Interview: Carmen Keigans from I Nine

I Nine, a quartet from Orangeburg, a sleepy southern town tucked away in central South Carolina, are remarkably on the verge of authoring another chapter in this country’s musical heritage. The group is made up of charismatic lead singer, Carmen Keigans, Bryan Gibson (lead guitar, cello), Matt Heath (bass) and Brian Whitman (guitar).

We recently sat down with Carmen to ask her a few questions about the band’s history, their future, and their inspirations.

How did you guys get started?

Bryan Gibson and Matt Heath started playing when they were like in the sixth grade at our middle school and I used to think they were like the coolest guys ever cause they played guitar. They probably didn’t know I existed. It wasn’t till I was in the twelfth grade that Matt, I mean Matt always hung around town and stuff, but I don’t think they ever really paid me much attention. I guess ‘cause I was a girl and I’m a little younger than them. But, when I was in the twelfth grade they were getting ready to go to college and what not, that’s when I started really playing music with them on a more serious level like actually playing gigs.

In high school, they started to realize that I could sing and we hung out and wrote music, but we never played a gig, and we started playing at these open mic contests in Columbia, South Carolina. And when we won a few of those we where like “hmmm… maybe we, we should do this.” But, that band actually broke up. It was called “Encaustic”. And then I was riding down the road with Brian Whitman in his Ford Escort one day and he said that we could start a band with me and Brian Gibson, and I was like as long as Bryan’s in the band then I’m down.

Now what about the name? Did that come from an interstate you guys were riding down?

Uh, well, there are lots of stories out there. I’ll tell you that, I haven’t told anybody that, but because I actually met you, I’ll give you that one. I tell people all kinds of things. I’ll tell people it’s because we’re like Macintosh fans and I had an ibook and like, and a iPod and I was like “let’s have I-Nine for our band”. Um, actually I was reading a Kurt Vonnegut novel and it was called “Cat’s Cradle” and in the book ice-9 is invented and it’s supposed to be like this big protective warfare instrument and uh, it ends up destroying the world. And I don’t know, I, we were “Ice-9” then we were “Isle Nine” and then we were just “I Nine”. And we never just wanted to be Nine, ‘cause, it didn’t sound right, plus nine inch nails, so I was like lets just be I Nine and everybody agreed, so they let me take the reigns on a lot of stuff like that.

Now when you guys played here you covered, a lot of different genres of music. How do you classify the band’s sound?

Well the record is a pop-rock record. I think that if we hadn’t done a pop-rock record it wouldn’t be as radio friendly. We had never really ventured into that realm before, because we had done a lot of acoustic stuff with the band and when we play live, we could be an acoustic band if we wanted. Uh, but the only place we will be able to do like a pop-rock style, even on stage, you know the only way pop rock would work is if you had a bunch of musicians on stage playing all the parts.

So when we were in the studio it was kinda like the artist pallet, it was a bare pallet, and we got to write all over it.

Now was there an album that you heard growing up that convinced you that you wanted to do music?

Well I’ll tell you two stories, or one maybe. This is the key story. Brian Gibson, when he was like, I don’t know, maybe ten years old, I don’t really remember how old he was. He was running through the woods, like we are from South Carolina, wooded areas are everywhere right? There was always abandoned stuff in the woods, and there was this abandoned car, I think the windows were broken out of it and Brian like went into the car, and there was an Appetite for Destruction tape. Guns and Roses right? That was his first introduction to music, that was the first record he ever owned. So that, that plays a large part in like his musical abilities and interest in music. But, um, as far as the band goes, it’s a wide spectrum. Like for me, I was influenced by a lot of seventies’ rock and roll. So melody drivers like Joni Mitchell, lyricist Bob Dylan… I think, um, Karen Carpenter has a beautiful melodic voice. I don’t know, I’m melody driven and you know Brian’s musically driven. So, it works out, it all works out. The entire band is a big team.

You mentioned the song writing process, when you write songs it ecliptic process or do you do the chord progression first, how does that work?

I know a lot of bands have a certain process, but we don’t really, maybe we don’t have a process that I can say dominates yet ‘cause we’ve done so many different things. But, we’ve done it where I’ve had a melody in my head or something on garage band and I’ll play it for the guys and Brian Gibson kinda plays by ear so he can, if I sing him something then he can play it you know.

I’ve done all the lyrics so far, but I don’t think that it will always be like that.

The guys are well equipped with, uh, poetic abilities. (laughs) Brian Whitman one night showed up at my house at like two in the morning. And he’s like I got this uh melody. He actually played it for me over the phone first and I said dude just come over I’m not doing anything. And he came over and we worked on this song in the middle of the night. I mean, we don’t have a pattern and I, I think that the best thing that we can say is that it’s formulaic. Like we can’t just turn it on when we want to, it happens when it’s supposed to. So, that’s probably the best thing to say about how our writing process works. Just being available for it.

What’s the story behind Seven Days of Lonely that inspiration or what was the idea that you had with that song?

It was actually a ballad that I had written. And I didn’t know if it was a song or if it was a poem, but my mother actually passed away, and I wrote a ballad about my life and how I was just really sad. I wrote these lyrics about waking up and remembering that it wasn’t a dream and that it really happened. And you know sometimes you dream that someone who passed away is alive and then you wake up and realize they’re not. I had everything I saw, you know even, even if it was the ice cream shop we used to go to all I could think about was “oh my god, the next time I go in that ice cream shop I am going to go in there you know motherless”. I know a lot of people think this song is about a boyfriend and I, and that’s fine, I actually think were going to play it like that. We did the video yesterday, and we were talking about how if we were going to intertwine like some shots of me like picking up letters or memorabilia from a relationship. And I think we may play the video like that, but, the song was actually about loosing, I would say, someone really close to me, so it was my mother.

Right. Now you guys are just getting started on the tour to promote the album and stuff that’s coming out. Do you guys have a lot of down time on tour?

We used to. Before the single I would have been like yeah there’s lots of down time to play games on the road and like throw a football at Wal-Mart when we stop, but on this tour, not so much. I guess because, everybody knows the single is coming out and everybody is interested in and people want to interview us. So it is all really exciting, and as far as down time we’re going to have to make down time to write songs. We’re finding this out. But it’s a good problem to have you know! I want everybody to want to talk to us.

What’s next on the horizon for you guys? What’s the next step? Just more touring?

Yeah, yeah. Touring and I mean, we need the record to come out. So, I guess till then we really want radio stations to play us, because that’s how you get out there.

Hopefully we will get time to write, because that’s what we do, that’s what we do for kind of a relief. I am sure there are going to be moments when we need to do that. And I think we are going to do some Christmas work in December. So, I don’t know I’m kinda excited!

Cool. It definitely sounds like you guys have a full schedule!

Interview By: Emma Loggins

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