2015: A Year’s Worth of Memories (Ben Grigg)

by Steven Spoerl

ben grigg
Photograph by Mark Federighi

We lost a lot of great bands in 2015 to varying degrees of mourning and despair. Krill’s final bow obviously struck a nerve but it’s important to remember that they weren’t the only band to step down. While Ovlov managed to find a spiritual continuation via Stove, Geronimo! — who I penned a hybrid eulogy/review for back in March, just a small handful of months after they played this site’s first showcase — have taken a somewhat different path. Guitarist/vocalist Kelly Johnson and keys master Ben Grigg have been devoting their time to various new projects. All of them will undoubtedly be worth hearing. Grigg was kind enough to reflect on the loss of Ovlov and what it meant to him to be at their final show. Read it below and make sure you see your friends’ bands while they’re still around.

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2015 was a year of change for me. Every year changes people, but last year was a big one for me. The band I had played in since 2007, Geronimo!, called it quits, I left the comfort of a familiar job for the intimidating challenge of a new one, and I moved into a house far from my old neighborhood to the west side of Chicago. The good thing about change though is that it usually forces growth. You lose some comfort for the sake of coming closer to who you want to be. That’s the hope at least.

Pretty soon after our band played its last show, the realization set in that I had no plans for my free time. Intellectually, I had known the that this would happen, but I was not prepared for the reality of it. I would come home after work and have nothing to do. Every day of the week. I found myself contemplating what the hell I was doing with my life. Shit.

Suddenly, amidst all the free time and emo soul searching, I developed an itch to get a plane ticket and travel out to Brooklyn for a weekend. It became imperative. At the time, it wasn’t clear to me why I had to do this. But, with some distance, I can see what was going on in my head. Without playing shows, I wasn’t getting out east to see the friends I had made through past tours. I wasn’t sure when I’d be able to get out there again and somehow it seemed like a way to get some closure on that part of band life.

As luck would have it, some pals of mine in a band called Clearance from Chicago were playing in June at Shea Stadium. It seemed like as good a time as any. I joked to the guys in Clearance that I’d see them In Brooklyn but I doubt they believed me. A few days later, Ovlov announced that they would be playing their last show that same weekend, also at Shea. That sealed the deal. I bought plane tickets.

Getting to see Ovlov one last time was especially meaningful to me.We first played with them back in 2011 on an east coast tour and got along with them pretty immediately. On that tour they invited us to their friend’s beach house in Rhode Island. Drinks that night famously consisted almost entirely of Beer 30. We had to leave pretty early the next morning for a long drive to the next show, but awoke to find a bunch of groceries meant for us and a hilariously illegible note from Ovlov and their friend Gator. It was about the coolest thing that had happened to us as a band. Over the next four years, we played with Ovlov many more times and got to know them. They felt like our first real band friends.

I don’t have too many vivid memories from watching them play that last show at Shea. It’s more of a mixture of visceral fleeting moments. Feeling the floor moving, getting my ears blasted, chanting along to “I can’t wait to watch TV”. It was the perfect goodbye to Ovlov, and somehow, in the most cliche way possible, a goodbye to a part of my life. I’ll be in other bands, hopefully I’ll come out to the east coast again and see a lot of the same people. But, that experience, that specific part of my life was gone.

That night, I stayed up with friends waiting until the wee hours of the morning when my flight left LaGuardia. These are the kind of friends that I had the privilege of making from being in a band. The kind that will stay up until 5am after a show to see you off. It was the perfect end to the weekend. All things told, I got to reconnect and hang out with a ton of people that had made my experiences playing in Geronimo so meaningful. It was all I could have hoped for and it made me feel so damn thankful to have had the opportunity to play music and meet all these great people.

By the end of the year, I was back playing music with friends in Chicago. With any luck, 2016 will be a year of first shows, not last ones. New growth. Every year can’t be a 2015, but it’s good to have them every now and then.

-Ben Grigg