By Lesley Hastings.
Grammy-nominated Nashville artist Will Hoge, who treads the line between Country and Rock ’n’ Roll to perfection, has announced that his 12th studio album “ Wings On My Shoes ” will be released on August 26th marking yet another milestone on his two-decade-plus musical journey ( pre-order here https://go.willhoge.com/WOMSa ). Will has logged countless miles on the road including frequent visits to the UK and anyone who has been fortunate enough to see him live will no doubt vouch for not only his brilliant musicianship and perceptive songwriting but also his fantastic sense of humour!
Written largely during the pandemic and produced by Will during a week’s worth of live performances at Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studios, the new album sees him joined by his longtime backing combo, guitarist Thom Donovan, drummer Allen Jones and bassist Christopher Griffiths, with guest multi-instrumentalist Joshua Grange contributing pedal steel and organ. With few overdubs and zero trickery it wears its rough edges with pride and its release was preceded earlier this year by the powerful album-closing “ Whose God Is This?” available for streaming and download here https://go.willhoge.com/WGIT
It was great to get the chance for a “Zoom chat“ with Will from his home in music city recently, the thirty minutes really did fly by and I hope you enjoy the read!
LH Thanks so much for your time today Will….it must be quite a novelty for you to be at home, you’re such a troubadour! You’ve just finished one US tour and I see more dates are imminent to support the new album!
WH Yeah, it’s interesting, this has just become a habit! We grew up doing this and touring was really the only way to make ends meet …people say “man, you still tour so much”, we play maybe 90 shows a year which I guess is still a lot but I grew up playing 200 so this is a breeze!
LH But thanks to the pandemic it all came to a halt for two years or so didn’t it, how was that enforced time off the road for you?
WH You know it’s interesting, the not touring part was really nice! I got to spend more time with my kids, my wife, I got to do things at home that I never had the time to do. Little normal, human things! But the thing that was really hard was I felt really isolated because I’d spent so many of my years jumping in a van, on a bus, on a train with my band and my people and cultivating relationships really naturally. All of a sudden I was stuck at home, my wife was still working and I was teaching my kids as they weren’t at school. I released I’d never had to work at building and maintaining relationships, it was isolating and dark, a really really hard time that first year. I finally hit the bottom with that then got my proverbial shit together and it was ok, even beneficial.
LH And of course your last album,” Tiny Little Movies”, came out in the early months of lockdown, to rub salt into the wounds! Did you toy with delaying its release?
WH Yes that was hard! We talked about delaying it but my issue was that from a marketing (I hate using that word!) standpoint we probably would have benefitted from waiting but I was already chomping at the bit with “Wing On My Shoes” and if we’d delayed “Tiny Little Movies“ we’d have to wait another two year for this one, pushing everything back. Waiting didn’t make sense. So we put it out and although it probably didn’t get the attention we’d have wanted the good thing is the songs don’t go away so when people hear “Wings on my Shoes” they can go back and discover that one too.
LH So I know a lot of the songs on the new album were written during that period, I’ve had the pleasure of listening to them already and to me there’s a lot of gratitude coming through. Especially for your family, and your wife in particular….you’ve just spoken about spending more time with them of course. Did you take the time to have a bit of a reset, to appreciate what’s really important to you?
WH Thanks a lot for saying that, the gratitude part of that is really a pilar of the whole record. I’ve always felt lucky, moderately grateful to be able to do this as a living the whole time, but one of the major parts of the downtime with all of us having to deal with this trauma and pain was I released I had to find some type of emotional diamonds of positivity and hope …without it being fake! I didn’t want it to be “everything’s ok!” because everything was NOT ok. That was what was the hardest for me, that balance between man, I hate that we are all suffering though this but how is it also the best year of my life. Getting to be with my kids 24 hours a day… at the time they were 11 and 8 such important parts of their lives…. getting to be around all the time was pretty magical. And then getting to really focus on writing in a way I haven’t …. for an extended period of time … was really wonderful.
LH And there’s quite a lot of love songs on the album, something we don’t necessarily associate you with!
WH Ha, no!!
LH So are you a big romantic at heart or was that something that you only realised during that time?
WH I fight that back a little bit!! I have my vulnerability issues that I deal with and I think that really trying to embrace those songs, write happy love songs, is hard. For me at least. But this batch, there seemed to be a few of them in there that I was able to wrangle and didn’t sound trite and I felt had some meat on the bone! But I was glad to get to do it …. it only took me 12 albums!!
