The Jon Hill Project is a monumental solo project for percussionist and songwriter Jon Hill. While Hill has been a drummer for 15 years, he has mainly built up an ever-growing fan base through social media over the past couple of years. The work for this project started back in 2016, when Jon joined forced with Spencer Bradham, as well as Tides of Man’s Spencer Gill to begin work on his new album, Rebirth — the end result being one that discusses his struggle with addiction, looking for redemption, and the end of his nine year marriage to Youtube personality Jaclyn Hill.
That last bit there is, in fact, where the conversation between Jon and I starts: his recent divorce from Jaclyn. There were a lot of rumors going on, at that time, of what exactly had happened to the seemingly happy couple. Due to respect for one another, and having both lived such a public life for a long time, there were no immediate answers given to those who were curious outside of a YouTube video from Jaclyn.
By the time we get on the phone, however, Jon was ready to speak a little more on what was going on to lead to their divorce. He explains that while they were happy for the most part, there was some sort of disconnect once Jaclyn’s fame started taking off. Though he pinpoints this as the time that things started souring, he’s quick to establish that he doesn’t place any of the blame on her. “Nothing against her, think it had to do with me,” Jon begins. “I’ve had addiction problems since I was eighteen, and now I’m five months clean. A lot of it was just pain I put her through — I could have been a lot better of a husband. And her fame kind of taking off just didn’t really help, it made that extravagant life and kind of drug life and material stuff more appealing. In the end, it kind of just became more like roommates and less like husband and wife. I relapsed back in December and I was keeping it from her for a while, and I knew once I fell back into it, it was inevitable that it would come to the surface at that point.”
Jon expresses his desire to want to make the marriage work, but it had gotten to the point where Jaclyn had let go and gone through grieving process — one that he understands her doing. Something that stuck out to me was his candidness on owing up to his own faults and the role he played in a relationship that ends, which can sometimes be a hard realization to have. There was more than just this relapse, however, in terms of what Jon feels like he could have done better, as there’s a lot of little things that seem to come to mind. “I definitely feel like besides the relapse, I could have been a lot more attentive. Toward the end, I was so miserable in my own grief and just kind of loss interest and just kind of sat on my phone a lot. I could have been there for her more and I could have been a better husband. When you’re hiding [an addiction] it’s hard to do anything, it’s hard to live. Going on trips and stuff it kind of became like ‘How can I hide this,'” he shares. “Definitely could have been overall [better], I could’ve shown her that I cared more.”
All of us have, at some point, been caught in a lie where you find yourself trying to remember what you’ve previously lied about in order to keep the story straight. This is a challenging task for most, but when you live in the public eye, you’re lying to your partner first and foremost, but additionally you are attempting to keep up your appearances. “We had this public image and everyone looked at us like this perfect married couple and we were both fighting to keep that and we hoped it would work out. And fighting to keep that perfect image kind of played into this ‘We have to work this out, if we divorce’ — she talked about it a lot, I never did, I was terrified of life without her — with her doing that, I felt like it was the end of the world,” Jon shares.
He mentions that he also found out of their divorce in rehab, and paints a visual of coming back home to find his belongings being moved out. While he recognizes that he was “one minute too late” — as he puts it — since he was finally ready to be the guy that she needed, he knows it was for the best in the end. “It’s crazy because now the time has passed, it was the best for both of us. I’ve gained so much knowledge from the pain, from the drugs and the divorce, everything has just kind of like made me who I am now.”
Through all of this, Jon has found himself in a better place mentally. It has gotten to the point now that when looking back on the moments when he wanted Jaclyn back, he’s able to recognize these as more of a nostalgic desire, in a way. “If I went back to that life, it still would’ve been a lie. Even with how hard I wanted it to work, it just would have been inevitable that it wouldn’t have worked out,” he explains. All together, Jon shares that their relationship is decent now while being filled with ups and downs, like most divorced couples he says.
But still, the big, driving force behind setting this divorce in motion seemed to be the relapse. Jon is very open about his experiences with drugs and his addiction, and so when I ask what drove him to relapse in the first place, he points tot he pressure that comes to the life he and Jaclyn were living. “It’s just like all i’ve really known, hiding things and putting on a front and putting on a mask. I felt compelled to be the center of attention and be funny and I felt like I could only really do that if I do these drugs — if I’m not gonna do them, I‘m gonna be boring,” he describes.
However, it’s very much so worth noting that — much like earlier towards the beginning of our conversation — while he’s referencing a certain aspect of their relationship, he doesn’t put any of the blame on Jaclyn herself. “Eventually, some people said it was because she was drinking, and I don’t think it was — she doesn’t drink a lot. People, any kind of party life style, people are gonna say ‘Oh, that’s what it was,’ but she could have been completely sober and I know that, knowing me and my past, I would have found my way back to that,” Jon explains, referencing how he would have wound up back in the same place, doing the same drugs regardless.
