NEW YORK — Pop music came to morning television Thursday (March 4), and the king and queen of coffee talk, Regis Philbin and Kathie Lee Gifford, seemed content to put the pep in that pop.
“Get ready to pucker up, everybody,” said Philbin as he introduced the five members of Sixpence None The Richer, a Texas-born band that has recently caught fire on modern-rock radio.
The introduction seemed appropriate, albeit unusual coming from the always agitated morning host and his sidekick, whose tastes typically lean more toward sugar-sweet tunes by Barry Manilow than surging modern rock hits. Nonetheless, the Texas-bred rockers were in the Big Apple to promote their single, “Kiss Me” (RealAudio excerpt), which is climbing steadily up the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart.
And “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee” was atop their list of stops.
In the green room before their performance, the five seemed nervous and in a zone. Drummer Dale Baker twitched his drumsticks, pattering them on the floor at times. Singer Leigh Nash leaned on a wall and stared blankly at the television. Guitarist-songwriter Matt Slocum read from a book on Christian music.
“Oh, all right!” Gifford, a born-again Christian, responded as she pecked co-host Philbin on the cheek. The middle-aged audience members cooed at the sight.
Then, the music started and the coos quickly faded. “Kiss Me” is a simple, pretty three-minute pop song of romantic longing.
“Oh, kiss me/ beneath the milky twilight/ Lead me out on the moonlight floor/ lift your open hand,” Nash, 22, sang with closed eyes and a soft smile as Philbin and Gifford bopped off camera.
Slocum, a shy 26-year-old, looked down throughout the song, looking up only to provide harmony through its final chords.
“I’ve imagined this many times,” the polite, self-assured Nash said as she waited for the taping to begin in the makeup room. “I’m a fan of the show. You kind of think, ‘I wonder if I’ll ever be able to perform on there.’ And here it is. It’s a huge amount of exposure.”
Coming into the show, the Nashville-based, Texas-bred band was already the focus of a huge amount of exposure. “Kiss Me,” off the group’s self-titled debut, is at #14 on this week’s Hot 100. The song is in heavy rotation on 250 top 40 and modern adult contemporary stations across the country, according to Lindsay Fellows of Squint Records, the band’s label. The next several months, said band publicist Ken Phillips, is filled with promotional appearances in the U.S. and Europe.
Sixpence None The Richer were in the midst of a three-day media trip, during which they planned to make appearances on cable music channel VH-1 and radio station Z-100.
First, though, the bandmembers found themselves Thursday morning side-by-side with the nation’s morning sweethearts. The episode, which also features actors Billy Crystal and Juliette Lewis and includes references to Gifford’s husband, Frank, and son, Cody — as well as a hospital gown fashion show — airs Friday (March 5).
This appearance likely will gain the band an audience of 7 million people, according to Michael Gelman, the show’s executive producer. That prospect, and the notoriety that could come with it, doesn’t figure to change the band’s outlook on life, its members said.
“It’s fun. I didn’t expect to be here,” 23-year-old bassist Justin Cary, who joined the group last year, said. “But I still wait in line at the grocery store, you know.”
“Kiss Me,” which appeared on the band’s self-titled album last year, is featured in the Miramax film “She’s All That,” a date movie starring Freddie Prinze Jr.; Columbia Records is pushing the single.
For all the attention and for all of the perks of the WABC studio — green room, a free haircut, shaking hands with celebrities — Slocum, who wrote “Kiss Me,” seemed underwhelmed. He spent a good portion of his downtime reading “At The Crossroads,” a book on Christian music by author Charlie Peacock.
Sixpence took their name from the C.S. Lewis novel “Mere Christianity,” and touch on issues of Christian faith in their music. Their album was nominated for a Grammy this year in the Best Rock Gospel Album category.
Slocum said the band’s overnight success almost didn’t happen. “I wasn’t even excited about the song being on the record,” he said. “Our producers had to convince me to keep it on there. But it’s a good little song. It hasn’t grown old yet.”
Nash and Slocum, both natives of New Braunfels, Texas, formed Sixpence in 1991 while on a church-sponsored retreat to Mexico. Nash said Slocum approached her because he liked the way she sang at First Baptist Church. All five members of the band — including Baker, 29, and guitarist Sean Kelly, 27 — are married.
As their performance ended, the members of Sixpence None the Richer acknowledged the crowd’s applause and wore expressions of relief.
“Nice to meet ya!” Gifford said as she leaned into Nash after a commercial break. The hosts asked about the origins of the band’s name and about how their faith in Christianity fuels their music. Mostly, though, the two had fun with the band’s name, making a lively mockery of it.
“What a name, my gosh,” Philbin exclaimed, drawing a laugh. He and Gifford then put their heads together, smiled and, in unison, chirped, “Sixpence None The Richer!”