Grant Milliren, now 21, was getting serious about music by his mid-teens. But the Illinois State University arts technology student was also a varsity athlete at Neuqua Valley High School in suburban Naperville.
“I was at a crossroads. I loved playing music, loved writing music, and playing with the band. At the same time, I had a good time playing lacrosse. But I had an epiphany moment after that (sophomore) season and said, ‘You know, music is my thing.’ I had more fun doing this, I had more joy out of doing it. At the same time, I really took pride in what I was doing musically,” said Milliren.
And despite the “fun,” he realized “pride” was not something he was taking from lacrosse. Music became a no-brainer.
“No looking back,” exclaimed Milliren, adding a quick hitting “no no no no no no no no” for emphasis.
His 2018 release “Little Things” is his most recent and offers a hint of where he’s headed. The song “Emerald Bay” sprang from a visit to Seattle and uses imagery from the coastal Washington city that’s home to a large tech industry that includes home base for behemoths Microsoft and Amazon. Not to mention the birthplace of grunge rock. But Milliren was particularly struck by the people of what many call The Emerald City.
“You see a lot of love and compassion for others,” said Milliren. “They have gay pride flags hanging everywhere. It really comes across as welcoming. And being by the ocean really sets something off in my head.”
As did the nature-centric ethic of the town. The emerald moniker was inspired by the green visible year-round.
“Just the morning view you get, it’s unlike anything in Chicago,” said Milliren, who feels the trip was life changing, and one more should undertake. Even if Seattle isn’t the destination.
“Not just for people in general, but for musicians,” added Milliren. “You garner more inspiration going to different spots. I know people who have visited different states and cities and they’ve changed. They say, ‘Oh man, I know where I want to go now.’ For the people on the fence about traveling, it’s big to do it because it really helps you kind of get to know who you are and what you like.”
Milliren’s first band formed in the summer between his freshman and sophomore year of high school. The now guitarist was the drummer.
“But my songwriting was happening behind the curtain,” said Milliren, who added it was a combination of songwriting and poetry.
“I was jotting down lines and rhymes and doing certain structured poems … making words fit within the lines and syllables line up. Really just trying to narrow down the craft. But as much as I loved poetry, I was putting them toward the songs I was writing,” said Milliren.
“Inside My Head” is another track from “The Little Things.” On his bandcamp page, he describes the song as being about “… sanity. Finding the main road when you take a wrong turn. On the contrary, it’s also about looking back on past experiences and moving forward as a go-getter.”
It’s a particularly mature look for a then 19-year-old who realizes nothing is handed to an independent touring musician.
“Yeah, you just have to cross that line,” said Milliren of the hard work ahead. He said he’s already learned a bunch since he wrote the song a couple years ago, including not being satisfied with a song’s first draft.
“Going forward from the last year, especially since the record, but also with my newer music, I’m always going back and making a revision and further solidifying each and every little aspect of each song. So they can sound that much tighter and polished so you feel the work that was put into it,” said Milliren.
Grant Milliren plays Nightshop in downtown Bloomington on Saturday night.
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