Nashville singer-songwriter Will Hoge is set to release his tenth studio album next week, and although the Franklin, Tennessee native isn’t exactly a newcomer, the forthcoming full-length Small Town Dreams still manages to break new ground. Working with producer Marshall Altman and co-writing with the likes of Chris Stapleton, Gary Allan and more, the 11-song release is just the latest in a long line of wins from Hoge. Listen to album track “Just Up The Road,” featuring country music legend Vince Gill on guitar, in the player above. Hoge answered a few questions about the song for Paste, too. Check out the interview below.
Paste: Tell me a little bit about this song, “Just Up The Road.”
Hoge: I wrote it with Dylan Altman and Tommy Lee James. They’re guys that are good friends, so there’s nothing that’s awkward: The learning process is gone, and when we write together we can just sit down and get right into it. We had the first two lines and some of the structure on the piano, and we just started talking about what that song meant. Ultimately, we wanted it to be a song about that moment of escape. When you grow up in a small town environment, there was a girl I was in love with. You want to believe that if you can just get out of this town, that there’s some place that’ll understand us and it’ll all be okay. I like the sort of repetitive nature of the verse of the song, you know: “Just up the road, there’s a road that leads to another road.” That, ultimately, is it: There’s not this golden city that you get to and all of a sudden everything is okay. The struggle that you have to go through to grow up, just the things that you have to go through… I loved that. I loved the emotional impact that I felt like that had. There’s sort of a desperate hope in that song, which I love. As cynical as I try to act like I am in most of my life, I still believe that things get better if you continue to chase them. So you’ve got all these things that I already love about the song, and then you sprinkle in Vince Gill playing the guitar on top of that and it’s something I’m real proud of.
Paste: This is your tenth studio album. What’s changed over the years when it comes to getting an album together?
Will Hoge: I don’t know that the process has changed a whole lot. I think that my comfort level has changed a little, and I think my knowledge of how to do it has changed a bit. I mean, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve done a bunch of courting over the last two years, and you find little pieces of the process from other people—ways that other people work, ways that other people approach a song. I think I have more patience with it now than I did in the past. A lot of times for me, if I couldn’t get [a song] done in 30 minutes or an hour, I’d get bored with it and I wouldn’t finish them. I want to believe that I’ve brought a little more of a workman-like mentality to it that has, I think, helped me a lot with the whole process.
Paste: Most of your albums have been self-produced in the past, but you worked with Marshall Altman on this one. Tell me about that decision.
Will Hoge: I really wanted to push myself on this record. When you produce yourself, especially over a series of records, you kind of get into a comfort zone. It’s potentially really good, because you can kind of work quickly and you know what works and what doesn’t, but the flip side of that is that it can be repetitive and just not forward-moving. The release of the last record introduced me as an artist to a lot of new people—opened a lot of new doors for me. While those doors are open, I felt like I had a real opportunity to try to kind of kick with both feet and move forward. Marshall is one of my favorite guys, just as a hang: He’s an old friend, so there was already the trust there. Sometimes, you have to really work with a new producer, you have to really earn that, only for you toward the producer but for the producer toward you. So we were able to skip that, which was great. And Marshall just is the kind of producer that when you hear his work, it doesn’t sound the same. He doesn’t make the same record with every artist. He goes and really tries to get to the core of not only what that artist is about at that moment, but what that record is about. I just believed that he would really help me with that in this process. [From] recording the first song together, it was obvious that it was going to be a symbiotic relationship, so I was thrilled with it.
Paste: Tell me about why you chose that particular title for the album.
Will Hoge: I liked the lyric. The album seemed to be really reflective of my growing up in a small town and kind of trying to find my way out and back to that place, geographically and emotionally. As we were kicking around titles, my wife and I had moved last year, so we’re still kind of getting our new house in order. I was hanging up some photographs one night and I have this old photo that my dad took of me and a group of friends on bicycles when we were probably 9 or 10 years old. It’s a cool black and white shot, and it’s just really innocent looking. I kind of even remember the day it was taken, and all the guys in the picture. It just seems, in everybody’s eyes and everybody’s smile you can see that hopeful idea that a kid in a small town has: that he’s going to grow up and do these huge things. I remember conversations about what we were going to do and how we were going to live our lives. Looking back now, over that many years, you can see that some of those things came true and some of them didn’t. But that time, with that small-town dream on our faces, I felt like that summed up the entire experience.
Dacey Orr is Paste’s multimedia editor. You can follow her on Twitter at @marydacey.