Will Hoge has had his share of surreal career moments, including performing on stage at the legendary Grand Ole Opry. Just south of that Nashville institution is the bedroom community of Franklin, Tennessee, and the childhood home where much Hoge's latest LP, Small Town Dreams, was written, including the reflective ballad, "Little Bitty Dreams." The tune, about trading some of those grandiose ideas and plans for something more personal – mainly a wife and kids, is "100 percent me," says the singer-songwriter.
"I have friends I grew up with. . . I'll be coming home after spending time in New York or somewhere, and they'll say, 'I saw you were in New York. That's crazy! Is New York insane?' And I go to New York six or eight times a year," Hoge tells Rolling Stone Country. There are people at home who are like family, I've grown up with them all my life and they've never been farther north than Bowling Green, [Kentucky]. It's not a negative thing. With some perspective, there's something that's really beautiful about focusing on your family. You have a job and a real world life and existence."
While completely focusing on his own family instead of also pursuing a music career was definitely an option, Hoge says, "It's not a right or wrong option. It's just about the choices you make, and I made the other choice. There's tons of songs about the regret of that moment, and I wanted this song to not be regretful. We all have dreams. Hell, I dreamed for years that I was gonna be an athlete, a basketball player. That dream didn't come true, but my life's not ruined because of it. I feel like it's the same thing with my friends who are in similar situations. I see it with my kids now. I used to play 250 shows a year. That was my dream; I wanted to do it. But I have kids now – I want to see them, I don't want to be an absentee father – so we do 90 shows a year or so. It's not a negative thing; it's just an adult thing."
Hoge's heartland-inspired country music, which is on his own Cumberland Recordings label, may not have the same commercial cache as today's crop of mainstream radio's mega-successful country acts, but that was never the musician's personal aim.
"If my goal was to come into the country world and compete with Miranda Lambert or Eric Church, I'd be out of luck," he explains. "Those people are my friends and I love them, but they have things at their disposal that I don't: funds, major labels, people who're willing to spend $300,000 just to promote a single. I could make 10 records for that amount of money. If I compare my success to theirs, I'm gonna lose every time. It's just sheer mathematical differences. But if I stay relative to my own situation and say, 'OK, we made this last record and sold this amount, so let's try to sell this amount with the new one,' then I can sleep at night. I can see it getting bigger and better."
Small Town Dreams was released April 7th and also includes "Middle of America," a single which was accompanied by a video filmed throughout the country in one continuous take with just one camera.