This was, as you can safely imagine, not an easy consensus to come through. There are a lot of people out there who struggle with addiction, and a lot of others who struggle with going through a divorce, so putting those two together at once is no easy thing to overcome. There was a point where he was using this divorce as a reason to get high, and this wasn’t something he was able to overcome until he went into rehab earlier this year, which marked his third time in his life doing so. Ultimately, it was during this stint that Jon was able to find his new purpose in life.
“The longer I just fought it out, it was a struggle every day because I could have left at any point, and I was just like ‘Dude, you have this huge platform, you have this album coming out, and its about addiction and recovery, why don’t you recover for real and help people,'” he begins, pivoting into explaining his desire to use his own personal struggles and pain to try and help others who might be going through something similar. It’s that desire, that willingness to be open and honest about himself, that he uses as his new-found purpose and to help keep himself clean. “It’s such an amazing thing to know that, sort of who I am and my pain is helping people. It’s kind of like sacrificing — but not really — but sacrificing, it was all worth it. If I could help one person, it’s all worth it –beyond worth it to me now.”
With that, there’s a lot to be learned from the story of Jon and his addiction, and most obviously would be this: it’s very, very hard. This is no surprise, of course, but there are specific things that maybe get overlooked. For example, he highlighted a struggle he had with getting out of rehab and his desire to do drugs got worse. “It’s so true when they say that once you get back out there, it gets worse,” he begins. “Once I got back out there, it just got insane. I was doing drugs I’d never done; heroin and coke and Xanax mixed together and trying to purposely overdose just because of that pain, and once you get that low, you have no will to live anymore. It’s kind of like you’re doing a math problem and you’re frustrated and once that kicks in you start reaching for something else, and that’s when that survivor’s instinct kicks in, and you’re like ‘Okay, I need something new to do now, I’m reaching for something and getting out of my old ways.’ I was just so desperate for something different.”
“The scariest is the withdrawals. I’ve been through it three times, and this last time was the worst,” Jon shares when I asked him the hardest part about his relapse and having to fight to overcome that. The overall message that he wanted to construe was to keep fighting, because he wants everyone to know that “There’s gonna be one day where you get over that hump and you’re gonna wake up hungry and with energy. It’s almost like you were living in black and white and suddenly you’re living in color.”
The conversation begins to shift into how all of this affected his music, which as you can imagine: it did. Jon is finally releasing his new album, Rebirth, as The Jon Hill Project on January 11th, 2019. I say finally because this album has been in the works since 2016, and is one that he has teased a few different times over the years via social media. However, he struggles with drugs and addiction played a part in those delays, even though there was a time when they were working on Rebirth that no one really knew what he was going through — not his producer or guitar guy, even while it was impacting his playing. “It was just so hard to hide and just having that struggle just really fueled me to want to write, and also telling the vocalist that like, you know, this is what I’d love for this to be about,” he explains, referring to working with the vocalists on singing songs about certain topics, all the while hiding his darkest secrets.
Referring back to his earlier statement of there being a day you wake up and get over the hump, Jon references his own personal experience. He recounts his January stint in rehab when he was planning on leaving rehab, and he was in the shower and it hit him that he shouldn’t leave because he didn’t have to keep going through this whole thing over and over again. There it was, like a cinematic moment of a lightbulb flicking on, his motivation and confidence. “It was just this boost of confidence, and it was like, ‘Maybe I am worth it, maybe I don’t have to live this, maybe I don’t have to go through this,'” he starts to openly recall, “And actually getting clean, I didn’t stay clean like I said because of the divorce, I finally got through it. I fought for it, but it was so painful physically and mentally, I only had one thing to fixate and it would be one thing to ruin it all. And then finally once I got over it I was like ‘Dude, I fought for this and I earned it’ and it was like the first feeling of confidence and that was a high like no other. I finally felt confidence in myself.”
This was such a monumental moment for Jon, personally, given that there were times previously when he felt like he was living that aforementioned lie. He references, like earlier in our conversation, having to keep up appearances, wearing diamonds, looking rich, social media, and everything that goes into that. He explains that he would tell people he was sober, getting ready to celebrate x amount of days sober, when that wasn’t remotely the case. “Even my wife believed it and the whole family believed it, and she told me looking back — she told me she can’t believe how long and how well [I] hid it. She was like ‘I guess I never really realized how smart you were,’ because when you’re on drugs you seem stupid and when your life is on the line you fight for that shit like no other. It’s almost like when you get clean you have to fight for it like before.”
