10 Questions with ... Will Hoge
November 16, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
GRAMMY-nominated recording artist Will Hoge catapulted into the national spotlight with the release of his top-selling single "Strong." Providing the musical backdrop for General Motor's 2014 Chevy Silverado ad campaign, the song has sold nearly 200,000 copies to date. "Strong" is the featured bonus track on Hoge's newest album NEVER GIVE IN, which peaked at No. 4 on the Americana Airplay Charts and held steady in the Top 10 for fifteen consecutive weeks. Breaking into mainstream country, the critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter has penned Lady Antebellum's "Better Off Now (That You're Gone)," and co-wrote the Platinum-selling No. 1 smash "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," recorded by the Eli Young Band. "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," earned Hoge nominations for the 2013 GRAMMY Country Song of the Year, 2013 ACM Song of the Year and 2012 CMA Song of the Year. His stage shows are equal parts sweat, charisma and rock & roll revival which has landed him coveted opening slots for Dierks Bentley, John Mellencamp, Pistol Annie's, Shinedown and ZZ Top. The Nashville native is currently on the road playing headline shows nationwide and recently released his new single "Middle Of America," which is currently spinning on Sirius XM's The Highway and climbing the Country music charts.
1) Will, thanks for taking time to talk with All Access! You just released a new single, "Middle Of America." Does this signify a new album is on the way? If so, when can we expect it?
"Middle Of America" is the first single from what will be a new record. It will come out in February. We're trying to finish it up in the next few weeks and have it ready to go!
2) I just mentioned your new single, "Middle Of America," and it sounds very Country radio friendly. Did you have that in the back of your mind when you were writing it, or did it just happen to come out that way?
No, it kind of just came out that way. Country radio is an interesting beast at this point. I feel like, in a lot of ways, it has changed to fit more of what I do anyway, artistically. I don't feel like I've necessarily changed a whole lot. I feel like I just continue to make the records that I want to make and Country radio has been kind enough to embrace those. It's a huge, huge thing for me to have that opportunity.
3) Speaking of writing, we know that you've written songs that have been cut by other artists with great success. When you go into a writing session now, do you write stuff for your projects or do you write certain songs with intentions to pitch them to other artists?
No, I go in to write songs to try and write great songs. And then, within that process, sometimes it's apparent fairly quickly whether or not that's something I'm going to record. If I'm not, those go into a "I don't think that's something I would ever do, but we should pitch those to other folks" pile. Then, there are some that are kind of in the middle where you go 'I don't know, I would record that, but if Blake Shelton called tomorrow and wants it, I'd gladly give it up!' (laughs)
4) Your last single "Strong" was featured in the Chevy commercial and also gained Country radio airplay. Do you remember where you were the first time you heard that song on Country radio and can you tell us what it felt like?
Yes, and it was really cool! I've been told for years that I don't fit at radio. I was told that for years at rock radio, and then as of late, all of the labels in Nashville have told me that what I do doesn't work at Country radio. That's never deterred me though. So, when "Strong" got embraced-it wasn't like I had this huge Music Row radio team behind me. To get radio airplay at all on that song was a huge step forward for me and this whole project. The reaction from fans to the song was also a huge reassurance to me that I wasn't crazy for thinking that it would work for Country radio and Country listeners at large.
5) Another song of yours, "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," was cut by the Eli Young Band and went on to be a #1 song. Was it any different hearing that on the radio, than it was the first time you heard your own self?
It was different in some ways because it was the first time someone else had done a song of mine. There's a level of pride that comes with that because you feel like you've written something good enough that somebody else wants it to speak for them. That was cool. Also, at the time, I had went to my former label and former manager and said that this could really be a single at Country radio and how I wanted to try and get my toe in that water. I was told that I was crazy and that song would never work at Country radio. Then Eli Young Band took it and put it out at Country radio, and I already felt like it was a success. Once it was a #1 single, and was nominated for a GRAMMY Award, an ACM Award, and a CMA Award, it was just another moment where I felt like 'OK, I was right.' It just reminded me to trust my instincts, and they won't lead me astray.
6) You are featured on Sunny Sweeney's new song, "My Bed". Can you tell us how that came about?
