In the initial media guidelines that the Country Music Association sent out regarding the CMA Awards ceremony that took place earlier this month in Nashville, journalists were warned to refrain from asking questions about the mass shooting in Las Vegas. “If you are reported as straying from these guidelines, your credential will be reviewed and potentially revoked via security escort,” warned the CMA.
Singer-guitarist Will Hoge was one of the first artists to lambast the CMA’s guidelines. As other artists spoke out too, the CMA eventually rescinded those restrictions. Given that the National Rifle Association has such a huge role in the country music world (it regularly sponsors tours), it was a gutsy move on Hoge’s part.
Hoge, who performs at 8 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 8 at Musica in Akron
, says he was happy to lead the charge and start a conversation about gun control.
“People are starting to talk about [gun control] more, especially from an artist’s perspective, which is helpful and can fuel that conversation,” he says via phone from his Nashville home. “It’s going to be hard to change. I don’t think the change will come from the top down. There’s too much money involved. I think it has to change from the bottom up. The reality is that almost everybody that I know is for sensible gun regulations. Unfortunately, almost everybody I know is too much of a coward to speak about it publically.”
Hoge has just released “Thoughts & Prayers,” a biting social commentary on politicians who don’t do anything to stem gun violence but only offer words of condolence. The acoustic track has a Bob Dylan feel to it as Hoge snears, “Another politician sitting far away/Doesn't matter how many people got gunned down today/As long as you can keep your re-election bills paid/You're just a whore to the pimp that's called the NRA.”
Originally, Hoge intended to be a basketball coach and school teacher. When that didn’t work out, he started the rock band Spoonful in the mid-’90s. He's been touring and recording ever since and has written songs for Eli Young Band and Lady Antebellum.
“I was in and out of a thousand different bands as I was figuring it all out,” he says. “[Spoonful] came together with two guitarists I had met and a keyboard player I had been in another band with. We found a rhythm section in town, and it was really innocent. It was the last 100 percent innocent project I was a part of, but it was fun. It was real fun.”
After leaving Spoonful to embark on a solo career, Hoge signed to Atlantic in 2003. Looking back on it, he says it probably wasn’t the best decision since the label didn’t turn his debut for them into a hit.
“The fuse burned pretty fast, and the rock didn’t go as high as you hoped it would,” he says of the experience. “When it came down to that first record, I had the option of Atlantic or this new label called Lost Highway and had done Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams. Looking back, the smarter choice would’ve been that. I could have cultivated my craft longer and been surrounding by a small group of people that cared about music in a different way. I also grew up listening to rock 'n' roll records so it made sense from that perspective. I got to fly to New York and meet [Atlantic head] Ahmet Ertegun. We talked about Otis Redding and the Rolling Stones. It’s one of the biggest, most iconic labels in the world, and it was hard to say no to.”
Hoge then had a good run with Rykodisc, a label that turned into a catalog company after signing quality singer-songwriters like Hoge and Alejandro Escovedo.
A solo tour inspired the songs on Hoge’s latest album, Anchors
. After writing the tunes, he assembled an all-star band featuring drummer Jerry Roe (Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Darius Rucker), bassist Dominic Davis (Jack White, Wanda Jackson), and guitarists Brad Rice (Son Volt, Ryan Adams) and Thom Donovan (Lapush, Ruby Amanfu) to record the thing.
“For about a year and a half, I lost myself in solo mode and went out and played old songs and worked on some old things,” says Hoge. “That helped rekindle the love of the process.”
The album opens with the rootsy ballad “The Reckoning” and then veers into more rock-oriented territory with songs such as “(This Ain’t) An Original Sin.”
“It’s some characters just in real life [who inspired ‘The Reckoning’],” says Hoge. “I have some older people in my extended family, and I try to look through their lens a little bit. I don’t know if it’s a biblical thing or not, but the word ‘reckoning’ does have a larger connotation that makes it sound more forboding than the word itself.”
Since moving to Nashville, singer-songwriter Sheryl Crow has become a friend of Hoge’s wife. So when it came time to ask her to sing on the tune “Little Bit of Rust,” Hoge felt comfortable approaching the Grammy-winner.
“She had offered studio time to help make the record at her place,” says Hoge. “It was incredibly kind, but it didn’t work out timing wise. Once the song was done and I knew we needed a female vocal, that was my first call. It turned out great. She is top notch.”
Hoge, who’s currently touring with Donovan and a rhythm section he hired for the tour, says he hopes to keep the band he used on Anchors
again for the next record.
“We’re already talking about the next record,” he says. “I think it will be an extension of where we are. I want to capture this band. It’s pretty special. I just want to capture a new batch of songs with these guys.”
Will Hoge Band, Augustana, Dan Layus, 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8, Musica, 51 E Market St., Akron. Tickets: $20, liveatmusica.com.