Getting back on track with the impact this had on his music and Rebirth in general, I pose the question to Jon if there was anything that he felt uncomfortable writing about, or if there was anything he wanted to leave off the record from his personal life. He highlights the time when he was still hiding his relapse and addiction from those working on the album, and how once he got to the point of sharing this side of him with everyone, they all had their own flicking on of a lightbulb moment of realizing how much more sense the songs made. However, this also added additional perspective for Jon himself. “Even to me now, it’s like this album makes so much sense now. Each song is kind of like a different chapter of what I was going through at the time. One song is about addiction, one song is about the next step like what you’re gonna do once you’re clean, one song is about my relationship problems. It was like a crazy kind of whirlwind and out of all the wreckage we managed to make this album,” he tells me.
Jon, Spencer Bradham, and Spencer Gill collectively handpicked eleven highly-touted frontmen to add to this album, and pave the way to lyrically and melodically communicate all of Jon’s sentiments on both his pain and his current hope. You will be able to find the entire track-listing below, but for example: Aaron Marsh from Copeland, Tilian Pearson from Dance Gavin Dance, Nate Barcalow from Finch, Michael McGough from Being as an Ocean all appear on their own respective tracks. Their individual impact on the tracks is not one to be understood, as Jon specifically mentions to me that each singer helped tremendously to put the songs together and bring them to life. Marsh and Barcalow are ones that he calls out, given that each were big musical idols of his in his teenage years — like they were for most people in the alternative/indie music scene towards the early-2000’s. For Jon himself, he couldn’t be more excited with how Rebirth turned out. “Each time I listen to this album, it’s like I can’t believe I got these guys for this, it is my dream album,” he starts to share, “For me, it’s such a special thing and those guys made me feel amazing because of what I was in that mental state, and just that they agreed to work on it with me. Each song they were on, just completely became it’s own. It’s one album, but at the same time the way we wrote it, it all coincides even with the different singers and different aspects. It was a mind-blowing experience.”
In addition to the individual vocalists on each track, Jon highlights both Spencer’s contributions to the album, and Mike Watts who mixed the album at Clear Track Studios in Clearwater, Florida, and Joe LaPorta who mastered it at Stirling Sound in New York City. “They all have very similar vision that I did. they all like that super reverb-y, weird chords, bendy guitar, we all had that same goal in mind. It started off, the whole album, a little more hardcore, then the whole album turned out a little more chill, a little more indie,” Jon says on working with the group that he worked with.
We’re also excited here at Substream to be able to bring you the premiere of the first song off of Rebirth from The Jon Hill Project, which just so happens to be “Would You Save Me Now,” featuring the aforementioned Aaron Marsh. The song is one that was written by Marsh to reflect where Jon was towards the end of his and Jaclyn’s marriage, and the video perfectly accompanies that — starring Jon himself.
“The concept behind that song is, like even me at my worst, would you save me now? That’s kinda how we interpreted it, how strong is our love? Would you save me now? A lot of people, once me and Jaclyn divorced, a lot of people were like ‘Oh what happened? Jon cheated, I wonder if Jaclyn cheated.’ So, the whole video is me completely coming clean and like dude I screwed up, I ruined my marriage, and me being very honest, like with the whole drug use. We got a girl to essentially play Jaclyn, you can take it however, she got hired to play her, and she absolutely killed it, and it pushed me to kind of put so much more into it and be more aggressive. And it kind of helped me close that chapter, it just feels good to continue what I’m doing and being honest with what I’m doing. I made a lot of mistakes and this is what i’m paying for,” Jon explains on the song and video for “Would You Save Me Now.”
Being open and he’s willingness to share his side of what happened, it served as a weight being lifted off of his shoulders. He recalls that when he last got out of rehab, he was gone from social media for 2 months and saw all of the speculation about him being in rehab, and while he was initially ashamed because he did not want anyone to really know, he now hopes that it can help someone else, even if it doesn’t make him look good now that he had gone through that.
