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Following our Billboard staff-picked list of the 100 greatest songs of 2000, we’re writing this week about some of the stories and trends that defined the year for us. Here, we’re visiting with some old pop and rock friends we might not have heard from in a little bit — BBMak, Evan and Jaron, Baha Men, Nine Days and 2Gether — to reminisce about old times, and see what they’ve been up to since we last spoke.
Singer John Hampson and his fellow Nine Days members considered themselves very much “a band,” and never felt the pressure to produce a radio hit — that is, until the frontman wrote “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)”.
“We had been around for about three years. We showcased and we had a manager and a lawyer, and we’d been through demos and producers,” Hampson explains, two decades after Nine Days’ big breakthrough at pop radio. “We were always so close, but couldn’t quite get over the hurdle. When I wrote ‘Story of a Girl’, it was a completely inspired moment. The song came to me and I just knew there was something about it that was different.”
Who they are: Nine Days first came together as a band in the mid-1990s, in Long Island, New York. They released three albums independently before subsequently signing with Epic.
The story of “Story of a Girl”: Hampson had a good feeling right away about “Absolutely (Story Of A Girl)”, which eventually hit No. 6 on the Hot 100, and was written for the woman who eventually became his wife. The singer recalls, “I remember when I brought it into the band for rehearsals the first time, I made everyone learn the song musically before I would sing it. Normally I’d come in with a guitar and say, “Here’s a song I’ve got’. I’d play it on guitar, everybody would join in and we’d work it out. But this time I was like, ‘This is exactly how it has to be’.”
Recording the song: “When we did this album [The Madding Crowd], the band had played so many shows, so many gigs, that we were such a fine-tuned machine. We went down to Atlanta to record, and we blasted through the album pretty quickly. But that song, over the course of the five or six weeks we were there, almost every day the producer, Nick DiDia, would say, ‘Hey, John, just go in the vocal booth and give it a try.’
“I never felt like I got it. I must have gone in there like two dozen times. I remember feeling like the track sounded so good, that every time I tried to sing it I was like, ‘I’m ruining the song!’ Talk about pressure. I just felt like, ‘I have to sing this well or we’re doomed’.”
When John knew the song was going to be big: “Every year there’s a conference called the Gavin Conference, and all the radio programmers gather, and the labels bring out their new songs and artists and look for feedback. So Epic submitted ‘Story of a Girl’ for a few different formats. We knew that if it didn’t test well, it would probably mean that we weren’t gonna get a lot of support.
“We’re playing some little club in Baltimore and my manager calls and says, ‘Last year the song that really blew up was ‘Livin’ La Vida Loca’ from Ricky Martin.’ So I’m going, okay, he’s clearly just setting me up to let me down, because that was a massive hit. And then he was like, ‘This year it was ‘Story Of A Girl’.’ That was the moment where I began to think this might really happen.”
The confusing height of their success: Turns out the view from the top wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. As Hampson recalls, “The bottom line is we spent almost two years touring. We were in a weird world because we really did think of ourselves as a rock band, yet we were constantly playing these shows with pop artists or track artists like BBMak or Jessie Simpson or P!nk when she just came out. So we’d be playing these things and we’d be like the heaviest band on the bill. And then we would play these rock festivals, and it’d be us and Rage Against The Machine, Godsmack and Stone Temple Pilots, and we’d be the pop band, you know? We’d be getting s–t thrown at us!”
What happened next: Nine Days followed up The Madding Crowd with the prophetically-titled So Happily Unsatisfied in 2002. “That record is like half a record,” Hampson admits. “You know [how on] VH1’s Behind the Music, at the half hour mark, they would always say, ‘And then, the bottom dropped out?’ That’s our VH1 Behind the Music halfway point, right there. We pushed back and tried to make a rock record, but probably what we should have done was stayed with more who we were. We were a little bit more of a melodic band. The whole entire thing just didn’t go as smoothly as everyone would have liked.
“It caused a lot of friction within the band, and the label didn’t know what to do with the record when we gave it to them. They made a half-hearted attempt to promote it, and it didn’t take off right away, and they were like, ‘We’re done.’ They gave it a few weeks on radio, and when it didn’t light the world on fire they literally just unplugged it and that was the end of it, which was a mind-blower.”
The band took a 10-year break: “It’s a typical story. It’s a total cliché, and yes we lived it,” says Hampson. “It took its toll on everybody and it took us a few years to regroup and put that behind us.” That said, Nine Days reunited to record 2013 album Something Out of Nothing, and followed it up in 2016 with Snapshots. “I would have to say, if you only know The Madding Crowd album, you should go listen to Snapshots. With that, we were like, ‘Let’s go make the record we should have made to follow up The Madding Crowd’. That one I think is a perfect next step.”
What’s coming up: “We’re ironing out all that, and God knows how long that’ll all take with what’s going on [with the Coronavirus health crisis], but we’re planning a vinyl re-release of The Madding Crowd in the summer and doing some shows. We’re actually starting the process of doing a new album, as well.”
The band Nine Days was into in 2000: “We were all fans of Third Eye Blind, so we toured with them for a while. That was such a highlight, because we’d play our show and then I got to just go sit and watch them every night. That was a great part of it for me.”