Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Eric has been playing music in and around the Chicagoland area for more than 20 years. He plays several instruments and is a gifted producer for up and coming singer/songwriters. Primarily a guitarist, he also plays drums, keyboards and bass and does his recording almost exclusively at his home studio.
He did not come from a traditional musical family; neither of his parents played a musical instrument. However, Eric’s biggest influence was his father, who had a large and diverse record collection. After playing in several bands during his high school years, he studied Theater/Music at Columbia College of Chicago. Since then, he has played and recorded with many artists and also has a few writing credits as well.
Currently, he is playing with The Beazley Phillips Band, The Jacqueline Sylvie Band, Jet Driver, and his own band LIFEAFTERSIX. He also sits in on various gigs on bass for different bands in the area.
An Interview With Eric Hill
By: Dennis M. Kelly
DK: Good day Eric! Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today!
EH: Hello Dennis! Thank you for asking. It’s an honor to be chosen as a featured musician.
DK: It is my pleasure Eric, we want to help put hard working and talented musicians such as yourself more on a spotlight so people can get to know the people behind the names that make Chicago the musical place that it is. Let’s start right off the bat with where it all began with you musically, you’ve got over 20 years playing in the Chicago area, but where did the love for music start for you?
EH: My love for music started when I was in the 7th grade. I can’t even point to anything specific that triggered it. I had already taken piano lessons and then in the 7th grade I discovered the guitar and that was all she wrote! I recall having a feeling of happiness and an air of confidence whenever I played music. I was pretty shy otherwise.
DK: Your dad had a vast record collection, but would you say your home a very musical one?
EH: Absolutely! It was my father who made it so. He played his records all the time and it was all kinds of stuff, from Rock to Jazz to Rhythm and Blues. Neither of my parents played an instrument, but music was very important in our house.
DK: Who were some of the biggest, most influential artists in that record collection?
EH: From my Dad’s collection? Whoo-boy, lol. Well, there was James Brown for starters. My father had that Live at The Apollo album and that show was just sick. There were some very early Stevie Wonder records back when he was ‘Little Stevie Wonder’ that I really liked, and of course all of the Motown stuff that he had. As it is with my own collection, I was influenced by all of it, you know? It’s difficult for me to single out certain artists because my father would play anything at any given moment, and 9 times out of 10 it was pretty cool and I liked it.
DK: How supportive were your parents of your interests in music when you brought it to their attention?
EH: They were very supportive in the beginning and they treated it very seriously. Fortunately for me, when I was growing up, I had cousins that were in a band, so my father would get some instruments 2nd hand from them. So it was a relatively inexpensive hobby at that point, and I’m sure that’s what it was to them, a hobby, hahaha.
DK: Which instrument did you start with and had you taken any lessons for it?
EH: I started on the piano and yes I did take lessons for about a year or two.
DK: How frequent, involved and helpful were the lessons? Do you think it helped you to understand music in whole new ways to deepen your love for music?
EH: They were very frequent at first, 3 times a week, because I was practicing for a piano recital. But after that, it was your standard once a week deal. The lessons were helpful in that I learned about musical theory and song structures. But I have to admit, that a lot of that theory I conveniently ignore when it serves my purpose when I’m writing, as my band mate will attest to, hahaha.
DK: What were your school days like? How would you say they shaped you into the musician you are today?
EH: I think my elementary school experience wasn’t that much different than anyone else’s, but my high school days were something else altogether. My freshman year, man I was out of control, cutting classes, the whole nine yards. After seeing that, my parents said ok, you’re going to a Catholic high school. That changed everything. You can imagine I wasn’t too thrilled at first, but it was really the smartest thing they could have done. It turned out that I needed the discipline and the accountability that the Catholic school gave me. It’s those characteristics that I have tried to maintain in my work as a musician.
DK: I probably could have used that kind of discipline in my life at that age too; I was pretty much the same. Had you ever encountered difficulty in balancing your music and schoolwork?
EH: No not at all. I’ve always been able to keep them separate and besides I wasn’t really buried under any musical curriculum. By the time I was in high school, I was pretty much teaching myself how to play.
DK: What were your High School band names?
EH: Dude, shame on you for asking me that, lol! OK, there were two. The rock band was Stardust and the R&B band was called Clear Vision.
