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I Nine – Seven Days of Stardom

I Nine

Seven Days of Stardom

by Jay S. Jacobs

Imagine you've got a new band. You have carved out quite a reputation as a live act in the south; however, you still have not done any recording. Suddenly you get a call from a world-famous music-journalist-turned-filmmaker who wants you to sing a song for his latest film – a song that was written by his rock-star wife. What would you do?

In the case of Carmen Keigans and her band I Nine, they just stepped up to the plate and recorded the song – a song that became the standout track in the motion picture soundtrack. The journalist-turned-director was Cameron Crowe of Almost Famous and Jerry Maguire fame. The rock-star wife was Nancy Wilson, lead guitarist of the legendary sister group Heart. The song was “Same in Any Language,” the final tune on the soundtrack to the film Elizabethtown – a movie, which was a bit of a disappointment, but it is universally agreed that the soundtrack is amazing.

Two years later, as Keigans prepares to release her band’s first full-length studio album, she still seems a little stunned by the turn of events.

“It was awesome,” Keigans recalls, enthusiastically, “because we are big fans of his – his movies and his screenplays. The way he found out about us was this guy that we had met in Atlanta, Don Van Cleave from the Independent Music Coalition – he’s the president, I think. He was a really cool guy. He asked for one of our live demos from Eddie’s Attic [an Atlanta club] to put on his iPod. We loaded it up. Then he met Cameron Crowe through kind of a weird array of events. He let Cameron listen to us from his iPod. Cameron was, ‘Oh, I love these guys. Is there any way we get them involved with the movie?’ That’s when Don had to tell him that we didn’t have anything recorded professionally at the time.

“So, Cameron called me on my cell phone and asked if we’d record this song that his wife, Nancy Wilson, had written for the movie. At that point, I’m freaking out, because she was in Heart. Ann and Nancy Wilson could have written ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and I would have sung it.” Keigans laughs. “But the song turned out to be a pretty cool song, so we were excited.”

Not bad for a band that just a couple of years earlier was finding its legs in the tiny town of Orangeburg, South Carolina. Most of the bands from the area had never even seen the inside of a recording studio, so it was quite a vote of confidence, but one she'd been working towards all her life. Keigans, the lead singer, had played at music as a child – sometimes literally.

“My parents were always fans of music,” she says. “I had one of those little, tiny wooden keyboards and a DJ sound machine. I think it was a Mattel toy. I even have cassette tapes from when I was like two or three years old doing music. I’ve been into music and singing onstage since I was probably four or five years old. It’s been one of those forever things. I’ve been doing it so long that I don’t remember where it came from – other than my parents, really.”

She knew the guys in the band from time spent in school. The rest of the band is made up of former classmates – lead guitarist Bryan Gibson, bassist Matt Heath and guitarist Brian Whitman.

“The boys started playing guitar in school,” Keigans recalled. “They were the cool guys in school for a long time. I was this little-girl nobody who did city plays. I guess it was one of those things where they thought I was cool when I got to high school, and we started playing music together. Matt was away at college. I spent the night at his house once, because I was going somewhere with a friend of mine the next day. He had this song that he had written. He had words to it, but no melody. I’m kind of an improv-er. I remember I sang him this song that he had never heard a melody to. It was really easy because he had lyrics already. He thought it was magnificent. Then we started doing open mikes in Columbia, SC. From then, people told us ‘You guys should write songs. You guys are good.’ We just took off from that.”

Soon Columbia was getting too small for the big-time buzz that I Nine was generating. This led the band to a turning point – do they move away and take their shot at the big time or take the safe route in life? It wasn’t really that big a dilemma for Keigans.

“The guys were graduating from college. I knew that once we all separated, it wasn’t going to ever happen,” Keigans recalls. “We’re all friends, so we’d want to stay tight knit, but once everybody moved to different towns it would have been impossible to keep up what we were doing musically. It was one of those moments where it was like, we’re either going to do this or not. It wasn’t as hard as everybody makes it sound – quitting your day job and doing it. We thought we’d be there three to six months and then we would cut it off if there was no buzz. But it worked into our favor. Everything has been awesome so far.”

That awesomeness led the band to Hollywood and now to their debut album, Heavy Weighs the King, tentatively due to be released in March 2008 on J Records.

“Well, they keep saying around March or so,” Keigans says. “I’m hoping for a March release. I don’t have an exact date yet, though. So, I guess your guess around that time is as good as mine… I’m kind of looking forward to having the album in hand myself.”

The upcoming album has been getting good buzz as the lead single, a melodic rocker called “Seven Days of Lonely” has gotten some serious notice months before the album’s release – scoring radio airplay, video and even a free iTunes download.

In the meantime, the band has worked with such big names as Chad Kroeger of Nickelback and producer Brian Howe (Daughtry, Hinder) to put together the best album they could create.

“Brian Howe heard of the band through some of his contacts in LA,” Keigans says. “He contacted some of our people, I guess through our label. I’m not really sure. But I met with him in Vancouver and at first, we were just meeting to meet each other – because we were on the west coast. After we hung out a little bit – we went to dinner and talked about some stuff – he and I decided we were going to write a song. It was really only about a three- or four-day trip. That’s when we wrote ‘Seven Days….’ It didn’t take long at all. It was very quick. You know, sometimes you have to get into the mode. Your brain is not in the right headspace. But that one happened really fast. I ended up working with him again at a later point when I was in Vancouver for much longer. He’s awesome.

