Analogue Music | Will Hoge

Will Hoge

By Matt Conner

The records are piling up at this point.

That shouldn't be a surprise given the longevity of Will Hoge in the industry these days, a man fresh off of the release of his 14th studio album, Tenderhearted Boys. However, it's interesting all the same that a full-band record was nearly complete when an unexpected left turn came and he shelved it for this latest solo offering.

We've loved to learn whatever Will puts out over the years, but this latest features perhaps more of him than any other as he put in the time to handle the bulk of the recording process as well as the writing. He was intent on doing the artwork as well, but alas, a man spinning so many plates has to prioritize.

We recently caught up with Will on a tour run shortly before the release of Tenderhearted Boys to discuss the new record, the role of vulnerability in his music, and how much music is on the way.

Analogue: You’re on a nice tour run right now. How much of the new record are you playing as a sort of preview?

Will Hoge: We usually hit four songs of the ten each night. Some of the new ones I still haven’t played at all. I gotta spend a little bit of time working on how those will be presented, but yeah, there are usually three or four each show.

Analogue: Part of your own messaging about the album is that you have more ownership here than ever before, in terms of playing and production. I wanted to ask about that decision—

Will: To be long-winded about it, I’m about 80 percent done with a full band record. As I was coming up for air with that and talking to my management, Alex, we talked about touring for the year and so much of the first half is just me. I didn’t want to put a full band record out and then go tour solo for six months. It started to even confuse me even as the artist..

'Man, I am married to a therapist. There’s nothing that is too vulnerable at this point."

So I put that record on hold and holed up for three or four weeks and wrote a new batch of songs. I had a few things that were already lying around and wrote some more stuff to finish out what I was thinking would be a true solo record.

My thought was that I would record, engineer, mix, and master the whole thing. I was even going to do the artwork—all of it. I thought it’d be an interesting thing for me to do. It wasn’t that I thought I could do these things better. It was just a challenge and something I’d always wanted to try and do. So I started that process but then Alex called and said, ‘This is so cool but we need to get this done.’ I realized that the engineering, especially with me trying to play everything with this setup, is taking me way fucking longer than the time frame we had to get the record done.

So I had some pieces I had recorded that worked—different parts—and then went in with a great engineer over at Sound Emporium and put myself in a little studio there. It was a really great experience.

Analogue: Did you get what you wanted from that altered process?

Will: One of the things I really wanted with the record was that I wanted it to feel immediate, as close to the source as it could be. And unless I record it directly onto my iPhone, it can’t be a whole lot closer to the source. [Laughs]

Analogue: I’d think that’d make it easier to play them live given the creative process to record them.

Will: I feel like the folk singer/solo set—the guy or girl with acoustic guitar who tells you stories and plays you songs—is really easy for me to do. And these songs, you can pull them off with an acoustic guitar or piano. However, I didn’t want the record to be just that, so in turn, I didn’t really want the show to just be, ‘Here’s me again playing new songs doing the same thing.’

So the difficulty has come with trying to work in some accompaniment. Some of it is electronic and trying to do some things with looping options that just make the show more interesting and full, so it’s not just me playing an acoustic guitar. I’m using an electric guitar at times. There’s some percussion and kickdrum stuff live that’s more of a challenge than you realize.

I also didn’t approach things like a professional musician would and practice. [Laughs] I just showed up on the first night with my stuff and tried to wing my way through it. But it’s been positive for the most part.

Analogue: Was that hard to lose the momentum you had on that full band album, by the way? Or was that not even a thing?

Will: Uh, not in a cocky or boastful way but it’s closer to the latter. I write a lot and there are always songs hanging around and they tend to barnacle onto one another. If I was really go into notebooks now, I’ve probably got another three or four babies that could be born if I sat around and said, ‘I need another five or six songs.’

Once you get three or maybe four, you’re approaching halfway, because I’m a big fan of the 10-song album. Then if you’ve got some things that stick together, you suddenly have a ‘thing’ and start to focus to see what else you can write to go along with that.

So it wasn’t particularly difficult since I had some things lying around. There’s a song called “Good While It Lasted” on there that Hayes Carll and I wrote years ago and he put it on a record. I’ve always loved the song and always thought, ‘Man, I want to do something with that at some point.’ So the minute the conversation internally started, I realized I had that song and some other things and we could start to put it all together.

Analogue: The new album is Tenderhearted Boys, which feels quite vulnerable from the start, but it’s also album number 14 or so. How much do you wrestle with being vulnerable or not? What’s comfortable for you?

Will: Man, I am married to a therapist. [Laughs] There’s nothing that is too vulnerable at this point. No, I come by it naturally. I joke about that, being married to a therapist, but it’s something I’ve had to work on in my own growth as a human.

Artistically, I’ve always been a little better at it. I’ve always been able to be a little more vulnerable there than I could be in my day-to-day life. But as I was just saying a second ago, I feel like as I’ve been able to become more vulnerable as a dad, a husband, an adult, and a friend, the vulnerability in the songwriting also deepens. So that’s nice. An added bonus.

Analogue: You mentioned being a father, husband… is that ever hard to thread a needle to share stories that include them? It’s their story to tell, right? Just curious about songwriting from this stage with other characters now in your life.

Will: I mean, I haven’t found that to be particularly difficult. There’s a way to honor them. I don’t know that I’d want to sit down and write something that maybe my teenage boys went through, like ‘Liam drove to school today’ and then ‘George said this.’ That’s not necessarily this big universal thing.

But that’s one of the beauties of the craft is that as you get into it, you’re able to hone that a bit more. It is taking those things and maybe it’s the changing of a character a little bit or the story’s not exactly the same. That’s a fun thing.

But then there are other songs like “The Ballad of Trayvon Martin” that talks about his murder and it’s just verbatim what happened. There is no artistic liberty taken with that story. I don’t know if I would do that again. That’s a historical event, not a personal story about my teenagers, so I think there’s a way to split that and make it okay.

VISIT: Will Hoge