You might remember him as the frat boy who sang the mega-hit song “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” back in 2000. In case you didn’t know, his name is John Hampson, and he’s the former frontman of the band Nine Days. Twelve years later, he’s still as adorable as he was in his MTV music videos. But Hampson is more than just a dude who happened to get lucky with a hit about his then-girlfriend, now-wife, Teresa. He’s a husband, father of twin boys, social activist, and (drum roll, please) high school English teacher who hosts two songwriting workshops a year at Columbia University.
I had the pleasure of hanging with Hampson at a café in the East Village, where I bought him an old-fashioned orange soda and dished with him about his career. We talked about everything from his passion for music to his social outreach to his wife’s delicious Italian cooking. This Calverton, Long Island native is indeed a bit of a goofball who admits that he wants to do a spoof about reality TV competitions like “The Next Food Network Star.” He says, “I’d like to get someone on the show who has absolutely no palate whatsoever and make fun of all the foods.”
Hampson can also be a bit of a softie. He jokes that he cried during the very end of Titanic where Rose (Kate Winslet) and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) were reunited. “I gotta admit, that part of the movie brought a few tears to my eye,” he says with a laugh.
He’s a somewhat hopeless romantic (even if he doesn’t want to admit it) who has had a love affair with music since age nine.
“I was connected to music in a way that was different than my friends were, literally as far back as I remember,” he says. He explained that in 1979, at age eight, he traded two new Star Wars toys for second-hand KISS albums. If you know anything about the 70s, you’ll understand that Star Wars had more of a cult following than Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. But Hampson’s heart was elsewhere.
“Music was so much cooler to me,” he says.
Obviously, Hampson didn’t pick up a guitar and magically know how to play. “From the moment I got a guitar at age 11, it was 100 percent about ‘now I have an instrument’ and ‘now I need to make music.’ [the guitar playing] was terrible of course, but I wrangled anyone I could to play music with me,” he says. But with a little bit of love, practice and patience, Hampson eventually became a pro. By age 15, he was already playing gigs at bars, clubs and cafés.
“If you love something and you’re dedicated to it, AND you’re kind of good at it, you’re gonna find a way to do it. For me, I had some kind of, I dont know, natural gift for music. I was so fixated and dedicated to music…and people responded positively,” says Hampson.
People continue to respond positively to his music because it speaks to them. He not only sings about love and experience, but he also uses his music as a socioeconomic commentary to help wake people up — to help them realize that it’s time to change their ways for the better. His newly released single, “My Fat Wallet” (available on iTunes), is an alternative, guitar-heavy lament that reflects upon the recession — and how the incessant rise in national debt has literally brought us down. “I don’t have any of the answers at all – the song is just a commentary on what is going on,” he says, adding that he empathizes with the average citizen.
“I’m a husband, a father, a mortgage holder, a participator, benefactor and sufferer of the American dream,” says Hampson, who takes musical inspiration from Wilco, Bob Dylan and Pearl Jam, and fuses it beautifully into his song.
Although Hampson and I talked a lot about the meaning of “My Fat Wallet,” writer James McQuiston posted a press release that quotes Hampson perfectly: “I find it ironic that we carry around these big, fat wallets, but usually without any cash in them. They are full of maxed out credit cards, useless ATM cards, but also keepsakes like pictures, concert tickets, etc. That whole idea kind of mirrors a darker current that is threading through our lives – the need to cast off the useless ‘stuff’ but hold onto the important things.”
“My Fat Wallet” is a sincere cry for help that offers help to others. That’s because Hampson is offering 50 percent of his net proceeds of “My Fat Wallet” to Create Jobs for USA, a program that helps generate employment for the jobless throughout the United States. Public Relations guru Rick Eberle, a great friend of John’s and a pal of Holly Pinafore Magazine, helped suggest the idea.
Hampson explains, ”This is not about making money. If I’m running a business off my music, it’s a terrible business model. It loses money. If I can do something positive with a little song and actually, literally, give back, then that’s a good thing.”
And speaking of giving back to the community, Hampson has also decided to share his passion for writing with his students (who may or may not find it weird that their teacher was king of MTV back in 2000). I certainly learned a lot from him myself.
Thanks for making us swoon when we were teens, inspiring us to live our dreams, and helping (even if it’s ever so slightly) to get our country back on its feet through your generous actions. Although the name of your new album is “No Fairy Tales,” we do believe that some Prince Charmings exist in this world. You are one of them. And we absolutely love ‘ya!
Photo credit: JohnHampson.com