With every album, Will Hoge strikes a balance between pleasure and pain. While there's plenty of cheerful idealism in the Nashville-based songwriter's more upbeat rock 'n' roll tunes, there's just as much heartbreak, confusion, and sadness in his less conventional compositions.
"I think that all singer-songwriters at some level fancy themselves as being a little bit of a folkie," he says. "It's just the nature of what you do. I think that you grow as a songwriter and singer in the span of three or four years."
Often compared to such Americana-styled songsmiths as Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Wilco, and Tom Petty, Hoge seems to have detoured from the melodic, upbeat pop of his previous major label work toward the introspective, politically-charged folk music of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. As a maturing songwriter, he feels like he's in a terrific spot right now.
Hoge established himself as one of Nashville's up-and-coming alt-country/pop songwriters in the early 2000s. After signing to Atlantic, he and the band released Blackbird on a Lonely Wire in 2003 and made a splash in the Americana/rock scene. These days, Hoge has several albums on a new label (Rykodisc) and a new role as a father to a toddler son.
Hoge and his current band — bassist Adam Beard, drummer Sigurdur "Siggi" Birkis, and newly enlisted guitarist Adam Ollendorff — recorded his latest full-length, The Wreckage, at the legendary Sound Emporium Studios, a Nashville entity built by songwriter "Cowboy" Jack Clement. On the disc, Hoge achieves a warm smoothness with plenty of jangly guitar, piano, bass, and kick 'n' snare bouncing in the mix behind his gutsy singing. His vocal range has expanded on both the higher and lower ends, too, as he belts out his big notes with a more soulful accent.
"My singing has changed a bit over the years," says Hoge. "I think I've gotten better with some of the subtleties of singing, and I've learned how not to wear my voice out. I've learned how to occupy different spaces."
Hoge spent much of this year in and around Nashville, playing benefit shows and enjoying family life. He seized an opportunity to independently record a half-dozen new songs. On Oct. 12, Ryko released the tracks as a low-key mini-album titled The Living Room Sessions. Recorded in only two days in Hoge's living room, The Living Room Sessions is a little more raw and edgy. Five songs are alternate versions from tracks on The Wreckage, including a faithful rendition of "Goodnight/Goodbye" (done as a duet on The Wreckage with Ashley Monroe), a more upbeat, countrified take on "Long Gone," and slower versions of "Favorite Waste of Time" and "Even If It Breaks Your Heart." The classic fan favorite "All Night Long," from Blackbird on a Lonely Wire, gets a swinging brush beat and some lazily picked dobro action.
"I like acoustic recordings that try to be different from the album versions," says Hoge. "We just got together and camped out at my house for a couple of days — no real fancy set-up or multi-tracking. It all started with me and Adam [Beard] setting up in my living room, trying out things we liked, adding little things here and there. We didn't try 50 different arrangements or anything. It was really fun. It was a step closer to the 'you get what you get' mentality."