Interviewed by Doug Minnick

One of the most impressive and inspiring success stories of the year has been the breakthrough of Squint Entertainment's Sixpence None The Richer with their first smash single "Kiss Me." It was far from an overnight success. Here's a look inside the process that brought a new band on a small label to the big time.

What is your official title?

I am Director of Promotions. I do a little bit of everything, though. It goes much farther beyond that.

Where did you grow up?

Dearborn, Michigan

What brought you to L.A.?

I moved there when I was five months old. I also lived in Florida a lot, and Tennessee and Texas.

Did you grow up in a musical family?

I was going to school at Queens University in Canada. I was in a band there when I got a song cut by Loverboy. That brought me out to L.A. to work with the band and help develop the song. That got me a good lawyer and manager out here. Then I kept going back and forth between L.A. and Canada for about three years until I finally made the big move.

The band I was in up in Canada was a pretty big band for that area, so we had to make a move. At that time, nobody was going to Columbus, Ohio, looking for bands. You know what I mean? It was that era when you had to go to New York or L.A. to get signed. Fortunately, now it's not like that. You could be in North Carolina and get a deal.

When was that?

That was eleven years ago

At some point you switched over to the business side of things. How did that happen?

Stephen Prendergast (President of Squint) was working at BMG International, and I had been looking for opportunities. It's very tough to get in. He pointed me in the direction of a licensing job at RCA. So that was my foot in the door. That's where I started. But at that time, the company was going through a lot of changes. I ended up actually leaving the company to open a nightclub in Canada. I was still writing too. I really wanted to write. It was so hard to write and work in the business and do all these other things. I just wanted to open this club, work nights, and write during the day.

In the meantime, Stephen had been working at putting together Squint with Steve Taylor. They had become friends on a couple of visits to Nashville that Stephen went on. They needed somebody to come down and do whatever it took. That's what I wanted to do. I didn't want to be in a situation with a big company where you couldn't really immerse yourself in the culture. When you're at a big company, you can't do that. If you do A&R, you just do A&R. If you do publicity, you just do publicity. Squint afforded me the chance to go in and do whatever it took, at whatever format, and whatever area and pretty much run with it. It was a great opportunity.

What is Steve Taylor's background?

Steve Taylor is a singer/songwriter/artist. He had several records out in the Christian market and is very, very successful. He was a real rebel in that market. He did not follow the path of a lot of conventional Christian artists. He was more of an alternative artist than he was a Christian artist. Because of that, he didn't really fit in. Yet at the same time, he was the Limp Bizkit of that market ten years ago. He was total cutting edge while doing these festivals, which are very mellow. He would just totally blow the house down. His last band was called Chagall Guevara. They were signed to MCA. They got played on KROQ, but it was still very frustrating for him to not get the attention that he felt that he deserved, because he had this "Christian" tag going along with what he did. He couldn't reach out to the mainstream audience. He's also a film producer. He directed tons of videos for a bunch of successful artists, including a bunch of Newsboys clips. He produced all of the Newsboy's biggest records and co-wrote them. So he is a very talented guy. He is directing a film right now.

How did Squint find Sixpence None The Richer?

Stephen Prendergast had seen Sixpence and had been aware of them. He knew they really weren't a "Christian" band, but that they could sell records in that market and that they had the capability to sell much more in the mainstream. They had two previous records out on a small label, which got bought by Platinum Entertainment. But they were not a successful Christian band. They sold like 40 or 50,000 records previously. Both records were very critically acclaimed. Leigh Nash (Sixpence lead singer - ed.) was 16 or 17 years old when they did those records. [Steve and Stephen] knew that Leigh had the potential not only to be the star, but that Matt Slocum was just a great songwriter for any audience out there. He just wrote great songs, period. Squint ended up buying them out of their deal. We signed them and got things started.

When was this album released?

Two years ago this December. A long time ago.

What has been the label's strategy to keep the record alive and to turn it into a hit?