She and I struck up a friendship. I think she is a real talent as a singer and a writer. I feel like she is a strong female, who comes from a very traditional Country background, which I just adore. She approached me about singing that song, which is written by her, Angaleena Presley, and Ashley Monroe- who are three of my favorite songwriters in this town. The minute I heard it I was excited. It was a different way of singing that I don't always get to do on my own records. I jumped at the chance and love the way it turned out.
7) There are many labels for Country music right now- "Bro Country," Bra Country," "Traditional Country," etc. Where do you feel like you fit in there, and do you care about "fitting in?"
When I say that I don't care about fitting in, I don't mean that in a snobby way. It's just something I don't spend a lot of time thinking about. When Hank Williams was big, people would say 'this is just a step away from being Rock N' Roll,' and when Chuck Berry was playing Rock N' Roll it was just one step away from being Country. Growing up here, Nashville has always been a town that blurred that line anyway. I don't feel a pull to be in one sub-genre of it. I look at it like it's one big dysfunctional family and that's what you love. There's room for guys like Florida Georgia Line to do what they're doing, there's room for guys like Alan Jackson to do what they've always done, and then there's room for me to be kinda right in the middle somewhere and do what I do. I think that ultimately the fans just want to hear great songs and see great performances. That's the epitome of Country music to me.
8) We've spoke to many artists and their goal is to sell out arenas, get a gold or platinum record, etc. What is success to you? Winning a GRAMMY award, a CMA award, is it selling out arenas?
It's more of a time thing for me. At the end of the day we're all just trying to stay at this dance as long as we can. I'm fifteen years into a career of doing this. There are some guys and girls that don't make it fifteen months. That's not lost on me. My goals are more to be able to do this into retirement and not have to quit and go do another job. Selling more tickets, selling more records, playing arenas, those things would all be great; but ultimately, at the end of the day, I want to have a home where I can continue to make the kind of records I want to make and right now I'm lucky enough to have that.
9) You had a pretty strong add date at Country radio when your single was released at the end of September. Do you watch the chart and things like that, or do you find out secondhand?
I try to find out secondhand. We did have a big add date and I was really moved by it. People talk about how close-minded Country music is and how hard Country radio is, but they have been so incredibly good to me. I've made so many friends in the format through "Strong" and "Even If It Breaks Your Heart." I feel like it's a really great place for me and this was a real validation of the work me and my team have done. I know there are guys and girls who say 'Well we're down six spins, or we're up two.' One, I suck at math, so I can't spend my time doing that! (laughs) I try to look more so at the big picture than the day-by-day photograph of it all.
10) Have you been on a radio tour and is it what you expected it to be?
It's interesting because "Strong" just kind of fell in our laps. We didn't have the big intention of that being a Country single. It got out on the Chevy commercial and some promo guys heard it, we worked out a partnership, and then all of a sudden we had this Country single. We didn't get to do the big set-up and radio tour; we kind of jumped in at that point and did the best we could with it. It wasn't just about making "Strong" a hit; it was about building those relationships. In some ways "Strong" was our radio tour. We've started to do more radio visits because we had better lead time on this single. I've heard some artists complain about radio tour, which I don't get. If the hardest thing I have to do is go into a city and play my music for some people in a conference room to try and convince them that my songs deserve to be on the radio-I'm not going to complain about that. That's exactly what I should be doing. I'm just lucky to even have an outlet to have a chance for people to hear my music.
1) The landscape of Nashville has changed a lot in the past few years. Is there a favorite hang out spot you had that is no longer around anymore?
My oldest son is seven, so at this point my hangouts are at Chuck-E Cheese, the dog park, and things like that. (laughs) Unless it's featured in "Nashville Parents Magazine," then I probably don't go there.
2) You grew up in the Nashville area. Most people leave their hometowns to come here and pursue music. Did you ever leave Music City to try and pursue music somewhere else, or did you always feel like this is where you needed to be?
I've always felt like Nashville was home. It was always a great hub for us to go out and tour from. I lived in Los Angeles for a little bit when I was making my second record, but I can't ever see myself leaving here again.