Toughing It Out: A Q&A with Will Hoge

Photo courtesy of the artist

With 10 studio albums, collaborations on multiple hits, and a Grammy nomination under his belt, Tennessee native roots rocker Will Hoge has certainly blazed an impressive career. The path leading up to his latest project saw Hoge in a period of doubt, though, feeling disillusioned with band life and uncertain whether he even enjoyed making music anymore. After leaving his band and publishing deal to embark on a year-long solo tour, Hoge—with a little help from his family—rediscovered the joy of rock n’ roll. The result is Anchors, an 11-track collection that blends delicate lyricism, soaring vocals, and heartland rock in its exploration of perseverance and the difficulties of adulthood.

Hoge took some time to talk with American Songwriter about the forthcoming LP, the alchemy of songwriting, and finding inspiration in his kids.

Anchors follows two years after your 2015 Small Town Dreams. Was there a particular moment that jumpstarted the songwriting process for you?

I’d gotten really down. Band turmoil had burned me out. I’d lost my publishing deal. I really wasn’t sure how I was gonna move forward or even IF I would try. My two sons (9 and 6 at the time) had started a band. I heard them “rehearsing” in my garage. Over the next few hours I watched them playing. I saw the joy they had for it. It took me back to when I was a kid and why I wanted to do this in the first place. That night I wrote “17” and that was really the catalyst for getting the whole thing started.

Do you have a songwriting process that you typically follow? If so, what does it look like?

It’s pretty simple. Guitar or piano, a pencil, and blank paper. From there, it’s sort of just alchemy.

Unlike your last album, which saw a partnership with producer Marshall Altman, you decided to produce Anchors yourself. How did that influence the creation of Anchors?

I learned a ton with Marshall. I’m so proud of the work we did together. My original intention was to work with Ray Kennedy as the producer. Right before we started he got called to do a new Steve Earle album. Of course I wanted him to go do that but that left me in a bit of limbo. The players were all in place. I loved the songs. I’d produced myself before and really felt like the pieces were in the right place to try it again. Plus, Ray got to come back with fresh ears for the mixing which sort of made it the best of both worlds.

What led you to choosing Anchors for the album title?

I felt like it represented a lot of what the album was about. An anchor can be a thing that helps you stay close to the things that are important and good for you. An anchor can also be a negative thing that we drag around for far too long, or a reason to stay in a bad relationship, etc.

You teamed up with Sheryl Crow on the duet “Beyond the Dust.” How did that collaboration come about?

Having Sheryl on ‘Little Bit Of Rust’ was a real highlight for me. She’s one of the greatest musicians around. Ever. Truly timeless and great on so many levels. She’s been incredibly kind and gracious to me and my family over the years. Very supportive of my work. She’s offered to let me use her studio at one point and that just didn’t line up. I reached out about it and sent her the song and she said “yes.” It’s a studio day I’ll always remember. After that track we each played more things from our upcoming projects [for one another] over lunch and it was all just very inspiring.

In a comment you made to Rolling Stone, you said that the duet “cuts to the core of the record.” Can you elaborate more on that?

That song is about a real couple, going through real life, and toughing it out. I liked the guy/girl back and forth on that. To me the album is ultimately the story of a couple deciding NOT to get divorced or give up. That song sums that up.

You recently released the album’s closer “Young as We Will Ever Be.” What was the inspiration for that song?

After enough years as a human, as an artist, as a husband, etc lots of folks would say the  “best” is behind you. I love people who continue the fight [and] work hard to be better every day in all aspects. That song was really born out of that attitude.

Anchors will mark an impressive eleventh studio album for you. How do you feel you’ve evolved as an artist since your 2001 debut LP?

I think from the beginning I’ve always said as an artist and a writer I’m just a reflection of where I am as a person. To me the process hasn’t changed but the place in life certainly has. That’s the biggest change to me.

How do you think these new songs will translate to live shows?

That’s something I’m really excited about and haven’t been for some time. This new band is great. Really playing well together and I’m thrilled to get us out on the road and playing for folks. I’m hoping they’ll go over great. Early reactions have been wonderful. Hopefully after folks hear the album and then see the show that will be even better.

Anchors is out on August 11 via Thirty Tigers, and check out his latest offerings “17” and “Young As We Will Ever Be“.