From Surrey to L.A.’s Sunset Strip to Florida and back to California, it’s been quite a rock ‘n’ roll trip for Grant Hill to release a debut album.
At age 53, the Whalley-raised musician has put out Fly, an album that’s been a lifetime in the making for the current Los Angeles resident, who recorded songs at EastWest Studios with his band, M.O.S., and producer Les Camacho, whose credits include work with Iggy Pop and Massive Attack, among others.
For Hill, writing and recording of Fly began way back in 2013.
“It took a little longer than expected, but here it is, and I think it’s been worth the wait – at least it has for me,” Hill said in a phone call prior to the album’s Feb. 19 release date.
Polishing the songs for release became a pandemic-era project for Hill, whose Surrey roots include his birth at the hospital on King George Boulevard, high schooling at L.A. Matheson and Prince Margaret, baseball-ing with Whalley Little League and, by 1981, a first song he wrote and sold “for a kiss,” as the story goes.
“I used to play my guitar in the boys locker room at L.A. Matheson for 40 or 50 people hanging out, guys and gals,” Hill recalled.
Bands and local stages followed, including stints with Direct Drive and The Spokes, before Hill turned his attention to making some real money in the construction business. Work in the rebar-installation sector took him to San Diego and, eventually, a permanent home in California, where he’s lived for two decades.
Life hasn’t been all sunshine for Hill, who in 2005 found himself facing a 40-day stint in a Florida county jail, for a drug-fuelled assault at a house party. The charges were later dropped, according to Hill.
Two years earlier, he discovered the Sunset Strip music scene and “went down a rabbit hole” of sorts.
“I went with my brother one night to see some music and we just hung around,” Hill recalled. “I walked into the Rainbow Room and saw my future ex-wife there, flashing her boobs – you can bleep that out if you want.… Lemmy (Kilmister, of the band Motorhead) was actually supposed to marry us, because he was ordained, and there’s all kinds of fun stuff that came out of that.
“It’s a blur but also very in focus, too, because I got to be a fly on the wall in the rock ’n’ roll world,” he continued. “I knew the owner very well, Mario, and I ate meals there all the time and got to know people and see the real deal. I realized that I didn’t want that, that rock ’n’ roll side. I want the music, but not all that.”
In 2002, two years after he moved to California, Hill’s father, Leslie, passed away, an event that shook him enough to start writing music again. A number of songs emerged, including the roots of some that show up on Fly.
Years later, at a seminar, he met his current wife, Jill, the mother of his two sons, Xander and Hunter.
“I got married three different times, and now I have two beautiful boys,” Hill said. “And that’s another reason to do this now, to show them and have them hear this music, too.”
Hill says his roots in Surrey helped prepare him for life in Hollywood.
“It really did,” he emphasized. “It’s a tough town, a real tough town – the games that get played, you know, and people with promises and mostly false promises, things like that. You know how to carry yourself walking onto Sunset (Boulevard), instead of looking to the sky and being in wonderment of everything around you. I think I developed a sense of awareness about what was around me at all times. Going to parties in Surrey, you could never let your guard down, even if you were the guy singing.”
Today, those who click on surreyboy.com are taken to the website for Hill’s music.
Fly features a mix of music styles, including blues, soft rock and singer-songwriter vibes.
“It’s been really hard to tell people exactly what genres this lands in, because it crosses a couple of them for sure,” Hill explained. “It all pretty much connects to the music I grew up listening to – Black Sabbath and Thin Lizzy but also Depeche Mode and Tears For Fears, you know, thanks to my older brother. My father brought the old country in, Willie Nelson, and also Neil Diamond. I’ve been very blessed to have a lot of influence in my life, as far as music goes.”
Meeting Camacho on a project job site in 2013 was the foundation of Hill’s professional career in music, and they became fast friends. Hill began laying down tracks and recorded when he could at EastWest Studios, and formed the M.O.S. band.
“We’ve been rehearsing like crazy,” Hill noted, “and we have a very safe environment for that at a studio here. So we’re ready (to play live), and it’s kind of the story of my life, the little engine that could, but you just gotta keep going.”
The album release date is a couple months ahead of a planned album-launch concert for Hill and band.
“Because of the pandemic, the show we had lined up has been pushed until May,” he explained, “but I can’t wait any longer for this to come out.”
As for Surrey, he hopes to soon return to the city of his youth.
“My mother still lives there, and right now that’d be the only reason to come back, to see her,” Hill started. “I mean, I do miss my hometown, because I haven’t been back in 15 years. Life got in the way, and I’d like to have my kids see where their dad grew up, and I want to bring the music, too.”
Online, look for Grant Hill’s music at granthillandmos.com and also facebook.com/GrantHillandMOS.