LH They don’t sound trite to me either, it’s so hard to write a love song that doesn’t sound all mushy and over sentimental. “The Last One To Go” in particular just ripped my heart and soul out and is probably one of my favourites of yours that you’ve ever written.
WH Thank you! My friend Dave Hause (who also has a new album out soon that I produced) has been playing it at his shows and it’s been going over great apparently!
LH One of the tracks that’s out there already and is riding high on the Americana radio charts is album opener “John Prine’s Cadillac“ ….. a line from it providing the album title of course. I love the inspiration behind this one … a true story of you pulling up alongside him in traffic and seeing him grinning and bobbing his head along to whatever song was blasting out of the car stereo with unbridled joy, and you really have captured that feeling in this song. I guess that moment was always destined to provide a song at some point, was his sad passing in the early months of the pandemic, what spurred you into writing it?
WH Yeah, that was a big thing. I held that memory for years, it was easily 20 years ago but it was such a cool visual it stuck with me. I never knew what I was going to do with it apart from just laugh about the story. I was lucky enough to do some shows with him over the years and he was always so kind. We played together on a cruise ship before my wife and I had kids, a singer/songwriter cruise festival, and I was begging my wife to go to see him. She really only knew his songs like “Angel From Montgomery“, maybe “Hello In There”, she wasn’t really a John Prine fan and wasn’t sure if she wanted to go. So I said (and I don’t usually pull this card!) “if you really love me you’ve gotta see this show! If you don’t like it then we’ll leave”. So we went tho she really didn’t want to be there and about three songs in she tapped me on the shoulder …. and I thought oh no, she’s going to tell me she wants to leave! …. So I turned to look at her and she had tears in her eyes and she said “this is the greatest show I’ve ever seen!”. And at the end he kind of danced off stage and she looked at me like “I might just leave you for him” and it was just another exclamation point to everything … a testament to what John is but also a testament to what great music can be outside of John, somebody transforming and saying “oh I get that!”. For me that’s why you get up there every night, the hope you get that connection. I wanted that joy to be reflected in that song for sure.
LH And it’s got a really great accompanying video too….do you enjoy that side of things or do you reluctantly accept it’s necessary these days?
WH That type of thing is cool, but if they just ask me to sit at my desk and film myself playing I don’t really see any reason. I grew up with MTV and VH1, so the idea that you still get to make some kind of music video is actually very cool for me! I don’t like getting to look at myself, the narcissistic thing, that part I don’t like, but I do love the concept of giving people some sort of visual interpretation of a song. With that one we just basically got to go and sit in Arnold’s, a great restaurant, it was hardly a tough day at the office, eating pie and fried chicken!
LH I could ask you about every single track, but we have limited time …I love “Queenie“ (a tribute to Will’s Grandmother) as I adore character driven songs, and “Ain’t How it Used To Be“ ( about the gentrification of his hometown) …. it’s not a Will Hoge album without a bit of political commentary….
WH Ha yeah there’s just a BIT in there!!
LH But I must ask you about a song that in the tradition of country music tells such a great story and drew me in right from the start, ”Dead Man’s Hand”. How did that one come about? Is it inspired by a true story?
WH I’ve always been hesitant with the phrase “I’m a writer” …. I feel like I’m a rock ’n’ roll singer or songwriter but I’m a college drop out, how can I be a writer? But I’ve got friends who are actual writers and novelists, and I realised there’s a link to that world I have to start to embrace. So there’s a guy I admire who’s a tv and film writer, a great creative, and we’ve developed this friendship online, he recommended this idea of “morning pages” where you get up every day and just start to write …. there’s a book called “The Artist’s Way” which talks about it, so I read that on his recommendation. So when I knew I needed to start working on this record I was waking up every day and writing 2 or 3 pages, it could just be non-sensical but I made myself do it before I did anything else and found it really helpful. And that song is … well I’d been talking to an old friend about an old wrestler called Bruno Sammartino and I woke up that morning and wrote down the name and the rest of that song! No chorus but the whole story was there in a long, long journal entry. Then when I was making this record I wrote the music and the riff for that song, and I looked back and saw this journal entry, changed his name and wrote a chorus and that was it! It was really just a stream of consciousness and I’m so grateful because it was wonderful to have a new habit yield something positive that I really liked! So the writing of it I loved…and the recording! It was one of the last we recorded for the record and I loved the process … it’s really long and if you don’t have the right guys around you see eyes roll as you’re on the 4th verse of the 7 verses!! You look round and they’re falling asleep! It was completely NOT that! So I’m excited for folks to hear it and to play it …. you’re the first person that’s mentioned it so I’m so glad you really liked it!
