During the summer of 2000 it was nearly impossible to take even a short drive without the melodic and uber-catchy lyrics of “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” coming over the airwaves. The hit single from Long Island natives Nine Days reached number six on Billboard’s Hot 100, propelling the group’s major-label debut album, The Madding Crowd, to gold record status. In a perfect world, the band would have followed with a string of hits. But in the era of Napster and record label meltdowns, Nine Days got lost in the shuffle, despite releasing several more albums.
Eventually, the members pursued other career interests, including singer John Hampson, who started teaching at Wantagh High School. But the members have continued to record and play shows and this year, they released a brand new album, Snapshots, which Hampson told Pulse may be just what fans have been waiting for.
Would you say it was a slow build for the band early on?
It’s that classic case: it took years, then all of a sudden everything took off at once. The band started in the summer of 1994, when Brian [Desveaux, vocals/guitar] and I had been writing songs together for a while and we put a band together. We spent the better part of that year working to create a sound and figure out who we were. We went into a studio and recorded 1995’s Something to Listen To. We recorded two more records on our own and were packing out these small places in the city, but nobody wanted to take that step to sign the band. Eventually, after starting off with more of an Americana sound, I fell into a more pop structure of writing. As soon as I did that, we got offers from labels.
What inspired “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)”?
I had been dating this girl for almost two years. She wanted to get engaged and I wasn’t ready—I kept stalling. As this was happening, one by one, her friends were getting engaged. Every time that happened, it would be another stressful couple of days. So I was at a gig and the news came that somebody else had gotten engaged. She got pissed off at me and walked to the other side of the room. I was sitting there, thinking how much I couldn’t stand the situation and how frustrated I was, and I happened to look across the room and she must have laughed at a joke or something. I thought to myself, “I can’t stand her, but I absolutely love her when she smiles.” The first line of the song just popped in my head. I started pacing around and letting the words and the melody come out, and very quickly—no more than a half hour—I had written most of the song.
Describe the feeling of having a hit record and the roller-coaster ride that followed when you separated from your label.
We all had this understanding—almost like it wasn’t real. We thought, “This is ridiculous. What’s going on here? This is not what we’re about. We weren’t built for this.” We enjoyed every second that we could, but we also kind of felt that it was an odd thing.
It got stressful only when Epic Records said, “Where’s your second album? We want you back in the studio.” We had years of cultivating music to come up with that first album and now we’ve got to go back to the drawing board. We created this perception that the band is “Story of a Girl,” which was a bit of an anomaly of a song for us. So it definitely took its toll on the band to try and follow that up.
We recorded 2002’s So Happily Unsatisfied, which we spent a ton of time and money making, and Epic completely imploded and we didn’t get the kind of support we needed. I had watched friends make records and then have problems, and spend two to three years trying to get their record back. And in the meantime, they would do nothing. I was 100% determined that I was not going to do that. The moment I felt that the window had shut for us at Epic, I didn’t care about that record anymore. I shut it off, I put it out of my head and I moved on.
How do you feel about the music industry after you’ve had a break from it?
It’s exciting and interesting. There are avenues you can go down and find exposure for your band and find opportunities that didn’t exist back when we were first trying to make it. The industry as a whole though…it’s not for me. It’s not built for me anymore. I grew up in the era when if you were in a band, you spent probably years in the basement, writing and trying to become good enough to get a show and get out there and play.
Now, you can accomplish that in a couple of months and get yourself on social media and all these different platforms, and get a thousand times the exposure that I was able to as a young artist. There is less quality control, there’s less filtering. And on one hand, it’s fantastic. But on the other hand, it definitely dilutes the music.
Suddenly, if you let everyone into the major leagues who wanted to take a swing, unfortunately, the game is not going to be that good anymore. I think that inevitably happens. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t some amazing artists out there, of course there are. But it dilutes everything… I think it’s exciting, it’s changed, but certainly I wouldn’t trade my days of vinyl records and my experience growing up with music for what exists now.
Despite what some think, the band never split, but you all took on other professions.
I got an English degree and started teaching. Jeremy [Dean, keyboards] got a graphic design company started and Brian moved to Nashville. We never broke up, but everybody needed to go and figure out how to be an adult, in a way, and move on. Then right around 2007, we got back together, started playing more shows and put out a couple of EPs. A couple of years back, it just felt like our time had come around again in the sense that we all had this energy to put back into the band. And that’s when we started this record.
Tell us about this new record, Snapshots.
In a fun way, I think we retraced our steps. We put this collection of songs together that we basically did for fans called Something Out of Nothing. It was a very organic-sounding, Americana record. Right after that, we hooked up with a manager in Nashville. He said, “I don’t think you’ve ever properly followed up Madding Crowd. I would love to hear the album that should have come after that.” And that was an interesting curveball. So Brian and I put ourselves in a place where we might have heard the band 15 years ago.
What are your future musical plans?
I reached a point not long ago, where I finally felt that I know what I’m good at. I know what I do, I know who I am. And as an “artist” and a crafter of songs, I know what I love and that’s what I care about. I’m just going to make music that makes me feel completely fulfilled. If people respond to it and they embrace it, that’s what it’s all about. And if they don’t, well then I have to see where that takes me.
Nine Days will perform on the Today Show Sept. 15.