Will Hoge released "Never Give In," his ninth studio album, last week, and the acclaimed singer-songwriter knows things have changed for him professionally since 2011's "Number Seven." That collection reached No. 12 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart, and he has since enjoyed a thriving songwriting career -- thanks to the Eli Young Band, who hit No. 1 with "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," which he co-wrote with Eric Paslay.
With this project in particular, there seems to be more interest and a response going into the record. "That makes me excited, because that's not something I have always had in my career," he admitted. "I feel it's a chance for me and the band to step up to a different level."
With all the positive vibes going on right now for Hoge, he jokes that it might be time for concern. "It terrifies me. I'm just neurotic enough to think that the wheels are going to come off when things start to go well. Back in 2009, we had an album that ultimately was called 'The Wreckage.' It was slated to come out, and everybody was excited about it. But, then we had a motorcycle wreck that sidelined me and it took a long while to get that going. At that point, there were a lot of people who looked at my career and said 'He was on the brink of something, but this wreck happened and ruined it.' I felt like we fought through that, got it back together, and got this record ready to go. A couple of days ago, before we started the first warm-up shows for the tour, I went out to play golf to clear my head, and on the ninth hole, I got bitten by a snake. I thought, ‘Here we are again.' Luckily, it wasn't poisonous. Hopefully, that was my brush with danger on this one."
"Never Give In" is packed full with deep and introspective material, such as "Home Is Where The Heart Breaks." As a tunesmith, Hoge says that he loves getting to weave his imagination through his lyrics. "That's the art that is my favorite, and that goes for more than just music. I don't know if when the Beatles wrote 'Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,' I don't think there was actually a girl named Lucy. When Mario Puzo wrote The Godfather, he had never been in the mafia, but you see those movies and books, and you see how he writes with such a sense of clarity that you believe it. As a songwriter, I hope I'm getting better at that – being able to create a story and put enough of yourself in it that makes it believable and honest."
How much of himself and his own experiences figure into the music -- or does he ever hold back? "I just look at it as storytelling," he offers. "A lot of times, I will listen back to the finished vocal, and decide if I like it or not. I can pick it apart, and say ‘That's really personal, or that's not. But, I don't think there's ever been a moment where I've ever edited anything out that was just too personal."
One particular highlight from the album is "Goodbye Ain't Always Gone," which he admits is intently personal. "A good friend of mine, Keith Brogdon, was raised by his grandfather. He passed away early in our friendship. It was like losing a father for him. I remember talking to him, and making sure he was ok. There had been a lady who had taken care of him the last few weeks of his life, and she came to Keith and said ‘A closed eye ain't sleeping, and a goodbye ain't always gone.' I don't really know what any of that meant in that setting, but it just stuck with me. I held on to it for a real long time, and we put that into the song."
Hoge has high hopes for the tracks on the album, but if another artist heard something they liked and wanted to cut it – a la The Eli Young Band – that would be fine with him. "I would encourage it. I'll pay for half the recording, if that will make it possible," he says in jest. "Just let me know what I need to do."