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Singer-songwriter Will Hoge finds a place in country music

Published December 16, 2013 10:40 am

Interview • Ahead of a Utah gig, musician talks touring, songwriting and Grammys.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The name Will Hoge may not sound familiar, but the songs he has written will.

Born and raised in Nashville, Hoge co-wrote the Eli Young Band's smash hit "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," which was nominated for a 2013 Grammy for Country Song of the Year.

And his single "Strong" is the theme song for Chevy Silverado's new 2014 ad campaign. The song has sold more than 70,000 copies and is a bonus track on Hoge's new album, "Never Give In."

Hoge, who performs at the State Room on Tuesday, opened for country artist Dierks Bentley earlier this year and, when The Tribune caught up with him in late November, he was taking a break from recording new songs in the studio.

"I'm always two albums ahead," he said by telephone. "It keeps me from going completely insane."

What was it like touring with Dierks Bentley?

We developed a lifelong friendship. Our wives have become good friends and we have a monthly game night with our families. But more than that, Dierks and the Eli Young Band have opened us up to a whole lot of new people. This will be our first time headlining a show now that we've been embraced by country music.

It's your songwriting, specifically "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," that's gotten you a lot of buzz. When did you start writing music?

I first tried it in junior high and it was really, really bad. I started again in college and then it was only really bad. Then around 1996, I wanted to play guitar and sing songs. I'm not a bad guitarist, but I'm not good. So rather than butcher someone else's song, I decided to write my own. I thought if I could get four chords together, I couldn't be accused of screwing something up.

Are you more comfortable writing now that you've been nominated for a Grammy?

I'm not sure I'm more comfortable, but it's a reassurance that I'm not completely insane for trying. At least someone else besides my wife and my mom think I'm good at it.

Where were you when you learned about the nomination?

I had just done a solo show in Chapel Hill, N.C., when someone told me. I turned right back around for the encore. I played the song and everyone was really supportive of me. It was a special night in a little club.

Several of the songs on "Never Give In" lean more toward rock, similar to John Mellencamp or Bob Seger. Do you consider yourself a country or a rock musician?

For 15 years and nine albums, I've always been too rock for country and too country for rock. But for the last couple records the country world has started to embrace me. Country has become a big tent and so many different sounds fit into it. I think of many bands and musicians from the past — if they started making records today, country is the only place that would embrace them.

Were you surprised when Chevrolet asked to use "Strong," a song you co-wrote with Zack Crowell and Ashley Gorley?

Cautious is a better word. I've worked so hard to maintain a sense of credibility and I'm always leery of big corporations and record companies. But it wasn't much of a risk. It's a campaign I believe in — trucks — and it's an American corporation, which is what our music is about. It's an opportunity for people to hear a song of mine that I'm proud of.

Do you drive a Chevrolet?

Yes. A 2014 Silverado. —

Country Strong

Singer-songwriter Will Hoge headlines. Red Wanting Blue opens.

When • Tuesday, Dec. 17, 8 p.m.

Where • The State Room, 638 S. State St., Salt Lake City

Tickets • $13