If you tuned in to the Today Show’s music segment to the sight of Corey Feldman’s now viral performance, you were really only one day too late to catch rockers Nine Days performing their big hit from 2000 “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” on the exact same stage. The band is in full revival mode, and after ten years of classroom teaching and Nashville songwriting, singer-songwriter friends John Hampson and Brian Desveaux, along with original members Nick Dimichino and Jeremy Dean, re-formed Nine Days after a decade long break. This recharged band now has a new album, Snapshots, including a reimagined “Sweet 16 Edition” of their wildly successful hit. The album is produced by eight time Grammy-award-winning producer Jim Scott who has produced Wilco, Tedeschi Trucks Band, and Grace Potter & The Nocturnals.
John Hampson, who wrote “Absolutely” about the woman he eventually married, spoke with GAMV about this new page in the band’s history.
GAMV: Why now? I mean, it’s been quite a while since you guys really had the Nine Days things together. Why is now the right moment for this?
John Hampson: That’s a good question. We never really stopped making music, playing shows and recording, but it was being done in a very insular world. It was basically for that core group of fans that really stuck with the band. Bu there’s a lot of reasons why now made sense. And it’s like anything in life. Things just fall into place in a way that you don’t plan. We just found ourselves sitting there with a manager who was interested in the band. We hadn’t had management in ten years. And we sat down, we had some meetings, we talked about things and he just had ideas. He was like, “I think you guys can really take this some places.” The world has changed. The whole landscape of music business has changed. We also found that we were places in our lives that we could actually focus on this. We can give it the attention that maybe it needed again. And it just felt good. It really was just one of those things where everything fell into place and it became something fun again. And that is the biggest part. Nobody was interested into going back into the machine. This wasn’t that. This was really something of our design. It was a long progression of steps.
GAMV: What are the some of the things that you are exploring with this set of songs? From this, I would assume that it reflects this time in your life. Is it more of a reflection of what’s going with you now, or are there some universal themes?
John: It’s definitely both. You know, when you write, if you’re writing from places of honesty or purity or whatever — it sounds very sort of dramatic — but you are just trying to take out the filter, You just want things to come out. That’s why it’s the best, when things come out of you and you’re almost like, “What does that even mean? What I’m saying here?” You figure it out as you’re going.
For me as writer, everything is coming from where I am now. It’s all in the matter of how am I phrasing it. Am I phrasing it in a way that’s universal? Am I phrasing something that’s really personal? Those are just sort of choices that I’m making as I’m going.
The song “Star” on the new record is a 100% personal autobiographical narrative. It’s a 100% real. It’s just me sort of thinking that anybody could relate to this. When you’re laying in bed at night and the weight of the world is there for a moment, when you’re contemplating your whole existence, “What am I doing? Am I happy or am I not happy?” It’s my thought process on looking at my life.
But in the end, you know, I always sort of imagine it as if I’m a character that I’m writing about, even though it’s me — a character that sorts of exhales and realizes that life is good and closes his eyes, turns over and goes to sleep and his happy. That is completely a narrative of me.
And there is the song like “Obsolete,” which is more of a tongue-in-cheek comment on being 15 years removed from our hit and how the world has changed and moved on, but it’s a mix of everything.
If you’ve experienced of having a song where that becomes a very big hit, where you can’t pretty much count on most people knowing it, you know in the supermarkets. “Do you ever know that or hear that song?” and most people say, “Yeah, I heard it.”
For me, when I sing “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” now, I still definitely channel the whole thing about my wife, that’s for sure, because everything is good there. I’m more just getting off on the audience, you know, they are getting into it and so on. It’s completely an anomaly. That’s all. It’s an anomaly in my life, in the set, when we play. It’s like a two hour show. That song is just existing unto itself. Because it was just such a big moment, it really has almost no relation to anything that we do, in this weird way.
GAMV: By the time you had a massive hit on MTV, the channel had gone through a couple of changes here and there, but it was still where it happened, where a big hit would happen. What do you recall from shooting the video?
John: But as far as the video, the whole experience was really funny to me. I don’t know if a lot of people experience it this way but I never got completely caught up in the whole thing because it always seemed a bit ridiculous and surreal. I always just sensed that this is not really my life, this is not really what my life going to be. This is just this incredibly insane experience. I always have this odd detachment from all of it but I enjoyed it.
Shooting the video was weird. I wasn’t in the room when they shot a lot of scenes. If you remember the video, there’s like sort of scenes that are cut together. I didn’t even see them really, until after it was done. That was just weird to me.
I always just imagine that I have more input in every aspect of this video. The thought of having to watch it later and go, “That’s really cool. It was weird. I wasn’t even there for it.” You know, it was no different as than watching anybody else’s video.