LH In fact I was going to ask which song you’re most excited about people hearing … so maybe it’s that one?
WH That’s definitely one! But all of them. At this point we’ve only played “John Prine’s Cadillac” and I’ve been playing “Whose God Is This?” a bit .
LH And you mentioned the recording process just now, it’s bit different this time as it was recorded live in the studio with your band I gather? Was that as you hadn’t been able to get together to tour, was it a way to get your fix of playing together so to speak … or for time/financial reasons?
WH We’ve done the last few records as a band, I really love this group of guys, but I think that part of the joy that is felt on the record is because we hadn’t gotten to be in a room together, or do anything. So we captured that initial spark like we had not in the past. And also we had my friend Josh Grange, who is a fantastic musician…. it was fun to have my band who are all really comfortable together, but then when you bring in a new person it changes the dynamic a bit ‘cos all of a sudden they want to impress that new person, you’re just uncomfortable enough to really be at your best, so that was a real fun thing.
LH And you’ve self-produced this album, like you have with several again the past. I love the variety of arrangements, from the full on guitar/drum led rockers to the more delicate stripped back. When you write a song do you have an idea of what you’ll want from the band when you step into the studio, do things happen organically, how does that side of things develop?
WH I don’t have laser focus, I try not to think “right, I want this drum part, this guitar part”, I don’t love making records like that. If I was going to do that I’d just make the records on my own! So I try to have an idea but part of the fun of the studio for me is giving everyone enough … putting the paint in front of everybody and seeing what everybody does … then going “more of that, less of that, a different part here”. The collaborative part of that is what I really enjoy and what really helped with this record.
LH I love the extra energy and soul of a live album…and that comes though on this one for sure and I know you’ve put out a couple recorded at shows over the years. So much new music these days seems too perfect and over produced…I’m sure both types have their place…what’s your views?
WH I don’t love the “crisp, everything is correct and perfect” type of albums. They’re just not very interesting to me. Same way that I don’t like people who are that way … you know, they don’t have any scars and their teeth are just perfect, they have no problems in their lives … I don’t trust that person!! I like a little of the flaws and things that are unique like on some of the records I grew up listening to, old Beatles records or old Country records from Nashville, otherwise I lose interest personally. I like a few “wrinkles” to make it the real thing.
LH I see the new album is available in a range of formats …including cassette which kind of made me smile! I’m loving the recent vinyl revival, is this the next comeback?
WH It is making a little bit of a comeback! I have a friend that puts out cassette only recordings, he did an album and I bought a Walkman and it was so fun to listen again like that! I love vinyl but you can’t take it around with you. We’ll see if people buy into it I guess!
LH Yeah I still have my old Walkman! Maybe it’s worth a fortune now!! And like with vinyl, you can’t put a cassette on “shuffle” which is great I think!
LH You have a bit of time off before you tour the album, but there’s two Nashville shows around its release date. Are hometown shows always a bit more special? Will your sons be there or isn’t that cool enough for them?
WH Yeah, you go through spells when you start that it’s the best place to play, and then when you’ve done it for a while it becomes a bit intimidating I think because you wonder “do they still like me?”. It’s just so fun tho after Covid to get back to doing this again with the band. And yes my sons sat in last time we played Nashville, and they’re old enough now that they can come to the shows … have an “under 18 section” with their school mates…it’s great to have them around.
LH And finally…. will we be seeing you over here in the UK sometime in 2023 ?
WH Yeah! We’re working on stuff for the first part of the year! Actually I was just on a meeting about it yesterday! We love it there and you guys have been so supportive so February and March looks likely, it should be announced pretty soon!
LH Oooh fantastic! See you there! Thanks again for your time today, good luck with the album release and US tour.
WH Thanks Lesley, I appreciate it!
Keep up to date with all Will’s news at willhoge.com where you’ll find links to all his socials