DK: How long were you in those bands and how far did you get with each?
EH: Stardust was my first band. I was the rhythm guitarist and we were done by the time I was a freshman. We were doing old Kiss covers and stuff like that. The second band, Clear Vision I was with through High School and into college. I played Lead guitar and keyboards with them. We were actually doing pretty well considering we were all pretty young. Mostly talent shows and house parties and stuff like that. We played a few clubs on the south side, but we had to lie about our ages at first because all of us weren’t old enough to be in there! The highlight for me was the gig we did at the Petrillo band shell downtown. That was the most people I have ever played for, like maybe a thousand, and it was a blast! But that band split up as everyone started to get older and moving on with their lives, which is totally understandable. I think the bass player, Darren, and the keyboard player, Phillip, are the only ones still doing music now. Darren’s playing with The P-Mac band last I heard and Phillip does some music part time out of his home studio.
DK: So, you had already learned guitar too by this time, what other instruments had you been able to play at this point in your life?
EH: At that point I was already playing piano, guitar, bass and drums.
DK: Tell me more about your experiences at Columbia College. How involved in theater were you?
EH: Not super involved, it was a minor. My major was Business Management because my parents were very keen on the ‘something to fall back on’ idea, which I don’t blame them for obviously. So I took some Theater and Music classes that interested me. I wasn’t like on stage at any point doing some weird acting exercise like, ‘You’re a rock and you have insomnia….GO!’ Yeah, nothing like that.
DK: What were some of the most memorable lessons you learned about music at Columbia and how have you applied those lessons to your life today?
EH: The things that I remember most from my days there are the importance of communication and teamwork. The ability and desire to go out and network is so important to getting work here as a musician, and any other job for that matter. I’ve only just become more comfortable doing it myself during the last 3 years or so. Learning how to be part of a team and to understand your role in that team has probably been the most important thing I’ve taken from some of my classes there. When you apply that to a band situation it becomes clear as to why it would be important to know your role. Everybody in the band can’t be ‘The Star’, and that’s ok. That’s one of the reasons why I love playing bass in bands because I embrace that role of being part of the foundation of a band. I truly love it. Plus I’ve learned that if you’re patient enough, there are always a few measures of a song somewhere where you can add a little flair. I cherish those moments then I get back in the pocket, haha.
DK: I come from a drumming background, but have always been curious to try out bass, but never have. It actually looks like it would be fun to play. Where did your life lead you after Columbia College?
EH: It led right to Cook County hospital man. I had to work to pay off that student loan!
DK: LOL… sorry to hear that, but I know how it goes, totally. How has living in Chicago helped influence and fuel your passion for music?
EH: Well the thing about Chicago for me is that it is such a melting pot for different styles of music. Plus on top of that, you have some very cool places to see live music. More to the point is that I think it has influenced me in that I don’t feel limited in terms of genres when I write. I write music that I feel fits the mood of the lyrics, which for me works better as opposed to just doing what I think is popular. There’s a niche for everything here.
DK: Like your friend and occasional band mate, Meg Thomas who we also featured a few months back, you’ve been a contributor to our site to which we are grateful and one trait that you both share is playing in many bands at one time. According to your bio, you’re playing with The Beazley Phillips Band, The Jacqueline Sylvie Band, Jet Driver, and your own band, LIFEAFTERSIX. How do you manage the time with so many involvements and how well is it doing with paying the bills?
EH: Last question first, not very well, hahaha! But let me follow that by saying that I am not complaining in the least. I’m very happy doing what I’m doing! As far as managing all of the bands, it’s not difficult at all. All of the bands don’t rehearse every week. The only bands that do, is Jet Driver and my own band. The other bands are almost like being ‘on call’. When there’s a gig coming up, then we get together and have a rehearsal or whatever. Sometimes, we don’t even rehearse. I’ll get the set list and I’ll just use some charts for the show. So it isn’t as hectic as it sounds. Every once in awhile I’ll find a week on the schedule that I have no idea how I’m going to survive it, but it usually works out. Being prepared makes things easier.
DK: Well, I think it is a great thing you do anyway, please keep up the great work! What do you personally bring to each band/project and what do you pull out of it for yourself?