But the first time I saw the video, like on TV. It was a weird thing. When we went on sort of tour for that first time, like I gave up my house, like I moved all my stuff into like storage or back to my parents, I think. And I was home and I was sleeping in my old bedroom from when I was teenager that I haven’t live in, in probably ten years because that’s where all my stuff was. My stuff are in like crates and boxes and it was a on this little TV in that room. It’s on “120 Minutes” on a Sunday night. It came on and I watched that little in the bottom lower left corner where MTV has the credits for the video, the band, the song and all that. And in one fell swoop, I was like, “Oh, my God. This is happening.” And then I was, “Wow, that was it?” (laughs) I was like, “Alright. I guess that’s done.” And then, you know, every week you get that phone call from management of where everywhere you were on TRL or whatever. That became its sole purpose in life — where was it? Was Carlson Daly wearing our t-shirt that day or not? This was a completely difficult thing to process in that moment. It’s only later that you can look back and appreciate it.
GAMV: Right, right. I mean, it’s funny that you should mention the TRL era. There’s nothing like the exposure that something like MTV will give you because all of a sudden— it’s not like a slow build either. It’s instantaneous.
John: Yeah, for sure.
GAMV: How did you handle it? It seems like, it’s like you said, surreal, but did you feel like, “Hey, this is great. I have a feeling this will last forever”?
John: No, I didn’t. See, I wasn’t a kid when all our stuff blew up either. I was 28 years old — which I know was young, don’t get me wrong — but I wasn’t 18, I wasn’t 20 or 22, you know, I’d already been through ten years of adulthood and you know, working my butt off for ten years as a musician to try to make it, so when when it happened, I had a better perspective. And in my mind…
GAMV: You’d done the gigs, you’d loaded and unloaded the van, you ate sandwiches, and you’d done all the things that people used to do as a band.
John: Yes. Also, I grew up in an era when bands really made it on their third album. That doesn’t happen anymore. That era is long, long gone, you know, but I always in my mind thought, “If we get to album three, then I think I’ll probably exhale and feel like I did it. I made it.” You know and we didn’t. We didn’t get there on that level, so I didn’t ever settle in to thinking that, that my life. But I enjoyed— the best part of it was playing on the road, touring. That would be the absolute best part of the whole thing.
The most telling anecdote I can give you is I remember playing Walnut Creek Pavilion in North Carolina, I hope I got that right. It was big radio festival at this mini amphitheater stage and it was dug into a hillside. And then at the top of hill sort of the downstage, is a smaller side stage. What they would do is sort of ping pong back and forth. They’d have a big band on the amphitheater stage and then while that band was done, another band would go on the side stage, while they set up for the next stage.
So we were getting set-up the small stage and there was maybe 12 people hanging round while we’re getting set up. I’m just thinking, “Well, I guess, you know will probably get a hundred people out here.” Most people are going to stay down in the big amphitheater dugout. And were getting ready to play our set we’ve got five minutes before we go on. And the band who was playing down at the amphitheater at their set end, you can hear them stop.
I tell you it was right out of the movie. An army of people came swarming over this hilltop and running up to our stage and we had a massive audience in front of our stage for that half hour set that we did, and that to me was the moment where I really felt like, “Holy shit! We made it. I was just flying high on cloud nine for that 30 minutes because I knew that all of those people came running over that hill to catch Nine Days. And when we played “Absolutely (Story of a Girl),” it was epic. It was just everybody singing and we finished our set and they all went running back down the hill for whoever was going on next. It was like, that was a great moment. When that was over you felt this absolute, inner soul-satisfying, all-these-years-that-I’ve-put-into-this-was-worth-that-just-one-moment moment so that was great.
Stephen: Can you tell me about this sweet 16 version of “Absolutely” on the new album? How did that come about?
John: Basically, we are fully away that if you say to somebody, “Hey, what do you think of Nine Days?” You’re going to get a lot of puzzled looks, “Huh? Who?” But if you say, “What do you think of Story of a Girl?” More people are going to go, “I like that song or I hate it,” or whatever. They know the song.
For so many reasons, the business end of things have changed. We just felt like, “Let’s kind of claim ownership of this. Let’s attach our face,” and not our physical face, “Let’s attach the identity of the band of this song again and connect it, bridge it.”
Because there was a mission statement when we made this record Snapshots and the mission statement was, “If you could take a timeline and fold it up and go from 2000 to 2016, this is the record should come out after The Madding Crowd It sort of high concept for just a basic pop record but that was really what we are attempting to do. Let’s take 16 years of life and put a record out that reflects all of that and yet still somehow feels this logical follow-up. Bridging that with this sweet 16 version, the song has kind of grown up. Let’s just connect these two things in a way that is really tangible and kind of allows us to claim the song into 2016 as opposed to just this version from 2000, which, by the way, in my opinion, is as close to perfect as it could possibly be. It wasn’t about doing it better. I don’t think we could do it better in a million years. It just came out perfect. This is just about kind of putting out our standpoint in 2016.
Nine Days’ new album Snapshots is available everywhere.