Absolutely (Story of a Band)
Nine Days look to the future
When Nine Days' debut single "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)" hit the top 10 on the Billboard Top 40 chart in August 2000 and their album Madding Crowd achieved gold sales, lead singer John Hampson could be forgiven for thinking that after five years and three self-released albums, a long major label recording career lay ahead of him and his band.
Buoyed by the success the single and album had garnered, Nine Days toured solidly with the likes of Vertical Horizon and Third Eye Blind, then headed into the studio in 2001 to record a follow-up, So Happily Unsatisfied. But due to intense label politics it never saw the light of day and now after finally parting ways with Epic, Hampson and the band find themselves self-releasing new music to an army of loyal fans once again.
A debut solo EP, Seventeenminutesandthirtyeightsecondsinthedark, was recently released via Hampson's website (http://www.johnhampson.com/), and was quickly followed by an all new Nine Days album Flying The Corporate Jet. Clearly, Hampson has flushed out the frustrations of the couple of years in the only way he knows how.
"It's been a rough year, but I've been so busy writing and recording that I didn't have much time to get depressed", he said in between rehearsals for a small solo tour. "But writing this EP and the new album has been very cathartic".
"After the Nine Days fallout with Epic Records, I just wanted an outlet for my songs. I write all the time and after eight years with the band I wanted to record, produce, and mix my songs without having to go through the democratic band process for once, and I am really happy with the result."
Fans of Nine Days will also be extremely happy with the new material, which was impressively produced by Hampson and Dave McNair. Especially pleasing are the up-tempo opener "Ultimate Love Song," which has a melody line as infectious as anything Hampson has written in the past, and the delicately crafted "She Won't Get Away," a classic-sounding acoustic pop-rock song with a modern twist.
"It's definitely 'me' with no filters," John agrees. "When I write songs, I always hear the whole thing in my head. In Nine Days, I'm always trying to get those ideas across to the other guys, so a solo project isn't really going to be much different for me other than I get to be an egomaniac and play all the parts myself! I am already working on part two and am looking at a few opportunities to make a full-length solo record next year."
But a solo career is not something Hampson is especially familiar with after recording five albums with his band mates in Nine Days since the mid 1990s. Is the title of the EP a hint at the unfamiliarity of being without long-time collaborator Brian Desveaux for the first time?
"It actually refers to many things," he replies. "But one is definitely the feeling of not knowing where things are at the moment, kind of blindly moving forward. But it also refers to the dark in a comforting way, like putting on a set of headphones and disappearing in the music."
The new solo tunes are free from any references to Nine Days' split with Epic, although John is quick to point out they are autobiographical to a point.
"All my songs have an element of my life in them", he says. "I draw from my past a lot, but I almost always use other people for inspiration, too, sort of like a composite character in a movie. For example, "The In Crowd" is really a very tongue-in-cheek look at having no friends except the characters on TV and how no-one can live up to the lifestyles portrayed there."
The EP may be more relationship-based on tunes like the aching "Anywhere", but the new material on Flying The Corporate Jet is apparently more hard-hitting and as John confirms, "the effects of the last three years are all over it."
So, what was the real story behind how such a promising start in the industry turned into a familiar tale of industry indifference?
"We didn't know what to expect," Hampson recalls. "We were thrilled to have any success after years of struggling and Epic did a good job with us but they just didn't believe in the band at the top level.
Ah, So Happily Unsatisfied, an album most Nine Days fans will never hear (unless they download copies of it from the Internet), even after attempts by the band to retain the rights to it. It's more aggressive and has a fuller rock sound than The Madding Crowd but although the trademark Nine Days hooks and melodies are definitely present throughout, perhaps the absence of a ready-made successor to "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)" on the album ultimately hurt the band in the eyes of record company bosses hungry for ready-made hits.
But Hampson didn't see a split with the label coming. "When we were working on So Happily Unsatisfied, no-one asked us about a new "Absolutely...", he says emphatically. "They [Epic] encouraged us to go for a more rock sound, and that's what we wanted to do too. It is much more guitar heavy and I think it's a great record. Maybe we'd still be making albums for Epic if we'd written a more pop record, but who knows?"
Either way, Hampson and the rest of the band are looking to the future. After the wrangles with Epic and the further blow of losing both drummer Vinnie Tatenelli and keyboardist Jeremy Dean, Nine Days have experienced their fair share of adversity over the past year. But they've soldiered on, and as Flying The Corporate Jet and Seventeenminutesandthirtyeightsecondsinthedark prove, the band's destiny is in their own hands again.
Hampson wholeheartedly agrees. "We're in charge of our music this time," he affirms proudly. "Honestly, I have moved past this past year. I have watched too many artists spending too much time worrying about music they recorded years ago and then they have no creative energy to go forward. I didn't want that to happen, so I just let it go. I'm onto the next song."
John Hampson: http://www.johnhampson.com/ Nine Days: http://www.ninedaysmusic.com/