Interviews

Will Hoge: The Gravel-Voiced Hero of Nashville’s Blue-Collar Songwriting Scene

Will Hoge. Photo: Ed Rode/Getty Images

Will Hoge is reflecting on the different steps that led him to his phenomenal new album Anchors — the good and the bad.

“When somebody doesn’t want to pay you to do the job anymore, you can cut it 10 different ways, but you’re just getting fired,” Hoge says. “And any time you get fired from a job, you kind of feel like an asshole.”

“I feel like I worked hard,” Hoge says. “I did the best I could. Obviously I wasn’t good enough to continue getting paid to do the job. So that’s depressing.

Anybody familiar with Hoge’s incredible body of work should cringe at the sound of those words. Good enough. Hoge is the gravel-voiced hero of Nashville’s born-and-bred, blue-collar music scene. He’s the kind of guy who inspired guys like Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton to come to Nashville. In fact, all three of them worked together routinely.

Hoge is also the voice behind a national Chevy commercial and the theme song for major 2000s sitcom Still Standing, as well as a Grammy-nominated songwriter whose song “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” notched nominations for ACM and CMA song of the year. So “good enough” my ass.

But Hoge isn’t feeling bad for himself that his staff writing gig fizzled out. He’s explaining the internal process of the “CSI investigation” he did into his own career. The deep thinking he did a year and a half ago when he realized he fell out of love with music.

“I had to go back and realize, ‘What am I doing? Why am I unhappy? How did I get here?'” Hoge says. After the success of “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” he signed his writing deal and was able to “feed his family for four years,” as he puts it. But the gig ultimately felt unfulfilling.

Hoge found himself not sure to do with it, since music was all he’d known since 1997. He let his band go and retreated for introspection.

Then, his two young boys who were six and nine at the time reminded him what it felt like to do it just for the fun of it. They were making a racket in the house, singing a punk song they wrote called “George, You Are Under Arrest” (George was the youngest). Hoge watched from his bedroom window, then went and picked up a pen and wrote “17,” the catalyst for all of Anchors.

 

Hoge produced and recorded the record in January, mining deep emotional territory for his new songs. Despite being a jovial and charming family man, Hoge created what he calls a “trying not to get divorced record.” One that finishes with a notably optimistic and all-around phenomenal song called “Young As We Will Ever Be.” Hoge credits it for keeping the record from being a “getting divorced” record.

“I’m happily married, but that doesn’t mean I’m always happy,” Hoge says. It’s what makes him so transformative. “To be a good songwriter, you have to make things real,” he says. “I see it in my parents’ divorce. I see it with my friends who are going through divorces, or friends who probably should get divorced.”

Songs like “This Grand Charade” (one of Hoge’s favorite songs he’s ever written) and “Cold Night In Santa Fe” are gut-punches you welcome every time. But songs like “Little Bit Of Rust” (a duet with Sheryl Crow) and “Baby’s Eyes” show that push and pull of constantly remembering that sometimes love is worth fighting for.

Hoge is constantly learning to balance being a rock star on stage and a dad at home. “You spend a portion of your life where the world totally revolves around you and what you want and need,” he says. “And then you come back to the real world and it’s a kick in the nuts. But it should be. My wife and kids shouldn’t be running around the house trying to fulfill my rider.”

He laughs. “The family has made the road better, and vice versa.” Speaking of the road, he’s got a new band and a hell of a lot of tour dates coming up. For Hoge’s endearing fans, that’s a really good thing.

“As artists, we’re all ridiculously self-conscious, always thinking, ‘Am I any good and does anybody actually like me?'” Hoge says. “We’re all on the razor’s edge of a mental break down. I feel fortunate to come out the other side of it and feel a lot better about any of this than I have in a long time.”

Hoge also recently started a company called Nashville Electric Transportation. It’s a ride-hailing app similar to Lyft or Uber, except it’s a small fleet of electric luxury cars and all of the drivers are certified.

A native of nearby Franklin, Tenn., Hoge has seen the area change over the past few years. “It helps with our traffic situation in Nashville a ton,” he says. “We’re slowly starting to work with companies to encourage car pooling.”

Plus, it’s totally affordable. ” It’s an opportunity for the entertainment folks to have a world-class experience nobody offers,” he says. “But priced for the regular folks who want to take their husband or wife out for a nice experience.”

He sees it as doing his part to combat climate change. “We’re just trying to counterbalance all of the negative things that happen in the South with people that don’t want to believe in climate change or don’t want to help,” he says. “It’s something we can do to try and balance that a little bit.”

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Will Hoge: The Gravel-Voiced Hero of Nashville’s Blue-Collar Songwriting Scene