EH: What I want to bring is professionalism and musicality to any project that I’m a part of. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I don’t. But that is always the goal. What I’ve gotten from every single project that I’ve been a part of is the sense of camaraderie that develops when you’re in a creative situation. That has never been truer than with the very talented musicians I’m playing with now. Beazley Phillips and Pete Nocito of the Beazley Phillips band are really talented musicians but they are also very good friends. It’s the same with Jacqueline Sylvie and Victor Sanders of Jacqueline ‘s band. The rehearsals I have with Jet Driver are SO much fun and I really enjoy making music with Christian Xavier, Erica Ramanauskas, Kevin Jackson and Scott Gillis. We have a gig coming up at The Hard Rock Café on the 8th by the way (nudge, nudge). Lastly, Meg Thomas is a joy to work with and the best collaborator I’ve ever worked with. I couldn’t have asked for a better band mate for LIFEAFTERSIX. So I feel VERY privileged to be in these bands with these wonderful musicians.
DK: We’ll make sure to promote that gig for you, for sure! How long have you been working with each band so far?
EH: I’ve been playing music with Beazley since 2004. I don’t think I’ve been playing with Jet Driver and Jacqueline Sylvie for a year yet. I’ve been working with Meg in LIFEAFTERSIX for a little more than 2 years now, but I’ve been recording as a solo act since 2000.
DK: What are your short term and long term goals for each band?
EH: The short term and long term goals for each band and every project is the same. I want to conduct myself professionally, be respectful to the artist and the music they make and to make it so that no matter what instrument I’m playing in whatever situation, the band knows I have it covered and they can concentrate on what they do. These are goals that I HOPE to achieve, lol.
DK: Well, they’re realistic goals and ones that you can easily achieve, I think that is the downfall of a lot of people (myself included at times) who set their goals too high and get frustrated for never achieving them. And as if all this wasn’t enough, you’re also a producer too. How did you get started with that?
EH: It was out of necessity mostly. When I was younger, I was writing so much music and I wasn’t in a band. So I decided to do the recording myself. By the time I was in my 20’s I could already play drums as well, so once I figured out the technology available at the time, I just did everything myself. There are advantages to doing that but there are certainly disadvantages. I think sometimes you need someone to say to you, ‘dude, that sounds awful’. You know what I mean? Lol.
DK: LOL… yeah, I think we’ll always need objective opinions and keep a sense of objectivity of our own creations. Like a painter, if you don’t pull away from the painting from time to time, you can get lost within and lose sight of the creation as a whole.
EH: I certainly needed to hear it and sometimes still do. But back in the day, I didn’t have that feedback, which I would have had if I were in a band. So because no one said no to me, I end up with a 30- minute song with no bridge and a tuba solo in it. Not that there’s anything wrong with that if you’re into it!
DK: Whose music have you produced to date?
EH: I work almost exclusively with beginners, so it wouldn’t be anyone whose names people would recognize, but I have worked with some wonderful singer-songwriters and it’s been a very rewarding experience for me.
DK: Well, I am sure it is a service that they have appreciated and something else that I respect about you also. If anyone would like to reach out to you for having you produce their music, what is the best way for them to reach you?
EH: They can go to my website, lifeaftersix.weebly.com. It has all of the information they would need, including photos of the gear I use and some musical samples of some of the work that I’ve done.
DK: Has taking a more hands on approach helped you gain a broader understanding of music and in turn spark new musical ideas for LIFEAFTERSIX?
EH: Absolutely! The thing I’m enjoying most about our band now is that we’re only a 2-piece. So there is a lot of room to try all kinds of things. We were just talking about that a few days ago. Because of Meg’s versatility and her willingness to try different percussion setups, and my ability to play a bunch of instruments, we feel like the sky’s the limit. I’d say since last November, we’ve really been on a roll and the songs are coming along quite nicely.
DK: Meg told me in our talk that music is still being crafted with LIFEAFTERSIX at the point we talked, do you think we’ll see some LIFEAFTERSIX shows coming up in 2013?
EH: No doubt about it. We’ll be looking for some opening slots because we still can’t do a 45 minute set yet, but we’re pretty close to being ready. I have 3 new songs ready for us to start working on, but we’re still getting tight with the ones we have. We’re going to do a few rehearsals over the next couple of weeks at some studios to see how we sound with everything cranked up to 11. But, yeah, spring/summer is what we agreed on to do some shows.
