Singer-songwriter Will Hoge’s forthcoming 10th studio album may be titled Small Town Dreams, but it’s obvious his genre-blending brand of music is having a big impact far beyond one-stoplight towns. His breakout single, “Strong,” was the musical backdrop for General Motors’ 2014 Chevy Silverado ad. The song was a bonus track on his recent album Never Give In, which peaked at No. 4 on the Americana Airplay Charts. “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” co-written by Hoge and recorded by Eli Young Band, earned Hoge several nominations, including 2013 Grammy Country Song of the Year, 2013 ACM Song of the Year, and 2012 CMA Song of the Year.
Hoge invited media members for the reveal of his new album Small Town Dreams during a preview party in Nashville. Fans anxiously awaiting the album’s release weren’t left out, though, as the event streamed live online.
Backed by a four-piece band, Hoge’s raspy, emotionally-fueled voice was center stage as he sailed through several tracks. Host Nan Kelley peppered Hoge with questions about his album, artistry, and the autobiographical nature of songs “Growing Up Around Here” (an ode to hometown Franklin, Tenn.) and “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To” (a salutation to fatherhood).
“I feel like I am better as a writer when it is something I have some experience and knowledge about,” he said of his writing style. “Those songs come really naturally to me, and this batch of songs worked really well together.”
He started the preview with stomping lead single, “Middle of America.” There are also Mellencamp-esque heartland rockers such as “Til I Do It Again,” which the band performed acoustically for the first time. “This mixed my love for Hank Williams and my love for The Clash,” said Hoge.
Hoge co-wrote each of the 11 tracks on the album, alongside writers including Gary Allan, Chris Stapleton, Jessi Alexander, Hillary Lindsey, and others.
Hoge also welcomed the project’s producer Marshall Altman to discuss the recording process. Adding a producer was a slight change of pace for Hoge, who produced his previous three projects on his own. “I wanted to stay true to who I am as an artist, but I also wanted to branch out and use some more pop elements and radio friendly elements that I’m not necessarily as skilled at as a producer,” said Hoge. “But I didn’t want to turn that over to just anybody.”
Hearing two songs on the radio by fellow artists Frankie Ballard and Eric Paslay helped solidify his decision. “Both songs were produced by Marshall Altman,” Hoge said, “but they didn’t sound anything alike. I loved that. I called Marshall at two in the morning while I was driving the bus. The thing I trusted with him is there would never be a discussion of what works for radio, but only about making a great record.”
“Just Up The Road” features more rock-oriented guitar work from one of Hoge’s musical idols, Vince Gill, than country fans might be used to hearing. “I told Vince, ‘I want the 17-year-old Vince Gill that’s not a country star yet,” Hoge says of the recording. “He grabbed a different guitar, and turned up the amp louder than he probably had in a while.”
Small Town Dreams releases April 7 on Cumberland Recordings/Thirty Tigers.
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