Songwriters John Hampson and Brian Desveaux–who’d played in different local bands for years, and in the same one for a few more–had a modus, a method and a single, purposeful idea when they formed Nine Days during the grunge-saturated mid-Nineties: writing great songs. Fresh and original, the new band sought to put their own stamp on a sound that combined the melodic hooks of the best Eighties rock with the depth and soulfulness of the great singer-songwriters: Dylan, Springsteen, Neil Young. And when they did, the sound was immediately identifiable.
While Nine Days title their 550 Music label debut The Madding Crowd after a literary work, one listen will quickly dash any preconceptions of pomposity. “We’re not trying to make grand statements. We just write music that’s true to us, that has a sincerity and integrity. We hope that years later–for the rest of our lives–it will have resonance.” Nine Days create strong, solid tunes about everyday trials and triumphs: common-man quests, uniquely expressed.
“I read Far From the Madding Crowd at a time when I was in need of inspiration, and the line ?Love is a possible strength, in an actual weakness? was the most profound and brilliant line I had ever read,” John Hampson says.
“We want the songs to be the focal point, as opposed to a loud guitar or a screaming vocal,” Hampson explains. “The whole point was if it’s not a great song with just you and a guitar, then it’s not a great song.”
True to this principle, even back in ?95, Hampson and Desveaux shut themselves away in Hampson’s apartment in Deer Park, Long Island, and crafted song after song after song. These early works made up a self-released debut (in a limited edition of 1,000) and the first live shows. From a Monday night residency at a popular club to a buzz that stretched the length of Long Island to nailing a number of radio honors (they won WBAB’s Homegrown Talent Search and WLIR’s Best Unsigned Band competition) to a second self-made CDit was only a matter of time for Nine Days to reach your ears.
At first listen, you will be awakened by Nine Days’ inter-twined guitars–check out the crunching “Revolve” and the strong acoustic/electric melding of “If I Am”–which blend with melodic lead vocals and haunting harmonies. The tight rhythm section of Nick Dimichino (bass) and Vincent Tattanelli (drums) form a rock-solid underpinning for every song. Jeremy Dean colors the music with Hammond organs, pianos, mellotrons and whatever other analog keyboards he can get his hands on. There are unique flavors throughout like the under-stated strings on the heartfelt ballad “Bitter,” a bit of more-rocking-than-rootsy mandolin on “Back to Me,” harmonica and perhaps the only sanctioned Bob Dylan samples on the intriguing “Bob Dylan.”
Nine Days and producer Nick DiDia (best known for his peerless engineering of multi-platinum albums by the likes of Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine) shared in a desire to make a tight, cohesive album: no frills, no filler.
Indeed, The Madding Crowd plays satisfyingly from start to finish, like a classic two-sided LP in a 21st century digital format. “There’s not a lot of bells and whistlesit’s just us,” John notes. “Nick is a very organic producer, and we wanted the music to keep its ‘realness.'”
“Realness” applies to lyrical content too. “We’re conscientious about our lyrics without being extreme,” Hampson says. “There are a lot of things on the record that deal with the difficulties of relationships, what everyone goes through in one form or another.”
Which brings him back to the album title, and the book that inspired it: “I felt that these songs are the little episodes about the problems that make relationships hard to establish and to keep alive. They are the stories of being in the madding crowd, not away from it.”
On stage, Nine Days unleash the full force of their youthful drive and impressive chops. They’re not afraid to expand upon the recorded framework of their songs, yet the music never drifts off into aimless self-indulgence. A Nine Days performance blends the warmth and musicianship of a good jam band with the hook-filled melodies and hard-rocking, on-point delivery of the best alternative bands.
Hampson says the band feel lucky that people–from those in the audience to those in the industry–have welcomed Nine Days’ music so open-heartedly.
“People respond to it immediately. Nobody’s trying to attach something to it because, ‘Hey, you have to do this or that because this is the way bands are marketed now.’ Everybody seems to understand that these are just really good songs. They seem to feel–straight to the heart–what we’re trying to put across.”