Will Hoge on Jesus in Nashville and Modern American Protest Music
Tennessee's Will Hoge has proffered a literate, solid and consistent collection of country, rock and soul since 1997. It's been the last few years, however, that provided Hoge a more prominent place in the public's consciousness, due to a horrific traffic accident in 2008 and the recent ascent of his tune "Even If It Breaks Your Heart" to a number one hit for local heroes the Eli Young Band earlier this year.
With his recently released album, Modern American Protest Music, Hoge seizes the moment to directly and solely focus on social and political issues that currently dominate the cable news airwaves. The album is a direct and non-ironic portrait of an artist with some heavy stuff to get off his chest.
"It's a really straight-forward record. I think the title clues everyone into what subject matter we're delving into," Hoge says over the phone as he gets ready to support the record on tour. "The shows aren't going to become political rallies or anything like that. It's just that, as a songwriter, it's important to me to reflect the things I think about and the things that I discuss with friends and family on a regular basis. I just felt the need to write about some specific things and the songs worked together as a record really well."
To hear Hoge tell it, whether the sentiments contained on this record are new or original isn't terribly relevant. The act of expressing himself was the mission, not saying something that hasn't been said before.
"As an artist, there's no difference in making a record and making any other kind of record," says Hoge. "You just try to say things in the most heartfelt way you can and put it out there. I can't worry about who's said what before. At the end of the day, a world with more great songs is a better world, and hopefully, people will think these are great songs."
The song that will likely draw the largest smiles or attract the greatest scorn is the folky, story-telling number "Jesus In Nashville." Hoge pulls no punches as he paints a picture of Jesus Christ hanging out for a bit among the modern masses.
"Like most revolutionaries over time, the image of Jesus has been corrupted by folks that can make a lot of money from it. I enjoyed thinking about what he would actually have to say about things here. It would be a hoot to see what Jesus would go for these days, and to know the things that he wouldn't be cool with when you've always thought he would be."
As is the case with most politically expressive artists, the liberal-leaning Hoge wants to shake up the hive not to create converts, but to simply stir up a bit of passion he feels is lacking among today's populace.
"It's really not about me telling people what to think," he says. "I hope these songs encourage more people to be a part of the process. Our right to vote is still something that's not taken advantage of to the fullest. I think folks my age or younger have grown up in an environment where everything political is so polarized, and there's no real opportunity for people to see the good on both sides and feel like their voice will be heard. You don't have to agree with everything I sing about or say, but it's great to see people come to my shows, commune and to realize that we're not all that different. That's the long and short of it, really."