We knew it was going to be a real struggle to get this band on the map. We knew that we could sell some records initially in the Christian market because the band had a fan base there. So we were able to sell like 50,000 records out of the box. Then it just stopped overnight. Done. But that helped us build a fan base for the band. We felt that if we could just keep them in the public's eye and keep the story going in ways other than radio, then we would have a shot at it. They are such amazing, talented, and personable people. They will disarm the most cynical person in the music business in five minutes because they have no attitude. Leigh is just an angel. We knew that that was one of our best selling points. Not only do they have great music, they are great people. If we could stick this band in front of people, we'll get somewhere.

So we went out on the road. I went out with them in a van, and we just drove from town to town going into radio stations, all up and down the West Coast. "Let us come in and play for you. We'll play an acoustic set. We'll bring in lunch, we'll play five songs, and we'll leave." We weren't asking for an add. We weren't asking for concerts or anything. We were just going to play.

These radio station performances weren't on the air, were they?

No, they were just playing for the staff. People were so blown away, that this whole interest began to develop very organically. Then we went in to VH-1. Somehow we got in the door there. We don't even know how. We went in and played two songs for them. We took them lunch. We took them about 30 packages. All the VPs were there. We played right there in the programming department. We played "Kiss Me," and they were just blown away.

So I kept feeding VH-1 information, just going back to them. Then finally they ended up using the band for a show called "The Midnight Minute," which was just Matt and Leigh, just with a cello. It was a show at midnight with one minute versions of songs. So that kind of got the ball rolling. At the same time, radio was starting to come around, even in markets that really had no history with the band. The band had sold one record in San Francisco, and that was the first market to add the record, and one of the toughest stations to get in the United States. "Alice" (a AAA radio station in San Francisco - ed.) really championed the band. Once they got on board, we started to find out more about who their audience was. We always thought it was the Lilith Fair crowd, and it turned out to be, yes, a bit of that, but it's also a teen audience, and it's also older females. It's a really broad base.

So that was the plan, to just go in and put these guys under people's noses and win them over. That's exactly what the band has done. That's why it has taken so long. We didn't just come out of the box and slam it to radio. If we had done that, it would have been gone. This would have never happened on a bigger label. They wouldn't have stuck with it.

But did you find resistance at radio because it was on a small label?

Absolutely. It's true because you don't have the records in the stores. It's very difficult to get an independent distributor to get complete coverage at retail. Radio wants to know that if they're spinning that record, it's going to sell in that market. They don't want listeners calling and saying they can't find the record. As much as we sold radio on the band, we had to go sell retail too. We went in and played for Harmony House in Detroit, and we played for Tower, and we played for anybody that would have us. We did tons of in-stores at Borders. It just proved that this was something real. That has been a real learning curve. It has just been a real challenge to get everybody to stand up and pay attention.

When you were calling up radio stations saying, "Let us come play for you," how many of them said yes?

They didn't all say yes. A lot of them wouldn't let us come in unless they were already playing the record. But for some reason, on the West Coast . . . it's a real irony. The band had sold 10,000 copies of this record out of the box in Minneapolis. They had a huge fan base up there. But we couldn't get arrested at radio there. And yet the whole West Coast embraced us. We would plan to go out for two days, and we would end up being out for ten days, because every day our radio guys would call and say, "Yep, Modesto wants to have you. Fresno says you can come by." It was just great. It was just meant to be. We would do one or two stations a day. It just really, really won people over to the band because it helps to put a face with a band and a personality with it. The band still gets letters from program directors and they keep in touch with them. It's a really good situation

When it came time to pick the second single, you guys made a pretty unusual decision to add a song to the album. Can you tell us the story of how that came down?

The band had been playing the song, "There She Goes," ( by U.K. band The La's - Ed.) for years and years. But it wasn't on this record. They had never even recorded it. They pick really tasty, obscure covers to play when they do play a cover. They kept playing this song at their shows right after "Kiss Me," and it would get as big a response, if not bigger, than "Kiss Me." So I always felt that it would be a great bridge track between albums. It would be great to whip it into a movie or something a couple of years from now. Stephen Prendergast went to the band about recording it and nobody was into it. The band wasn't into it. The management wasn't into it. Steve Taylor wasn't into it. But we knew that that song was a hit. In the era of one-hit bands, whether it's Eagle Eye Cherry or Shawn Mullins or Fastball, nobody has gotten the second single on these records.

