Will Hoge Biography
This is what Will Hoge and his band discovered firsthand during their cross-country travels over the past two and a half years. As they brought their brand of soulful rock ‘n’ roll to clubs from their native Nashville to New York to Seattle, they found themselves connecting with people from all walks of life.
“The thing that lingers after a lot of those meetings is how passionate most people are about some aspect of their life,” says Hoge. “With every person we’ve talked to, there’s always one thing they feel needs to change. They may not be doing everything right in their life, but they’re doing their part. And they wonder about the current state of things - ‘Why is this happening? Who’s responsible for this?’ It wasn’t just one group of people that we heard it from, but from all across the political and socio-economic spectrum. A lot of these people - especially those in their teens and twenties - feel like their voice doesn’t matter. And that’s one of the reasons we felt we had to make this record.”
The idea for Hoge’s latest release, The America EP, was born one night in the van while the group was on tour. “We were having a political conversation,” says Hoge, “and someone made the comment that there were too many politicians and not enough leaders. That was the comment that sparked everybody. I don’t know what kind of leadership role a rock ‘n’ roll band can take, really. And I don’t want anyone to think we’re overemphasizing our importance. But we felt like we couldn’t have this conversation and then not say something in our music about what we were feeling.”
What Hoge says in the five songs on The America EP is eloquent and moving, touching on timeless themes of love, loss, loneliness, family and aspirations for a better life. Mining a tradition of narrative songwriting from Woody Guthrie to Bruce Springsteen, he paints deeply empathetic character studies of people who are yearning to have their voices heard.
The EP kicks off with the haunting “Bible vs. Gun.” Against a jagged backdrop of ethereal guitar moans and shrapnel-spraying drum beats, Hoge takes on the voice of a young soldier writing home from the front lines. “At the time I was working on the song, I was reading a letter from the Battle of Nashville that was written by a Northern soldier back in the Civil War,” he says. “There were striking similarities to the letters and stories you hear from today’s soldiers. The wars aren’t similar, but it’s the common thread of a young kid who’s just trying to do his job. He’s not even sure what he’s doing and he’s scared to death.”
“The Other Side,” a ballad of haves and have nots, traces the tragic arc of a father out to make a better life for his family. “The sentiment of the song started very innocently,” Hoge says. “It was about my childhood. There was literally a railroad track that ran through the center of town, and I remember feeling like the kids that I went to school with who lived on the other side of that track always had more. They had nicer clothes, and their parents had nicer cars and better jobs. I by no means lived in a Shantytown, but the differences were very apparent.”
The seriousness of these opening songs is tempered with a blast of barbed humor on the revved-up “Hey Mr. President (anyone but you).” Through the voices of three disenchanted voters, the song poses questions that go straight to the heart of the upcoming election’s key issues - the economy, the war and unemployment. Finally, exasperated by their president’s assurances that “everything’s going to be all right,” the song rolls out a funny and surprising list of alternative candidates.
This balance of social conscience and what the All Music Guide hails as the band’s “fist-pumping, hip-shaking” sound is something Hoge says he picked up from touring with Aussie vets Midnight Oil. “They’re very politically motivated, even within most of their songs. Yet they were still this really great rock ‘n’ roll band live. They came out and gave it their all, which was a good lesson that you can mix those two things.”
The EP closes with a stirring cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’”(recorded one night on the front porch of the studio) and the explosive title track “America,” on which Hoge’s ragged but riveting vocal embodies the contradiction of soldiers who are heroes when they go and strangers when they return.
Just as these songs are about finding an authentic voice, so too is this latest chapter in Will Hoge’s career. The singer-songwriter, a native of Franklin, TN, started playing guitar in high school and joined his first band while at Western Kentucky University. “I knew right then it was something I was going to pursue,” he says. An apprenticeship with various groups ended with Hoge fronting his own. Constant touring and the self-released album Carousel led to a major label release on Atlantic Records, Blackbird On A Lonely Wire, an experience that taught Hoge when it comes to conveying his songs, the less machinery involved, the better.
“Those sessions in the studio were overwrought,” he says. “Everything had to be right. We had to have exactly the right sounds. Everybody had to play the exact right part. ‘And if you can’t play the exact right part, we’re going to get somebody in who can play it.’ We wanted to get a record out, so we realized the only way we were going to be able to do it was to play that game. I think we sacrificed a lot by doing that.”
“Cut to two and a half years later,” Hoge continues. “We’re ready to make this record on our own, without a producer. The comment that we continually get is that our live show is what sets us apart from other bands. We wanted to stay really true to what we do live. We didn’t work out any of the songs ahead of time. The first day in the studio, I showed the band “Bible vs. Gun,” we worked out an arrangement, recorded it, did a couple of overdubs and mixed it that night. Next day, woke up, did another song the same way. The whole point was that we wanted this recording to capture the birth of the song.”
The America EP not only captures the vibrant spirit and feel of the newly minted songs, but also a kind of rebirth of Hoge’s outlook on how his music can reach people. He says, “We recently got an e-mail from a guy in Boston who said he had bought the EP, listened to it, and registered to vote that night. He’s twenty-six and he’s never voted in an election. He said, ‘I’m not telling you how I’m going to vote or what my opinions are, but listening to this record made me realize that I do have to have an opinion.’ That really meant the world to us. To think that we can influence anybody or open their eyes to the process and make them want to get involved - that’s really cool.”
“Of course, we’re not naive enough to think that we’re going to affect the upcoming election in any huge way,” Hoge continues. “But maybe we can turn a few people around to the idea that ‘This is a process we need to be a part of.’ We don’t care what side you’re on. Just be a part of it. Get your voice heard. Register to vote. Educate yourself to what’s going on. Not just in your neighborhood, but in your state, your country, and ultimately, the world. I do think that kind of thing is really important. In what little way a rock ‘n’ roll band can help fan the flames of that, I’d like to think that we’re doing our part.”