“Absolutely” rockers Nine Days are back
You might not remember Nine Day by name, but you definitely remember that catchy song of theirs, “Absolutely.” Not ringing a bell? Come on, we’re certain you know the story — “the story of a girl,” that is, “who cried a river and drowned the whole world.”
After their big hit, Nine Days encountered some difficulties with their label and the changing shape of music as it entered the digital realm. But almost 15 years after the success of “Absolutely,” the Long Island band is back together, recording a new album and playing shows this summer.
We spoke with lead singer John Hampson — who became a high school English teacher after the band fizzled! — about what’s happened over the last 13 years.
Walk us through what happened to you guys.
The band was a band for a few years before “Story of a Girl” came out. At the time we were lumped in with the Counting Crows or the Wallflowers or something a little more acoustic, folky rock. It turned into this pop-rock thing and blew up and we went along for the ride. Then we experienced a lot of the fallout of that ride, much like a million other bands. We had an amazing ride but in the end it damaged a lot of the fabric of our friendships. In the last three or four years we’ve come around to this much healthier place as people and friends and realized we still wanted to make music together.
Can you talk more about the fallout that happened?
“The Maddening Crowd” [the album with “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)”] sold half a million records. We had a Billboard top 40 No. 1 hit. Somehow, after touring on that for almost two years, we went in the studio and Epic Records and us spent $375,000 recording a follow-up that never saw the light of day. The reason that it never saw the light of day was so complicated and ridiculous that I couldn’t even begin to explain. Basically that experience wore us all out. It was a tough thing to swallow. We never broke up, we just knew we couldn’t make music together for a little while. The band had been dropped by Epic and we had another label that was going to put the record out, but I think that’s when the great shift to the digital world was happening. When the label that we were negotiating with was talking about doing digital release only, I just didn’t really get it and didn’t want to be a part of it. I was so sick of the whole thing I just wanted to walk away.
How did you notice the industry changing?
Third Eye Blind was a huge band, and I love the band. Their third record came out in 2003 and it sold 150,000 records, which in today’s world would be fantastic, but coming off of multi-platinum records that was a huge failure. We were looking around at these bands that were our contemporaries and nobody was selling any records. I needed to get out of the whole thing.
So what did you do?
I went back to school and focused on getting a degree, and I went back into writing and producing. Then years [went] by and I started making records again, but I really went back to how I was as a songwriter maybe ten years before.
What will the new album sound like?
Without sounding too lofty or self-important, I really didn’t want anything to do with trying to be a pop success again. I wanted to make a really good record, the kind I would buy and listen to, the kind of record that is very much Americana. There are so many bands out there that are doing the more roots-rock thing, [like] Mumford and Sons, and that’s not really where we are. It has just been us making music that we love. … I’m super excited about the songs on the record and I’m not even a little bit thinking about where it fits yet. We plan on finishing the record in August.
Are you nervous to come back into the industry?
Even if you go five years back, it’s a completely different landscape. In a way it makes us feel like we’re a new band again. It’s like, let’s pretend it’s a brand new thing.
We heard you married the girl you wrote about in “Absolutely.”
Thank God, because that would have been a terrible story to tell for the rest of my life. It worked out well.
And you became a high school English teacher?
There were only two things in my life that I ever really thought I would do, and it was the rock star thing and teaching. I always say that one of the most precious and valuable things about writing that song was it gave me the ability to go back to school at 32-years old and be a full-time student. I have to say, I loved it. I didn’t enjoy college at 18 but I loved it at 32. I was in classes with a bunch of 18-year old freshman hiding in the back trying to blend in.
How do you like teaching?
I will continue to teach for the next 20 years of my life. If you really look at teaching and being on stage, in a lot of ways, they are the same thing — reading your audience and knowing what you need to do to be successful. [This year] We read “Gatsby,” “Hamlet,” “Death of a Salesman,” “Scarlet Letter” — these are all things I love reading and teaching.
If you go
Saturday, 9 p.m.
Rockwood Music Hall
196 Allen St.