This is the story of the songwriter behind 'Story of a Girl'
NORTH ADAMS — "This isssssss the story of a girl."
Nine Days' "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)" opens with one of the most recognizable hooks in recent rock history because, really, how else could it begin? But according to singer-songwriter John Hampson, the first hook isn't the only one that helped propel this pop-rock hit to No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2000.
"Toward the end of the song, there's this little pause right before the chorus repeats, you know, 'This is the story of a,' and then there's a pause, and then 'girl' comes in. And I swear to you, when I did that, that's when I was like, 'This is a hit,'" Hampson told The Eagle during a recent telephone interview.
The song's writer has had ample time and inspiration to reflect on why the single guided "The Madding Crowd" to gold record status. Hampson has been teaching English for more than a decade, leading courses in lyric writing in addition to standard literature classes. The band's breakup in the early 2000s initially spurred the career change, but Hampson has still held onto his full-time gig at a Long Island high school even after Nine Days' reunification. On Thursday night, he'll be appearing at a different educational institution — Drury High School, where the North Adams school's performing arts management program has booked Hampson and the rest of Nine Days to play its spring concert. (The Connor Kelly Band will open.) The Long Island native is excited about the gig.
"Back in the day when bands were bands and there was no YouTube or anything else, that's what we did, was play your high school, so I think it's great. I love the performing arts aspect of the school," Hampson said.
Following the success of "The Madding Crowd," Nine Days recorded "So Happily Unsatisfied" for Epic Records. But a botched album release ultimately led the group to disband. Hampson returned to school to get his English degree, starting his teaching career and focusing on his family. Co-band leader Brian Desveaux moved to Nashville.
The childhood friends began collaborating again about seven years ago, leading the group to release a new album, "Something out of Nothing." The band is currently touring behind its most recent record, 2016's "Snapshots." The album blends Nine Days' early independent music, which has more folk-rock influences, with the big pop sounds on "The Madding Crowd." One of the tracks, "Star," alludes to the aftermath of the "Story of a Girl" sensation. The lyrics describe a man who has two kids, a house and a wife. Yet, he's not content. He still wishes he was "on a stage with my guitar, and I'm a star." That is, until the end of the song, when he realizes that playing for his "three biggest fans" still makes him a star. The song is autobiographical, according to Hampson.
"It's this amazing feeling," Hampson said of playing to huge crowds on the heels of "The Madding Crowd," "but my experience after that was when I had a family, and I had kids, and I had to reconcile wanting to be home. I didn't want to be an absentee dad. I didn't really know how to balance all that, so I kind of pulled back on the music part. ... It didn't bother me that I wasn't doing it on a certain level anymore. It's meant to be romantic and poetic, as long as I have this audience of my family, 'I'm a star.' I'm fulfilled."
"Story of a Girl" also drew from Hampson's life. In the hook, the listener hears about a girl "who cried a river and drowned the whole world."
"'Story of a Girl' was about my then girlfriend who wanted to get married and I just wasn't ready. I felt unfulfilled and couldn't take that next step," Hampson once recalled. "But after going through that whole crazy experience together, I knew that she was the one who was always going to be there for me and we got married in 2001."
Asked if his wife, Teresa, is a tad sick of the song at this point, Hampson said that it isn't a factor in their lives.
"It's just another thing that we've experienced together, and the list is long. We've been together a long time. We have kids. We have a family. We have all the crazy ups and downs that go along with all of that, so it's just another thing," Hampson said. "But because the song just has a life of its own, it always comes up. It always come up in a conversation, or it comes on on the radio or in a restaurant or somewhere, and it's always a fun moment to be like, 'Oh, hey! There it is.' That's what it is. It's funny how it isn't that big a deal, I guess."
Hampson hadn't set out to write a hit, but he now understands how some of the devices that were intuitive to him contributed to the tune's earworm status.
"I've had many other times where I've written songs and felt just as excited about them as I felt about 'Story of a Girl.' But there's something about that song, with all of the stops and the starts and the fact that it begins with, literally, 'This is the story of a girl,' this interesting way of, right off the bat, grabbing your attention," Hampson said.
Hampson has spent many of the years between the group's breakup and its comeback refining his songwriting. He isn't aiming to compose the next "Story of a Girl."
"I still feel like I'm getting better as a songwriter even though I'll never have another big hit because I don't have the time or the energy or the talent, maybe, but that's not what it's about anymore," Hampson said. "It's just writing, which is what it was when it started."
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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