Photo: Priscilla Bouillon
This year I’ve driven a minivan to literally every corner of the United States. From as far south as San Diego, up to Seattle, all the way across to Boston, down to Atlanta, and all the places in between. I’ve played at dive bars, backyard parties, theaters, small clubs, mid-sized clubs and basically anywhere that will let me play. All because of a dream and a friendship that started on a school bus in Junior High.
I met Greg Hillman on my first day of sixth grade in my hometown of Darien, CT. Greg stepped onto the bus, dressed in our school uniform, khakis and a blue blazer, accompanied by a fender guitar. Once I saw the guitar, we immediately became fast friends. He had an older brother that played in a few different bands in High School, which automatically made Greg cool. He knew of music well beyond his years. Built to Spill, the Pixies, The Breeders, Modest Mouse. 90s indie rock, the good stuff. Greg literally introduced an entirely new world of music to me. At the time, I didn’t know how to play the guitar, but I knew I wanted to write songs. Greg taught me some chords, I figured out how to sing some poems I had written over the chords, and boom, I was writing songs and we had a band.
Starting at the age of 13, Greg and I were writing and recording together in the basement of his parents’ house. From Junior High through High School we played at talent shows, teen centers, school dances and anywhere that had a PA we could use. When we recorded, Greg was the mastermind. He had all the recording equipment and more importantly he knew how to work it like a wizard. We named our band Follow The Sun. We both dreamed of moving to California, being rock stars and dating the girls from the hit MTV show Laguna Beach. When we turned 18, Greg went off to college in Washington State, and I went to college in Washington D.C. We continued to record music on our own and would constantly send each other demos we had been working on. I remember always being so excited when Greg would send me a new tune he was working on, he was my favorite artist and also my best friend. It was too good to be true.
By the time sophomore year of college came around, things started to change. Back in High School, Greg had mentioned something about having to “see someone” like a shrink or something, but I didn’t think anything of it. We were now 20 years old, and Greg wasn’t the same. He was a different person. Greg’s bipolar disorder started to win the battle. I remember feeling scared or very uneasy whenever we spoke, I knew he wasn’t right. The conversations were disturbing as I knew Greg was fighting a war of demons inside his head. I still always think back to him saying to me “You have no idea the types of things I hear in my head; they’re the worst things you can ever imagine.” Ultimately the demons in his head would win the battle, and Greg took his own life on his 21stbirthday in July.
Needless to say, this would change my life forever and it would change the way I looked at mental health issues. The hardest part of it all was knowing that Greg was in more pain than I could ever fathom. That’s why mental health issues matter. The pain is invisible. Greg made me realize you never know the severity of what someone is struggling with internally.
Since Greg’s passing, I’ve devoted my life to living out our teenage dream. When I was 22 years old, I packed up my stuff and moved to California, just like we said we would. I feel Greg with me every step of the way as I relentlessly chase this dream. I travel all these miles and will continue to do so, all because of a Fender guitar, a school bus, and my beautiful friend, Greg Hillman.
“Ali” which was written by Greg Hillman, at the age of 16, was re-recorded for the debut Modern Love Child album ‘MLC’
Modern Love Child’s shimmering and robust brand of indie-pop would be a fitting soundtrack for a quintessential drive down the Pacific Coast Highway. Sonically, the bright, vibrant arrangements are another clue into the person behind it all.
Several of the ten tracks on MLC examine various stages of love — “Golden Brown” presents a daydream of sorts about living a simpler life; “Pictures of the Moon” discusses a beauty that’s hard to conceptualize; “Sweet Like Me” offers an opportunity to catch up with an old flame; “Just For Kids” simplifies love back to a time when it was much less complicated. Others tackle the idea of fitting in — and the times when that feels hard to grasp. “In A City” focuses on the Big Apple and all the anxieties its fast-paced environment can breed; “Stay Young” examines how hard growing up can feel after a few too many beers. The album also features “Ali,” a song Jonny’s friend Greg wrote.
Modern Love Child’s debut album, MLC, is set for release in October 2019, via Believe Music.