This week has been pretty busy as I prepare for finals and graduation, but on Tuesday I had to opportunity to attend a Grammy U event with Will Hoge. Will Hoge is a Nashville native songwriter whose song “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” (made famous by the Eli Young Band) was nominated for Grammy Country Song of the Year, ACM Song of the Year, and CMA Song of the Year. His newest hit “Strong” has been featured in the new Chevy Silverado campaign, was number 2 on the Shazam charts, and has sold almost 200,000 copies. Hoge’s newest album Never Give In (and one of my favorite tracks off the album) was number 4 on the American Airplay Charts and in the Top Ten for 15 weeks.
Ken Tucker, a former professor of mine for PR in the Music Industry and a former Country Weekly managing editor, conducted the interview portion of the night. We began discussing Hoge’s roots which can be found in Franklin, TN where he was surrounded by a family with strong musical influences. Though he picked up guitar later than most (his later high school years), Hoge quickly took to writing. When asked about when he first got into music, Will said, “I fell for it pretty hard…and joined my first real-quote unquote-band in college with some older guys looking for a singer”. Though he attended Western Kentucky for college and planned on becoming a teacher, he soon realized in his sophomore year (what he calls his Senior Year) that music was what he really wanted to pursue. After dropping out, Will moved back home and focused on writing professionally. Songwriting, “…was the first place that [Will] …really felt comfortable and [he] felt this sense of self-expression that [he] hadn’t found anywhere else”.
“More Than Your Life Story”
Will Hoge also touched on where he draws inspiration, sometimes from his own life and sometimes on character’s he creates. He even went on to say, you can empathize with creating characters which you may not know, but can imagine how things would be if you didn’t have certain things in your life. Will went on to say that there comes a point that you realize “Writing is more than your life story”; and compared it to the Beatles and their Sgt. Pepper Album he grew up with. The key to writing a song that is not your story is to “inject enough truth and realism into [a song] to make it believable”.
Will Hoge also shared with us his family and how they have impacted his writing. From being a father to his relationship with his wife-Will is able to share his experiences in his work flawlessly and to adapt them to create songs which can showcase varies forms of humanity.
“You Can Have Career Highs And You’re Kids Don’t Care”
After “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” hit number one, the Eli Young Band and Will were thrown a number one party. Will brought his whole family-including his young sons, and everyone enjoyed themselves with toasts and mingling. However, by the end of the party some invitees were not happy. Will asked his sons if they had had fun at the party and they had some news for him: No, There was no cake and you need cake at a party. Needless to say, Hoge will have cake at his next number one party and I hope we see one for “Strong”.Selling Out and Making Cake
When Will was first asked by Chevy to use “Strong” he admits he was a bit hesitant. Could this move to go commercial be seen as selling out? He debated it for a bit and realized that it could help the song and maybe he’d get a truck out of it, or it wouldn’t help the song and he could get a truck out of it. An industry friend of Hoge finally told him. “You can’t keep making vanilla cake and expect it to be chocolate cake, at some point you have to do something different to get chocolate cake”. In order to make big things happen you have to take big risks. By partnering with Chevy for the deal, Hoge as an indpendent artist was able to brand his music side by side with Chevy (a prominent country music supporter and known for a blue collar customer base, similar to that of country music) to attract a larger fan base. Now not taking the deal would not have ended Hoge’s career, but it sure has helped it. “Strong” has done well and he has gotten a truck out of the deal. Hoge says he has no regrets.
“Ain’t Nothing Gonna Knock Him Off The Road He’s Rollin On, He’s Strong”
After being signed to a label for a bit, Hoge felt that having his own label would better suite his creative and business aspirations. Recently, he started his own label Cumberland Recordings. He says he is a great boss and that going on your own can be tough; “at the end of the day it’s just a different set of headaches”. However, Hoge is not intent on being a label mogul, but wants to focus on music and independent projects. After a serious accident a few years ago, Hoge found a renewed spirit to chase what is important. To Hoge that will always be his family and music.
“Some Dreams Keep On Gettin’ Better, Gotta Keep Believin’ If You Wanna Know For Sure”
Will Hoge is a rarity in today’s Nashville as his focus on artistry and music is forefront. Some days I get so caught up in the business world and the strategic planning of the industry that I lose sight of what brought me here in the first place: making chocolate cake. No not actually chocolate cake, but music that was real and authentic and worth being heard. Having a message and a purpose. We are taught in school that music is second, marketing deals and contracts, and budgeting tours, and saying what’s hip is first. As a Senior, there have been times in the past four years where I’ve lost sight of the magic of music. It’s why I fell in love with this city and why I want to be a voice for musicians and artists one day. Will Hoge isn’t writing for Luke Bryan, he’s not trying to be someone he’s not: He’s writing what he feels and he’s doing a pretty damn good job at it. And he’s doing it his way.
My first day at CMT, the Eli Young Band performed “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” and to close the evening Will Hoge also played it. As my internship winds down and graduation nears, everything is coming full circle. Why I came here, what I believe is important. Being True to yourself. Thinking back on the 17 year old girl with a Crazy dream to move to Nashville and everyone told her she’d never make it or that she could come home whenever she wanted. And now that girl is graduating and she’s making her dream a reality. Its all a bit cheesy, but for artists we all just feel things a little differently than most.
So here is to the pursuit of making Chocolate Cake.