Will Hoge gets topical on his newest release My American Dream, which spikes the singer-songwriter’s longtime mix of heartland rock and roadhouse alt-country with a pissed-off, political bent. For a songwriter who’s reinvented his approach multiple times over, it’s the newest chapter of an unfolding story. Hoge has been an underground cult favorite, a mainstream country songwriter and everything in between. Now, he’s carrying the same torch once hoisted by roots-music rabble rousers like Pete Seeger — whether his fans like it or not.
“This record is a terrible business idea,” he admits to Chris Shiflett during the newest episode of Walking the Floor. “But art isn’t always good business.”
One of the most politically engaged episodes in the podcast’s history, Shiflett and Hoge’s discussion dives not only into the rewards and ramifications of flying one’s political flag high in the world of country music, but also childhood, fatherhood and the Nashville’s co-writing culture. We’ve collected some highlights and premiered the episode — which ends with a solo performance of Hoge’s “Oh Mr. Barnum” — below.
While My American Dream is overtly political, Hoge hopes its songs don’t turn away those with different views.
“It’s a very political record, and I’d be doing the record an injustice — and probably leading people astray — if I acted like it wasn’t,” says the songwriter, whose newest tracks tackle issues like gun control, immigration and Trump’s America. “But our shows aren’t going to be political rallies, and that’s really important to me. . .because I want our shows to be a rock & roll show where people can come and have a good time, but you can also think and be challenged.”
That said, he knows he’s always lost a few fans.
“This record is a terrible business idea!” he says with a laugh. “Nobody is going, ‘You know, what we’re really trying to market is something that’s guaranteed to piss off a fairly large amount of people.’ Nobody wants that! But art isn’t always good business.”
A Nashville native, Hoge has recently learned that raising children in Music City comes with its own unique perks.
“You know how hard it is to be away, and you know how hard it is for your kids to miss you,” Hoge says to Shiflett, an alt-country solo artist who has doubled as the Foo Fighters’ lead guitarist for nearly two decades. “But they’re also in these classes [with children in similar positions]. When my kid was in kindergarten, Taylor Swift’s drummer had a kid in his class, and Dierks Bentley’s bass player. So when the kid comes to class and he’s sad that his dad is on tour, there are four other kids [who feel the same way]. And it’s cool for the wives to have a support. It’s a really unique city in that way.”
Raised by musical parents, Hoge was a late bloomer, waiting until his upper teens to dive into songwriting.
“I didn’t get a guitar until I was a senior in high school,” he remembers. “Singing was easy — that was the first thing. Growing up, we’d have garage bands in the neighborhood. But once I got a guitar, I began writing songs really quickly after that.” Unable to replicate the expert playing of his favorite artists, Hoge began making his own music instead. “I wasn’t good enough to play other peoples songs, really and truly,” he admits, “so it became, ‘I know the G, the C, and the D chords, so I’m gonna make up a story around that.’ It was the gateway drug.”