Analogue Music | Will Hoge

Will Hoge

By Matt Conner

Will Hoge is going with his gut.

The veteran singer-songwriter wasn't sure whether or not to release his latest album, Tiny Little Movies, to a world in quarantine and his head told him to keep it on the shelf. However, the songs were ready and despite the uncertainty, Hoge says his gut told him to let it fly and connect however it will.

We're glad Will Hoge is trusting his instincts. For those looking for an excellent summer rock record, Tiny Little Movies is a compelling personal soundtrack filled with stories and observations, both internal and external. It's also the latest release from a veteran band who have developed some stellar chemistry. In short, Hoge's rarely sounded better than he does here on his eleventh release.

On the eve of yet another album release, we caught up with a grateful artist trying to keep all things in perspective—from global concerns to personal hopes.

Analogue: No one plans to release an album into a quarantine. How does this time period change the way you view these songs?

Will Hoge: The last record, My American Dream, was so focused on things that were social and political. It was kind of a concept record almost in that way. We knew Donald Trump was still going to be President when we put this record out. That was never a question, which means there was always going to be a level of incompetency and discourse in the country that doesn't have to be there but it will be as long as he's President. We knew that. So I didn't want to make just another political record. I couldn't do it emotionally. I'd made that statement and I had to move on.

"I didn't want to make a record that failed to acknowledge the world we live in."

I think, and this wasn't a huge thought, I really wanted this to be a rock and roll record. Even with us putting it out in June, we wanted to put it out in the summer and let people spend time with it and then we'd tour it in the fall and go do what we do. We are hopefully going to give folks some relief from all of the bullshit. There are still some songs on the record that are tinged with what's going on, so it's not totally removed. I didn't want to make a record that failed to acknowledge the world we live in.

When we first found out about all of this, my reaction was to not put out the record at all. My head told me this is not what we should do. But as I really thought about it with my gut and talked to the band and we have relationships with certain fans that we hear from, people who can give us a barometer, and as we started sniffing around, I realized that this might be the time people need music more than ever. I even started spending more time with records again. I'm listening with headphones to vinyl. My whole family is sitting around listening to full records. My oldest just got the new Green Day on vinyl for his birthday in quarantine and we sat and listened to it. That never happens. So it's almost inspiring.

Look, there's only so much I can do. I'm a singer-songwriter, a parent and all of these things. I'm not foolish enough to think that what I'm doing is going to fix anything, because it's way bigger than that. But I think my job is to say the shit I need to say artistically but then it's also to put these records out and hopefully make people feel something during these times. So has that changed in this? Maybe a little bit for me. I always hoped it would be somewhat therapeutic for me and the listener. Now I hope that even more than I would have before.

Analogue: What's the feeling putting out those sorts of statements?

Will: The feeling doesn't ever change. My reaction to it has become a lot less. The first sort of social/political stuff I ever did was 2004. With that record, I remember being really, really afraid. I don't mean that in an overly dramatic way, like I was worried someone would come burn my house down or anything. But I wondered what people would think of the record or what they'd think of me as an artist. Am I even in a place where I can do this? Then your skin just gets thicker and thicker. Every time you make a record, somebody's job is to talk about how much your record sucks. Some people get paid to say you're not doing a good job. [Laughs] So you develop a whole lot of not-giving-a-shit on that front pretty quickly. So that's not concerns me much, really and truly.

Will Hoge

Analogue: What about the more personal songs?

Will: No, I don't think so. Sometimes those songs are harder to write and harder to put out, just because you worry more about the reception of it being seen as soft or pointless. For me, that's a scarier place to go as a person. Artist vulnerability has always been easier for me than in my real life, so that's been an interesting change over the years of growing as a person and starting to realize that the more vulnerable I can be outside of the studio, outside of the written page, it makes the vulnerability within those moments more accessible I think and easier to deal with. I hope those songs continue to strike a chord with folks on a different level.

Analogue: Let's talk about the music here. You relied on your touring band to make this album. Was the goal to have the chemistry and electricity of the live show translate onto the studio album?

Will: Yeah, that's kind of always been the plan, I mean long before this band. That's something I've always swung for. Sometimes you do a little more or a little less of it, but with this outfit, it's been cultivated since the Anchors record. When I recorded that, I had no band. Instead of hiring studio players, I put together a dream band. I hired the dudes that I would love to put on the road. So I hired this great group of guys to make that record with me.

Thom Donovan was one of the guitar players on that album. After the record, he just mentioned, 'Hey if you wanna put a band together and go on the road, I'd love to do it.' At that point, I found Chris [Griffiths] and Allen [Jones], who knew one another through another project, and they came and we started playing together. So we toured behind the Anchors record, and then made the My American Dream record real fast with no pre-production. It was just 'here's an acoustic guitar and we're in the studio for three days and we're going to make this whole record.' I showed them the songs and we just lit through things.

We toured so extensively behind that record that you get that good, greasy feeling when you're playing all the time. Things sort of become second nature and unspoken. The little things that make a difference in a song start to get easier. So with this record, that was the thought. Instead of just going in, we locked ourselves away in a room Todd Snider has in East Nashville and we played. I showed them the songs and then we worked on things together for a few days beforehand. Then we had a few days in the studio. So we had the ideas formed and could go in and be laser focused on parts. It was one of the most fun times of recording I've ever had.

Analogue: What are you most proud of here on Tiny Little Movies?

Will: I really feel like production-wise... self-production can be difficult. I don't spend a lot of time listening back, but occasionally something will come up. I think the seventh record was the first thing I self-produced and I probably wasn't ready to do that at that point. There's also a point where you've just got to jump in and do it if you're going to do it and that's what I did. But production-wise, I'm really proud of where things are living sonically and performance-wise. Writing-wise, there's a clarity to the songs I was real proud of. I was able to focus on what the stories were, what the emotions were. Those are two of the bigger things. And the band's performances, too. Those are things I'm really proud of.

Analogue: One more for you, Will. This quarantine time creates some uncertainty for everyone. What does this do for your resolve as an artist?

Will: I had a little bit of a practice run with this. It's been 11 years ago, but I was in this really bad accident. That sidelined me for much longer than this. That was a full year of not really working and rehabbing. Music wasn't even a focus. I was just learning to walk again. It sounds stupid to say I'm really fortunate, but having had that, there's a lot less panic on my end at this point. I know at some point this is going to stop and I'll go back at work. The anxiety levels get high because I've got this record I'm really proud of that I think people will enjoy if they hear it.

But, look, I'm sitting here with my wife and two kids and we're all healthy. The dogs are playing in the backyard. I've got a pretty good situation. There are people dealing with way bigger issues than whether or not I get to put my little record out and my band gets to go on tour. I sound like a totally white privileged prick to act like that's a big sacrifice at this point. What I've learned is that being an artist takes a backseat for a bit. Getting the kids some semblance of a schedule is more important. My wife's grad school is something we gotta figure out. Then as that gets normal, I can piece some things together creatively. I just roll with it. That's all you can do at this point.

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