint label through Nettwerk Productions.
“I knew I wanted to do a record on my own – I always knew I wanted to do that if the band were to break up. But then we actually did break up, and I hadn’t necessarily seen that coming when it did,” recalls Nash.
A few months after Sixpence None the Richer parted ways, Nash welcomed her son Henry into the world, along with a new sense of creative vitality. Nash explains that her songs were not intentionally centered on any one concept, but admits her newfound maternity was a source of inspiration.
“Motherhood came pretty fast, and I started writing a ton about Henry. I just found that there was a much deeper well within me than there had been before. This was probably because it was such an emotional process with the band breaking up and all the other things happening at once.”
With a bushel of songs in tow, Nash set up shop with Canadian producer Pierre Marchand (Sarah McLachlan, Rufus Wainwright) last winter at his barn in Milles Isle an hour outside of Montreal. Recording there with a slew of Montreal-area musicians, Nash felt the auspices of home without the soreness of Sixpence’s split. Marchand and Nash co-wrote two songs, album opener “All Along the Wall” and “Between the Lines.” Marchand’s lush, warm production gives Nash’s songs an earthy luster that carefully cushions her sweet, lilting voice.
In the meantime, Nash moved back to Music City and into a new community of musicians – a recently formed rock collective called Movement Nashville. The group hopes to dispel the myth that musically Nashville is limited to Country or Christian.
Nash has two distinct poles of inspiration: her work with Sixpence in the Christian music sphere and her childhood fascination with older female country artists like Tanya Tucker, Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. In many ways Blue on Blue emanates squarely between those two regions without being pulled down by any of the inbred trappings of the genres. Nash’s faith informs her songwriting in equal measure as her affinity for country music.
“I started singing country music and learning old country songs on the guitar when I was twelve. I was really, really shy but just had this desire to get on stage and started calling clubs myself to ask if I could come down and sing,” says Nash, who grew up in the southern Texas town of New Braunfels.
Before long, the adolescent Nash was singing Loretta Lynn and Tanya Tucker songs like “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man” and “Texas When I Die” on alcohol-free, open mic Sunday nights, backed by a middle-aged band of town locals. In spite of her country allure, Nash never developed an accent, and later in life her interest in pop acts like The Sundays, Innocence Mission and The Cranberries provided more formative material for her songwriting and singing.
On Blue on Blue, Nash’s croon possesses an unadorned glisten, a sensibility that is simultaneously natural and ethereal. On the album-closing ballad “Just a Little,” Nash’s voice floats through an earnest tribute to her son Henry, while on the epic “Ocean Size Love” her voice soars and shimmers over the Coldplay-sized, piano-driven song.
“My Idea of Heaven” radiates a child-like simplicity with Nash’s pop awareness guided by a lyrical unfussiness and bright guitar hooks. While “Nervous in the Light” begins as a tender confession of love and life’s fleetingness (“and I realized there is nothing anyone can really own”), it builds into a strong, heartfelt petition for direction (“it takes years for rough to be made smooth”), continually held together through Nash’s impassioned but effortless vocals.
With Sixpence behind her and a two-year-old son along for the ride, Nash is prepped to return to music even though she never really left. Now perhaps a bit more career-conscious and business-weary, Nash reveals that tired edge without losing her dainty charm. Because of this, Blue on Blue is not just a carefree jog through the present but a vividly felt exercise wholly informed by the past. In the end, it’s bliss.