For more than a decade, Will Hoge has stood as one of Nashville's most reliable rock 'n' rollers. Yet, as a native, he couldn't escape the country music influence -- not that he wanted to.
"I think that artists can really live in Nashville and flourish in Nashville. And everybody supports each other," says Hoge, who just released his seventh album, appropriately titled Number Seven. "There's that sense of community, that sense of still being somewhat a small town. People try to take care of one another. It's one of the things I hope we never lose."
With an emotional video for "When I Get My Wings" airing on CMT, Hoge is being welcomed into the country music community. His champions already include Vince Gill, who praised him prior to Hoge's debut on the Grand Ole Opry in August. In addition, the Eli Young Band will release one of Hoge's compositions, "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," as their next single.
Catching up by phone, Hoge chatted with CMT.com about the inspiration for his new video, his favorite country artists and growing comfortable with "the best music town on the planet."
CMT: What were you hoping to capture in the video for "When I Get My Wings"?
Hoge: That song started as a bluegrass song, just acoustic. When I was writing the song, that's how we tried to capture it in the studio. It didn't really work. Every time we'd go back to listen, it came up short. It just didn't have what it needed. We tried adding different drums, adding a different bass, adding all these different things and taking things away. And finally I rewrote it as a soul song, and it seems like it captures the sentiment better, so we're thrilled with the song.
Then we noticed as we played it, people liked it -- but they didn't love it. But when we took the time, in the intro, to tell the story of the song, people seemed to flip about it. In the video, we tried to capture the story. We didn't want anything tricky or magical or any crazy trick shots.
When you're playing a show, how do you introduce the song?
A lot of it is from the facts on where the song came from. I was at breakfast one morning, reading The Tennessean [Nashville's daily newspaper], and I always glance over the obituaries. This old woman's picture caught my eye. It said she was survived by her husband of 50 years and referred to him with a military rank. So I thought it was amazing to think of that old couple that went through wars together, and I imagined they'd raised kids and grandkids. I built it all based on that feeling of what it would be like to lose this person.
I thought a lot about the stories you hear about, for example, Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, these couples that have been together for so long. When one of them dies, it seems like it's a very short time later that the other one gets tired and wants to go be together again. I've always thought there was something romantic about that.
To me, "Trying to Be a Man" sounds like a country song, especially with the twist at the end. Do you feel that way, too? And did country music influence the way you wrote it?
Yeah, country music, in a lot of ways, influences a lot of what I do. Having grown up in Nashville, so many of those stories and songs are ingrained in my mind. And my favorite thing about country music, especially from the classic tradition, is that there are these wonderful stories. If you read them on paper, you don't even have to hear a melody or any music. You just read this story and become a part of it. And I hope that comes across in that song.
It's certainly autobiographical, up until the last verse. I borrowed the story from a friend of mine growing up, who lost his wife during the birth of their first child. That's the sum of all fears when you're going through that process with your wife or your girlfriend having a baby. It's your biggest fear.
One of your songs, "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," is on the Eli Young Band's new record. Is that the first time you've had a song recorded by a country artist?
That's the first time I've had anybody record anything of mine. It's actually going to be their next single. I was so flattered. I knew of those guys. We had crossed paths. They're one of those bands that have been on the road earning a fan base one night at a time. I have a lot of respect for anybody who's doing that. We would cross paths in Texas and Oklahoma. I've always liked what they did.
I hope they have a ton of success with it. It's a song I've always been real proud of, and it seems to get a great reaction every time people hear it. I hope they have so much success with it, that when we play it, people ask us why we're playing an Eli Young Band song. (laughs)
Who are some of the country artists that you admire?
There are a lot, from the Nashville connection, especially. Vince Gill is one of those guys that always comes to mind. I think he is a fantastic, real musician -- a real artist. I love what he does. I think the Dierks Bentley camp's got a cool thing going on. I'm a fan of what he's doing. Miranda Lambert and that whole Pistol Annies gang -- I believe in what they're doing and the way they're approaching music. They're certainly high on the list.
So much has changed in Nashville since the time you were a kid. However, what do you think has stayed the same?
The music. The music itself has changed a little bit, but as far as the label of being Music City, I think the city has grown way more comfortable with that label. And that label has become a lot bigger. I think it used to be just country music, and then country and gospel music. It's really grown into the best music town on the planet. And I can say that, hands down. I've been to most of the other places. I've been to Austin. Austin's a great town but it's not Music City. It's something that Nashville has in spades over other places.