“With Chad, I actually got to spend a lot of time where he is from: in Abbottsburg, BC. We got to hang out at his ranch for probably a month and a half or so. We worked on two tunes with him, but those songs weren’t co-written by him. He worked more as the producer. He helped in the studio. We’d talk about what’s cool and what we want on the songs. He facilitated a lot of our ideas – which was amazing.”

However, no matter how much facilitating the outsiders were doing, it mostly had to come from within for the band. With all four band members contributing to the songwriting, they have sort of settled into a familial routine – though nothing about the songwriting technique is really routine.

“Because everybody writes, it’s not one particular fashion or form,” Keigans says. “Sometimes one of the Brians will have an idea musically and they’ll bring it to me. I get to kind of sit with it or put it in my garage band and listen to it for a while before I ever have to write to it. Sometimes, what’s easiest for me is I’ll have a melody and some lyrics already down. I usually do all the lyrics, so they bring me all the good stuff – dig through the rummage. It’s one of those things where I’ll have a melody and lyrics and I’ll pretty much find out how the song should go, and I’ll sing it to them. Especially Bryan Gibson, he is amazing. Anything that makes music, he can make it sound like a genuine, authentic instrument. It can be one of those toys from Toys ’R’ Us and he’s in there playing the Elgar Concerto. How does he do it? I don’t know. It’s so random. It can come from anything.”

With Keigans doing most of the lyrics, looking over some of the songs on the CD – like “Seven Days of Lonely,” “Get Out” and “Black Hole” – they seem a little cynical about relationships and love. So, does that say anything of her real life?

“You might say that’s the plight of the artist,” Keigans laughs. “I would say that definitely I end up dating people that are more interesting… who usually have more problems than normal people. So that may be where the truth lies. They’re more interesting because they have more things to delve into and get involved with. They’re better muses. I know that sounds terrible, but it’s true. It’s not intentional, ever.”

Of course, not all of the love songs are unhappy, like the Kroeger-produced “If This Room Could Move.” Keigans is excited for people to hear that song and others on the album.

“That’s my favorite. I’m hoping that’s going to be the next single. I really love that song. I also love another song called ‘Don’t Wanna.’ The entire record is awesome. There’s no throwaway track on it. You know, sometimes you have songs which you say, ‘Well, this is definitely an album track. We couldn’t do anything else with it, so we had to put it on there because it has some kind of sentimental value.’ It’s going to be a great record.

“Fortunately for me I come from a very melodic background,” Keigans continues. “I was driven by the whole Burt Bacharach catalogue and Simon and Garfunkel and the Beatles and Elton John. These are masters of melody. I have always written with melody. Even my childhood songs have always had a distinct melody and movement within the verses and the chorus. We are more rock and roll because the boys' [influences] come from 80s and 90s grunge era. They play more rock music. Sometimes our guitar solos lend themselves to more 80s-sounding rock. It’s just a blend of the two backgrounds, honestly. It wasn’t necessarily that we got pulled into the pop world. I would say a little bit we did in the way that we ended up producing our songs. We wanted to produce them more for radio. But as far as the melody within the songs – that’s all pretty natural, actually.”

However, she knows that it is not easy for a band to break on the radio. Many invariables have to click exactly right to get a band even noticed. This doesn’t frighten Keigans, though; she realizes that she is just part of a long line of bands that bucked the odds to get noticed.

“If you go back and look throughout history, every band that is any band started off with a more regimented sound,” she says. “It’s those bands that end up changing how radio sounds. It’s under their wing. It’s up to them. I’m speaking of bands like Pearl Jam, Radiohead. Queen… going back to some older [groups]. They were also melodic, but they started off more radio-friendly.”

Also, there are so many new ways for a band to reach out to their audience – television, advertising, the internet. A great deal of the buzz that I Nine has generated can be traced directly back to MySpace. Keigans, for one, embraces the new technologies and avenues of connecting with fans.

“It’s ideal because I have a one-on-one relationship with fans on a daily basis,” Keigans says. “As much as I choose to have a relationship, I will. I love MySpace and Facebook. I’ve just recently gotten into making these little movies for the band, so YouTube is about to get hit with a wave of I Nine garbledy-goop activity. Videos. I think the only problem with the way that the internet is – if it is a problem at all – is just the music industry itself is going to a little hit from it. The downloading and illegal downloading and stuff like that. But I personally am a huge fan of iTunes, so as much as I’ll say that it might be bad for the music industry, I enjoy being able to go purchase the song that I heard instead of having to buy the entire album.”

It’s all okay with Keigans, as long as she can get people to hear her music, she is happy. She’s not going to over-think it, music is supposed to be more visceral. There is only one way to really get it – experience it yourself.

“It’s a rock band. Come to see us live. If it’s electric, it’s going to be a rock show. If you see it’s acoustic, then we’re just some hometown people. It’s pretty cool. And even though Bryan Gibson looks like he’s scary and doesn’t talk a lot, he’s really nice.” Keigans laughs.

Copyright ©2008 All rights reserved. Posted: March 1, 2008.

Photo Credits:

#1 © 2008. Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.

#2 © 2008. Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.

#3 © 2008. Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.

#4 © 2008. Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.

#5 © 2008. Jim Rinaldi. All rights reserved.

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