For some guys, a fight with a girlfriend leads to a breakup, but for Nine Days singer and guitarist John Hampson, it led to a hit song.
The autobiographical "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)," which reached #7 on the Billboard Top 40 chart this week, came to Hampson as he watched his girlfriend from across a room during a band soundcheck.
"We were aggravating each other, and she walked away to the other side of the club," he said during a recent tour stop in Los Angeles. "And I was literally thinking to myself, gritting my teeth, 'God, she drives me nuts.' And as I was thinking that, I was looking at her across the room and saw her laugh about something. My anger went away and I thought, 'She totally drives me crazy, but when I see her smiling and I see her happy, that's when I'm in love.'
"I went over and picked up my guitar, and literally 15 minutes later the song was done. Obviously, I worked more on the lyrics later, but the basic structure and the melodies kind of came right out."
Luckily, Hampson and the woman who inspired the song still are together. "It would be very bad to be hearing that song all over the place if we'd broken up," he said.
"Absolutely (Story of a Girl)" is, in fact, all over the place, having rocketed up the charts since the April release of The Madding Crowd, the Long Island, N.Y., quintet's fourth album and major-label debut. Hampson still is getting accustomed to the song's surging popularity.
"Right now, the song is obviously bigger than the band, and we're just trying to catch up," he said during a recent tour stop in Los Angeles. "I always thought it was a good song, but it never really occurred to me that it would do so well on a top 40-type chart. I thought it would do good at alternative rock radio or whatever. So to look at the charts and see Britney Spears and Sisqó and Eminem and then Nine Days it's kind of like, 'What in the world?' "
Patience, Perseverance Pay Off
If Hampson wears his humility particularly well, it could be because he and the rest of Nine Days fellow songwriter, singer and guitarist Brian Desveaux, bass player Nick Dimichino, drummer Vincent Tattanelli and keyboardist Jeremy Dean have been working hard since the mid-'90s, self-releasing CDs, playing local gigs, building a following and waiting patiently for a chance to sign a major-label record deal.
"The band decided right in the beginning we weren't gonna wait around for anyone to do anything for us," Desveaux said. "We were just gonna do our own thing and make it happen. That's why we put out our own records."
Those efforts, 1995's Something To Listen To, 1996's Monday Songs, and 1997's Three, helped successfully spread the word about Nine Days. The band won airplay and contests on local radio stations WBAB and WLIR and developed a strong following in New York City that began attracting major-label attention.
Hampson said frustration began to set in during the late-'90s, when label talent scouts weren't taking a chance on the band.
"The basic sense from the labels was that it was a great band, great songs, but they just didn't see a star and they were waiting for that hit song," Hampson said. "We went through that for a while. It can get very discouraging when you're giving everything you've got and you're not quite getting there. But we always felt we were inching our way along so we just kept at it."
Before "Absolutely" broke, the song appeared in its demo form on WLIR's Bootleg '98 CD. As an early supporter, the station's music director, Andre Ferro, is happy for Nine Days.
"Finally, there's a band to be proud of from the area," he said. "We've always played West Coast stuff the Green Days, the Everclears, the Third Eye Blinds so it's about time there's a band from this area that makes it. These guys are the real thing."
Nine Days proved it, Ferro said, with a recent hometown performance for a capacity crowd at Long Island's Vanderbilt.
"It was a magical night," Ferro said. "Two thousand people were singing along to every word."
Classic-Rock Roots Show Through
"Absolutely" offers a melodic pop anchor akin to Arizona's now-defunct Gin Blossoms, combined with the kind of classic-rock presence found in songs by some of the band's biggest influences, mainstays such as Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young or Bob Dylan, who is the subject of one of Desveaux's songs, "Bob Dylan," on The Madding Crowd.
The song contains a sanctioned sample of Dylan singing a line from "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue."
"I'm a huge Dylan fan, so to have his name on my record is pretty exciting," Hampson said.
The members of Nine Days have not met Dylan but are hoping for the chance. "He's obviously, to me, the artist of our time. Of course I'd be nervous meeting him, but I look forward to it. If it happens, it happens, but I don't push myself to meet famous people like that," Desveaux said.
Desveaux looked east from his Los Angeles hotel room window. In the distance, he saw the huge marquee for Staples Center, the arena the band would play that evening. Just last year Springsteen inaugurated the building. Now, "NINE DAYS" flashed in 20-foot block letters across the venue's electronic billboard.
"That is just so cool," Desveaux said, reflecting on how far and how quickly the band had come and on what would happen if it abruptly ended. "I was a machinist for a long time, and I knew damn well that wasn't what I wanted to do all my life. So I can't believe it when I hold our CD in my hand. If it all ends next week, at least I'll be able to get my truck fixed up or get a new one. But if nothing, at least we accomplished this."