Modern History's John Hermle on Music, Mental Health, and Wilco
Chicago-based rock band Modern History's upcoming album Remember comes after a ten-year-long hiatus. Frontman John Hermle speaks with Tracy Ross about what happened during that time, from treating mental health disorders to playing onstage with Hermle's musical heroes.
Remember is the second full-length album Hermle will release under the moniker Modern History. Following the release of Written by the Vickers in 2011, Hermle took a break from music "due to depression and anxiety...just not being mentally able to pick up a guitar." His upcoming album "is about dealing with depression and anxiety, but hopefully coming from a more hopeful place. Coming out on the better side of it," Hermle explains.
Hermle attributes his return to songwriting to his best friend and co-collaborator, Pete, and a performance opportunity at Wilco's 2019 Solid Sounds Festival. After sending in a submission to the Wilco Karaoke contest, Hermle was chosen to perform on stage with the band that first inspired his musical journey.
"I picked up a guitar when I was 12 or 13. My dad taught me how to play Wilco's "California Stars" and gave me a book, and I was off to the races," Hermle says. "I was self-taught. I learned how to play guitar while listening to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot."
Hermle and Wilco performed "Dawned on Me," which Hermle considers a "rock pop masterpiece. When I first heard it, I just started crying at the harmonies on it. That's when I realized I might have depression. After spending time listening to the album, I actually reached out to my doctor for help. It's a song that helped me realize I should get this taken care of."
While Hermle can't remember much of the four-minute performance with his favorite band, he remembers a lot from backstage. "I thought it was magical. We had our own kind of mini-Wilco concert backstage, listening to each other practice and just hanging out with each other. The calm before the storm."
Hermle recalls Wilco's manager, Crystal, pulling him and the other participants aside after the performance. "[She] said, 'you guys are in the Wilco family now.' If you would've told 12-year-old me I'd be part of the Wilco family, I wouldn't have believed it. That wouldn't have happened in a million years." After the festival, a newly-inspired Hermle wrote a "flurry of songs" that would later morph into Remember.
When Hermle isn't writing or recording music, he teaches math and social studies. He says the most challenging thing about being a teacher and a musician is balancing time between the two. Hermle also says that teaching itself is "its own performance, in a way. I know I'm going to make an idiot out of myself in front of the students, but if they can grasp onto something, that's what's going to make it worth it. I've brought my guitar in, and we've made an attempt at writing songs related to the Civil War or the Constitution."
Modern History's Remember is set to release within the year. Written by the Vickers and two shorter releases are currently available on Modern History's bandcamp. Follow Modern History's Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more updates on the upcoming release.