It's the second single that sells the album.

And for whatever else, yes. Because it works for them. That's really important. The music has to work. It has to flow with the their shots.

So part of your job I would guess is being able to hear a piece of music and know it would work with a variety of different shots?

Exactly. The Third Eye Blind record never even sold until the third single. People are much more hesitant to plunk down the money without there being more than one hit on it. It just made sense. The band came to understand it.

Did the band resist doing a cover?

They didn't resist. They always thought that someday we'll do it. But it was a tough sell. How would you feel? You've got a great record. I think "Sister Mother" is a smash. I think "Love" and "Can't Catch Her" are great songs. But the bottom line was, to get radio to pay attention to another song, it has to be better than "Kiss Me." It has to have a similar sound. It has to be different, but have that familiarity that is going to make them get excited. It has worked in spades. Radio is just on fire over it. It is going to be the most added song at radio next week. It's going to blow up.

How many records had been sold at the point when you made this decision?

About 300,000. It was a tough decision. We had done a lot of research to find the next single. We knew with "Kiss Me" being so big, it would be really hard to follow that up at all of those different radio formats. There are three or four tracks that were possible. It's a great record, there's no doubt, with great songs. But there was never a clear consensus about the second single. We did all kinds of market research, internet research, everything. And it would always come back these three songs, but never just one way out in front. So we knew we had a bit of a problem in that it would be much harder to break the next song. So we just decided, why don't we go in and record "There She Goes," and see what it sounds like.

The band had a day off in Nashville, and they went in with Steve Taylor and cut the song in an afternoon. It was killer. Then we went back to the band and said, this needs to be the next single because, first of all, it was never really a hit in the first place. It was like a cult hit at modern rock radio ten years ago, which only had 15 stations then. Second of all, for the career of the band, they need to have another Top 5 hit. Otherwise they are going to be like all of those one-hit bands. If we can get the second single, we'll get the third single. Then they'll have a career and can tour on their own.

Now that Squint is having a big hit, are you guys going to be looking to sign more artists? Do you have other records coming out?

We have Chevelle, which just came out at the end of May, produced by Steve Albini who did Nirvana and Plant & Page. It's a great record by three brothers from Chicago. That's humming as we speak. It's kind of in the Tool/Nirvana/Helmet vein. They have great management. They have a great booking agent who books Limp Bizkit and Sevendust and Coal Chamber. They totally get the band. So they are out on tour right now. MTV debuted the video on their "Under The Radar" series two and half weeks ago. The record sales tripled. It has been on "120 Minutes" every Sunday. I got three calls on Monday alone from record labels that had seen it on Sunday night. It's pretty exciting. It's the #1 on the R&R specialty alternative chart, #1 Album Network chart, and #2 on Hits for three weeks straight.

Do you think it's feasible for somebody to get library work if they've got eight tracks of digital at home, a decent console, a few good pieces of outboard, and they know their way around a MIDI system well?

Eight tracks is rough because you're going to be bouncing quite a bit. Things are going to be compressed. They just sound that way. But it depends upon the style of music you're writing. You might be able to do fine on it. I've released 8-track recordings of rock bands—basement bands—that were that good.

Any parting wisdom?

All I can say is that it takes more work than anybody can even imagine, from the band's point of view, if you really want a shot at it. Even in all of my years of doing it and playing in bands, I had no idea—and now seeing how much it has taken Sixpence to get where they are, and how much they have struggled, and the hundreds of radio shows they've done. It's endless.

Anybody who thinks it's anything but that is really fooling themselves. It's about 30-percent great music and about 70-percent great marketing and people who want to work. I really feel that it's not rocket science. We broke Sixpence with one fax machine and two phones. We didn't even have a computer for the first four months. It just goes to show you that whether it's Epitaph or a label like Sub-Pop or Squint, they broke because the people were just so passionate about the bands. They got it going. They just really believed and they didn't waver. You gotta have that. You can do it, but you've got to have that kind of passion.


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