The video for “Would You Save Me Now” is just the first of a few that Jon has planned for Rebirth, as he shared with me that they’re actually working on a video for “Lesson Learned in Five Seconds” in early-December. The song features Donovan from Hail the Sun, who they’ll be shooting with as well. “[‘Lessons Learned in Five Seconds’] is just the whole meaning of regret, like a minute too late like I said, like it’s too late and it’s my fault.” After they are done with that video, there are plans to head out to Utah to do one for “Take the Next Step,” which is song featuring Casey Crescenzo from The Dear Hunter. This is one that Jon seems really eager to do, as it focused more on what you do after you get clean, out of rehab, and having to figure out what to do to stay clean. He describes it as a super peaceful song that touches on both closure and new beginnings. The idea of filming in Utah is one that Jon says he got from the movie 127 Hours, and how he can personally relate to the main character, Aron Ralston (portrayed by James Franco in the film). “He finally comes to this conclusion to cut his arm off and it’s not a bad thing, he’s so excited to cut his arm off because he’s free, and I kinda looked at that movie as inspiration when I was going through my withdrawals and sick, like dude once it’s over you’re gonna be over, and you’re gonna lose a lot — which I did — but it’s just kind of like I’m so happy just to be alive, especially when you’re so close to not being alive,” Jon explains.
For the Jon Hill Project itself, he mentions the desire to work on another album sooner rather than later. There’s also the possibility of getting the songs plugged in to commercials as well. Additionally, there’s the idea for wanting to play some festivals and do some shows — which would, typically, require commitment from one vocalist. Jon mentions that they have talked to vocalists that worked on this track and have two in mind — Kerry Courtney and Aaron Marsh — that would be willing to do the whole set and not just their own song, though that of course is dependent on scheduling.
Towards the end of our conversation, I wanted to find out from Jon what he wanted people to know about him and this project. Much like we have discussed already, he highlighted his desire to want to be a catalyst for others to get through their own personal struggles. So far throughout our conversation, and from listening to Rebirth I can tell you it’s evident on the record as well, Jon has no problem exposing his past mistakes and being candid about his own story, which is all that he can really do. He shares, “If I could take any of that struggle and pain I went trough and help anyone, it’s worth it to me. I’m so sorry to anyone I hurt on the way to this, but it’s just kind of how it ended up. A lot of people got hurt by me, it just kinda fuels the creativity. It’s weird, that struggle is just kind of what made me, me and that struggle is kind of what made up my life and kept me ticking. I just really feel like I want to take that pain and make it something positive and that’s really my main goal.”
There are no illusions about it, Jon was not able to get through this and do it all on his own. My last question to Jon was about his current support system, and he specifically references a moment in June when his father intervened and really saved his life. June was, as he tells it, when Jaclyn was officially gone, he realized all that was going on, and could not find a purpose on his own life. “I didn’t care about my album, I didn’t wanna live, I purposely OD’d a bunch of times, I had a stroke, all this shit and got really dark. I was hanging out with the wrong crowd, I was trying to get back at Jaclyn by getting with all of these weird girls that were just using me. One time my dad just called me at this really weird time where I was high out of my mind and he was like ‘What’s going on? I could sense something was going on’ and I told him everything that was going on and he ended up showing up and they all kind of intervention’d me and kind of tricked me into being like ‘You’re going on vacation and I was like ‘Uh okay where we going?’ But I owe everything to my dad,” Jon openly shares about this specific moment. “He absolutely saved my life, because I had about two more days. Once you’re not able to pee or your face doesn’t work — my time was so limited. Back then I just wanted to die, I would pray for it, just to be where i am now, and that extreme low made this normal. It makes this an extreme high. Just to get so low, the more pain you go through, the more you can help people and they can relate to you and you can impact people. The pain I went through, the more low I got, it was worth it.”
Now, Jon lives a more simple and relaxed life — it’s what works for him. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but all he can do is share his story and hope it resonates. He’s scaled back on some of the extravagant items, and has accepted his own emotions as being valid and normal. Perhaps this wasn’t the life that he always lived, but everything that happened previously has lead to this current iteration of Jon Hill: sober, at peace, and being hopeful every day. “I just live and I have emotions, sometimes it sucks but if I don’t get high,it goes away within thirty minutes and I’m being a human,” he says. “I’ve been running from that for so long.”
‘Rebirth’ from The Jon Hill Project will drop on January 11th, 2019 and can currently be pre-ordered here.
- Would You Save Me Now (Feat. Aaron Marsh) – Copeland
- Grey’s Gift (Feat. Brennan Taulbee) – Polyenso
- Lesson Learned In Seconds (Donovan Melero) – Hail the Sun
- Take The Next Step (Feat. Casey Crescenzo) – The Dear Hunter
- Drifting Towards the Sun (Feat. Kerry Courtney) – Goodnight Neverland
- Show You The Stars (Feat. Keith Day) – Good Old War
- Hang Em High (Feat. Nate Barcalow) – Finch
- Take Me Up (Feat. Michael McGough) – Being As An Ocean
- Drinking And Cleaning (Feat. Nathan Hussey) – All Get Out
- Flat Line (Feat. Tanner Merritt) – O’Brother
- Same Old Song (Feat. Tilian Pearson) – Dance Gavin Dance