Late last year, Will Hoge found himself sleeping at his childhood home in Franklin, Tennessee.
“My wife and I were selling our old house and building a new one,” he remembers, “but we had to move out before the new one was ready. So I went back and lived at my mom’s house, which is the house I grew up in, for about 10 days. It was the most time I’ve spent there in at least 10 years.”
For a frontman who’s spent the better part of two decades on the road, mixing the classic kick of heartland rock & roll with the modern polish of AAA radio, heading back to a sleepy southern town was a serious change of pace. Hoge spent those 10 days walking around his old neighborhood, visiting the parents of his high school friends and driving past the landmarks of his youth. Before his visit was up, he’d fallen in love again with a place he’d spent the first part of his life desperately trying to leave.
“It was this big reflection on where I’m from,” he says of the trip. “I realized there’s enough distance between where I am and where I’m from to find the beauty in that place.”
“Growing Up Around Here,” the lead-off track from this spring’s Small Town Dreams, finds Hoge making peace with his roots. Backed by the swirl of a Hammond organ and the jangled crash of Telecaster guitars, he sings about a “taillight town” that he can never truly leave behind. John Mellencamp sang about a similar place 30 years ago — a place filled with pink houses, cherry bombs and young couples named Jack and Diane — and Tom Petty sketched his own pictures of teenage nostalgia with songs like “Even the Losers.” Hoge, who claims those two artists as major influences, is proud of the similarities. (Listen to “Growing Up Around Here” below. The song is available as an instant iTunes download for those who preorder Small Town Dreams, beginning today.)
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“People like Petty, Springsteen, Mellencamp, Steve Earle — none of those artists are reinventing the wheel, but they’re telling an honest story in a way that makes it feel like it’s yours,” he says. “If I’m part of that lineage, that makes me happy.”
With Small Town Dreams scheduled for an April 7th release, Hoge is gearing up for another tour, hitting small towns like Salem, Virginia, and major markets like New York City along the way.