Reporting Annie Reuter
Will Hoge knows a thing or two about ‘never giving in.’ The Nashville artist has been playing live, writing songs and generally making a musical ruckus on the fringes of the country and rock worlds for years. So for him, the title of his latest album Never Give In — released this past Tuesday (Oct. 15) — carries serious weight.
“‘Never Give In’ has become the mantra for our band, because we continue to slug it down here and do it our way from the people who told us that we shouldn’t or we couldn’t,” Will Hoge said, speaking to a packed crowd at Brooklyn venue the Bell House Wednesday (Oct. 16). “A lot of it has to do it with you all. So it’s dedicated to all of y’all this evening.”
This sentiment was revealed multiple times throughout the concert, which was the kickoff date on his current tour. For instance, when he introduced one of his best-known songs, “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”–the Eli Young Band hit No. 1 with the song last year, and it went on to earn GRAMMY and ACM nominations–Hoge alluded to his struggling 15 years in music.
“If you want to follow your dream, you don’t want to ask permission,” he told the crowd. “It may take a long time. It may take five years, ten years, 15 years. You just don’t know. You could be a long way from home.” But the bottom line, he emphasized, was that “it’s OK to continue to chase that dream.”
And that he has. Hoge launched his career in the ’90s, and since then he has toured with a wide range of artists, from John Mellencamp and Shinedown to Sugarland and ZZ Top. In addition, country artists like Dierks Bentley, Vince Gill, and Lady Antebellum call themselves fans.
Hoge’s mix of country and rock has made it hard to put him into one genre, though as he told Radio.com during an interview on his tour bus before the show, that’s something he likes.
“I think I’ve paid the price of that for years, because there’s never been a home for me from a marketing perspective,” he said. “Fortunately for me, now the country tent has gotten so much bigger. It’s become really accepting of what I do, which is great.”
Hoge produced Never Give In himself and released it on his own label. Tracks like “This Time Around” were written with Ray Charles in mind, the goal being to blur the lines between country and R&B the way Charles did on his album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. The song showcases one of Hoge’s many influences.
While the Eli Young Band helped bring Hoge’s name out in front of the country community, and Lady Antebellum added to the effort by covering his song “Better Off Now (That You’re Gone)” on their new album Golden, Hoge is now finally reaching audiences as an artist himself. His latest single “Strong” is being played on country radio, and it’s also a part of the 2014 Chevy Silverado campaign, only increasing his notoriety.
Written with Zach Crowell and Ashley Gorley, Hoge said the three were thinking about their fathers when they sat down to write “Strong.”
“That mythical thing that I think everyone has for their father at some point, where you look at your dad like a superhero,” he said. “We wrote it with that in mind coupled with, we each have children of our own now and this idea of how we’d like our kids to look back at us years from now. I don’t want my kids to think I’m a rock star. I want my kids to know that I wake up every day and try to write good songs and tell good stories and be a decent friend, husband, and father and help people do all of the things we learned in Kindergarden that we seemed to forget. That’s what we wanted in the song and really captured it.”
Hoge said the response to “Strong” has been unlike anything he’s ever done, even more so than “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.”
“We get emails and letters. People come up to us after the show and tell us it reminds them about their dad or their uncle or their mom or their aunt or their grandma. That’s a pretty heavy thing; to take this emotion that we felt individually and then collectively put it together in a room in East Nashville. And then it becomes this car commercial anthem, and this single at country radio that all of these other people get the same emotion from. That doesn’t happen all the time.”