One of the glories to be found in the long, rich history of American music is the emergence of artists and sounds from just about anywhere in this land. From the deep south to the far west, from small towns to rural communities, these crevices of the country have given birth to bands whose music somehow, someway, finds a way to be discovered by people at large. This is the story of I Nine, a quartet from Orangeburg, a sleepy southern town tucked away in central South Carolina, who remarkably are on the verge of authoring another chapter in this country's musical heritage with their stunning debut album, Heavy Weighs The King. It’s a testament to the idea that talent will find a way to be heard. The four members of I Nine have been playing together for three years, though all the members have known each other since they were very young, having all grown up in the racially and economically segregated town with a population of 15,000. “Growing up in a town where kids mostly went to private school, we all went to public school which is where we met and have stayed close friends," describes the group's charismatic lead singer, Carmen Keigans. Carmen and band mates Bryan Gibson (lead guitar, cello) and Matt Heath (bass) previously played together in a local band that broke up in 2004. Shortly thereafter, they hooked up with fellow musician Brian Whitman (guitar), who had known Carmen and her family growing up. "I usually played guitar by myself but when their band broke up, the wheels in my head started turning," remembers Whitman, who was a regular at their shows. "They were just too good not to be playing anymore." The songs came fast and furious during their first session. "We just clicked," says Whitman, and within a few weeks, they had written a dozen songs. The band played shows mostly in nearby Columbia, South Carolina and it was clear that their heartfelt rock sound was too large to be contained by such small geography. In a quandary faced by many in small-towns, the four had to decide whether to stay in Columbia or move to another, larger town for a real shot at pursuing their passion. "We knew we had something there, the chemistry was clear," says Carmen. "It was really a do or die moment." The four quit their day jobs and moved a couple of hours west to Atlanta, living in, what Carmen describes, "as a one-bedroom dump that was home to the best and worst times of our lives." It was in Atlanta, over the last three years, where the majority of the songs on their debut were written and recorded. However, keen observers may recognize I Nine from the soundtrack of Cameron Crowe's whimsical love story, Elizabethtown, performing the song "Same In Any Language," written by Crowe and his wife, Nancy Wilson (of Heart). It was a serendipitous discovery by the director, who heard I Nine demos on a mutual friend's iPod and asked the band if they would perform the song for his movie. "I freaked out when he called us," remembers Carmen. "I thought it was amazing to be talking to him but he's such a cool guy and has such respect for music that he thought it was amazing to be talking to us." Crowe isn’t the only fan of the band; producer Brian Howes (Hinder, Daughtry) worked with the band on two songs including the lead single “Seven Days of Lonely” and the emotionally charged single “Get Out.” Nickelback front man Chad Kroeger also produced two songs, including the passionate “Black Hole” and the fiery “If This Room Could Move.” With a striking look and a poet's eye, Carmen makes a comely front woman. She was influenced by records of the 1970s that her father had given her – Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, Styx, ELO and others. She also had a background in musical theater while in school, with grand ambitions. "I used to get mad at my parents for having given birth to me in Orangeburg, because all I wanted to do was sing on Broadway when I was younger," she laughs. Now, however, Carmen is the artistic fulcrum of the band. "Carmen is a firecracker," says Whitman. "She's the type of person who, when you're at a brick wall while writing, will come in and spit out a lyric or sing a little melody that just clears everything up and opens up the gates."
Together the four members carry influences of traditional rock 'n roll, emotive singer-songwriters, and, of course, southern rock. However, there's a dichotomy to the songs of I Nine that veers between pop and more artsy, moody tunes – the result of having four people in a band who are all gifted songwriters. "We all have different tastes and influences, some are musical and some are emotional, so it's really anything goes in the studio," says Gibson. That interaction can be magical, as on "Seven Days Of Lonely," the group's first single from Heavy Weighs The King. It is quickly opening people's ears up to the sound of the band. "It's a song that's open to interpretation," she says. "I realized that everyone goes through different emotional trials and this is a song about releasing those feelings." The group dynamic has a profound effect on the songs on the album. "The songs come from a melodic foundation," explains Carmen. "I will add the words and then stylistically it changes constantly, and sometimes we'll try it one way and find that a totally different way works better." The creation of such songs is aided by Gibson's use of the cello in the band. "In middle school, Matt taught me how to play guitar and when I first played, I understood it on a level that I never understood anything else in the world. It was like falling in love. Learning the cello was an extension of that, even though I discovered it accidentally. Something about the fascination I have between emotion and music spoke to me. The cello actually sings, so you have to treat it like a separate voice, and I think it works in our music, like on the song 'Get Out.'" Another standout track is "Change Nothing," a song Carmen wrote before the band had known they would be releasing an album on a proper label. "We were all crammed in a hotel room one night a while back and it was early morning. I couldn't sleep and was watching the sun rise and watching the boys sleep and it was the most amazing night. We had a great show the night before, saw a lot of our friends. It was a magical night, and it was the kind of moment you want to last forever. That's where the song came from." "It's a special song for all of us," adds Whitman. "It's a song that fits the whole experience of everything we've been through, from Orangeburg to Columbia to Atlanta and back again. It's very affirming to know we made the decision to do this and make our own opportunity to pursue music. It's a lucky thing. And that feeling, when it hits you, hits you like a ton of bricks. When a song captures that moment, it's a pretty special thing." And for I Nine, with their debut Heavy Weighs The King, that moment is now.