Songwriters / producers John Hampson and Paul Umbach dropped in to a SHOF Master Session on June 3, giving students insight into their craft and mentoring NYC Department of Education students. The Session was part of the All-City Modern Music Project, a program enabling students to write, record, and perform original and cover songs in popular musical genres, currently taking place on Saturday mornings at Stuyvesant High School. The Session was hosted by producer, songwriter and Stuyvesant HS Music Educator / SHOF NY Education Committee vice chair, Harold Stephan.
John Hampson co-founded the American rock band Nine Days with Brian Desveaux. The band released three independent albums in the 1990s before their mainstream debut album, The Madding Crowd, released in 2000. The band scored a hit in the United States from that album with the single "Absolutely (Story of a Girl)," which reached number six.
Paul Umbach is an Artist, Musician and Multi-platinum producer that has been involved with some of the biggest stars in pop music. After establishing himself as a sought-after producer/engineer in New York, Paul took a gig in 1998 in the Pop A&R dept of JIVE Records as a staff producer/writer. His “3rd Floor” studio saw the likes of Britney, 'NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and top songwriters and producers from around the world.
John and Paul's roots can be traced back to the 1990s on Long Island, and the team recently worked together to record several new versions of the song "Absolutely (Story of A Girl)" for the Academy Award winning film Everything Everywhere All At Once.
After introducing Paul and John, Stephan told students about how the duo had been approached to put together several alternative versions of “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” for the film Everything Everywhere All At Once, and these were used throughout different parts of the film.
Stephan then asked, “I know you’ve been busy working on some new material, can you tell us about that?”
John said he and Paul were about to begin a new project. “I write way more songs than I can record, and I’m at that point where there are so many songs I have, and I didn’t want a particular batch of songs to just wind up in my own personal playlist. We will be recording five songs and I really want to get back to analog as much as possible. It’s about the songs, but also capturing them in a way that stands the test of time.” Paul went on, “We will use some digital techniques, but we wanted to start with live musicians in a studio with a Neve console.” John added, “I live by the phrase, ‘you never finish a record, you just run out of time and money.’”
Stephan asked about their beginnings. Paul stated, “I’ve always been a musician and I just love recording. In 1987, I went to all of the record labels unsuccessfully, so I decided I’d produce other people.” He went on to say he produced a lot of lower east side bands and then transitioned to a position at JIVE Records. “Two months later I’m working with Brittany Spears and the Backstreet Boys along with (SHOF inductee) Max Martin.”
Stephan then played a video with the Everything Everywhere All At Once director and writer talking about how they came to choose “Absolutely” and afterward, John remarked, “You’ve no idea how incredible that is to me, how that happened. I was driving home, and I was thinking (about life) and how the universe has to come back around and give me something good. Within 60 seconds, I got an email from my publisher saying the director wanted to use the song.”
John then said he received a paragraph synopsis of the film and pitched ideas for it. He brought in Paul to pull everything together. They both said they had no idea the film was going to be as significant as it turned out to be.
Stephan said to students as part of a teaching moment, “Everyone pay attention and trust your instincts to push as hard as you can.”
Paul said, “Even though I’ve always been a DIY person, you’ve got to have a team. This would not have happened if John didn’t have a publisher, so be sure to concentrate on the business side of music too.”
John said, “There was a whole inner dialogue not knowing how the film would turn out, but I trusted my gut and I was willing to be vulnerable. Having that other person and point of view makes for better art.”
Stephan introduced three pre-selected students who each played one of their original songs for John and Paul who gave advice and feedback. They both talked about how students should appreciate programs like the Modern Music Project as there was no music in the schools like this when they were growing up.
Stephan opened up the floor to student questions, and John and Paul gave answers to those that included production, business and songwriting. Paul said, “Make sure you keep sharing your music live and with friends. Your goal as a producer is targeting your energy, and having a focus.”
John added, “Call studios and ask about internships. You will learn so much being with professionals, and you have to be proactive in putting yourself out there. If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else is going to, so do believe in yourself and do not worry about what other people think.”
John finished up the session by playing one of his new songs called “Continental Drifter” for the students, explaining he was lyrically inspired by Bob Dylan.
Students gave a resounding round of applause and talked about how grateful they were for John and Paul’s appearance at this Master Session.
This Master Session is available for viewing on the SHOF YouTube channel HERE.
The SHOF Master Sessions at Stuyvesant program has hosted events for NYC public school students highlighting both the business and creative sides of the music industry since 2018, with past sessions featuring Alex Da Kid, Michael Uzowuru, Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, Nija Charles, TBHits, Sam Ashworth, Denzel Baptiste & David Biral p/k/a Take A Daytrip, Khari “Needlz” Cain, Steven Van Zandt, Steve Greenberg, Mark Hudson, Samantha Cox, Leyla Blue, Maude Latour, Laundry Day, Pom Pom, Mike Campbell, Billy Mann, Gregg Wattenberg and Rich Christina.