DK: Tell me more about Closure…
EH: Sure, since 2000 I had recorded 11 Cds under the name LIFEAFTERSIX. When Meg joined the band, I removed all traces of them online because I wanted to go full steam ahead with the band and not look back. Later after I thought about it though, I figured that was a bit hasty. A few of my friends were asking me where my CDs went as well. So I took some of my favorite songs from those CDs and put them together in one collection. After going through all of the CDs and picking my favorites, it wound up being more than 90 minutes worth of music. So I split it up into 2 volumes, one has all of my Heavy Metal, Punk and Electronic stuff on it and the 2nd one has all of the mellower stuff. It turned out to be a great experience for me as I was writing the liner notes and remembering the stories behind some of these songs. Better than therapy! The 1st volume will be available on the 26th of February and the 2nd one will be due in March, but I haven’t finalized the exact date yet. It will be released under Eric Hill instead of LIFEAFTERSIX, and I am planning a brand new CD for the fall of this year as well.
DK: With your over 20 years of musical experience, how would you say Chicago’s music and the scene in general has changed?
EH: On the positive side, I really like how the scenes support each other. What I mean is, the scene around the singer/songwriters here in town is very strong. They really support each other, same with the Metal scene, Hip Hop scene etc. On the not so positive side, I know I keep coming back to this, but the most common thing I see here in town is the lack of professionalism in our business. I know its Rock and Roll and all that, but man, common courtesy and being a professional can go a long way towards getting gigs and getting return gigs. I don’t want to make it seem like I have it all figured out, because I certainly don’t, but to see how some bands act at these gigs, it’s terrible. I’ve also heard that it’s pretty cut throat out there. I haven’t experienced it directly, but I figure I will when we start to get gigs. Generally speaking, I’m a little concerned about what the future of music will be, the preoccupation with fame and how pop stars are becoming brands instead of just focusing on being better performers and musicians. It really bothers me. Stop making perfume and clothing lines and go to a vocal coach and work on your voice so that I won’t have to use this auto-tune all the time! That sounds like I’m a bit bitter doesn’t it? I’m not really, there’s some pop music that I like for sure. I’m just jealous, lol!
DK: In your opinion, what is the mark of a good musician and what defines a great one?
EH: I think the mark of a good musician is confidence and musicianship. I think a musician’s uniqueness initially and then, ultimately; their body of work is what defines a great one.
DK: Overall, of your career so far, what have been some of your proudest achievements to date?
EH: My proudest moment is seeing one of my students taking a real interest in music at a very young age, and she has now grown up to become this beautiful young woman studying music in Australia. She gives ME credit for inspiring her and that makes me so proud. If she happens to see this article, that’s right Ellorey, I’m calling you out! I am so very proud of you. Because I do so much recording with people that are starting out, I see that moment when they get that look in their eyes when they get that they can make music and their mood changes, their posture changes. They get excited and inspired just like I do whenever I record a song. It’s just awesome to help people realize their dreams in that way and I feel like I’m sharing my passion of music with people in a tangible way that they can take with them.
DK: What goals do you have that you would like to accomplish by the end of this year and what steps do you feel you’ll need to take to make them happen?
EH: I want to get a full length LIFEAFTERSIX CD recorded and do as many shows as we can, maybe get a few out of town gigs. The only things that I need to do to make that happen is to stay on the course that we’re on and be a good band leader, to the extent that I am one, and everything will fall into place. Meg and I are also working towards getting more work as a rhythm section for songwriters, so I would like to see that established by the end of the year as well. Lastly, I just want to keep getting better as a musician and as a person and support other musicians as much as I can.
DK: Do you want to share anything else that you’ve got going on with our readers today?
EH: I think we’ve covered everything that I have going on this year. I suppose I should mention that you could ‘like’ LIFEAFTERSIX on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. That would be the best way to keep up with what I’ll be up to this year.
DK: What is the best contact method for you for anything music industry related?
EH: Check out www.lifeaftersix.com. It’s like my central hub for everything and anyone can reach me from there. E-mails are always best.
DK: Thank you so much for your time Eric! It is greatly appreciated!!
EH: Thank YOU Dennis! I’m very grateful and honored to be chosen as Musician of the Month for March, and I hope to do more stuff for The Chicago Music Guide. Thanks again!