Singer-songwriter Will Hoge has fond memories of growing up in Franklin, Tenn. Back in the 1980s, the city -- located about a half hour south of Nashville -- was somewhat of a sleepy historic town.
"In the downtown area, there was a little drug store on the corner and a feed store halfway down the street," he told Billboard. "There was a square with a Baskin Robbins on the other end. That was pretty much it. There were a few stores that opened and closed, but people would cruise around at nights in their pickup or their car and you would just drive around in a circle and go back and do it again. It was a really small country town when I was growing up there and that has changed a ton since then. It seemed like as a kid when you would go to the beach and see someone with a Williamson County license plate, you knew them because it was such a small town. That was fun. It was like a big extended family."
A lot has changed in the years that have passed for both the city of Franklin -- as well as Hoge. The city is one of Tennessee's fastest growing and his career has skyrocketed over the years as one of country's most respected artists. On April 7, Hoge releases his new album, Small Town Dreams, which is full of songs about the restless spirit one feels growing up in such a place as Franklin used to be. He says it's an honest reaction to his surroundings.
"I think there is some of that. I do think that growing up and doing this for a living, it's something I have had for a very long time, I still have restlessness. But with some years of experience and some expensive therapy, I have learned how to temper that better," he says with a laugh. "It is a big part of it. I think that with anyone who grows up in a small town, there is this belief or this dream that there is something bigger out there."
One song that was definitely inspired by a specific location in his hometown was "Guitar or a Gun," which he co-wrote with Dylan Altman and Gary Allan.
"There was this little pawn shop in Franklin and I would ride my bike over there on the weekends. I was always attracted to both of those things. I would spend half of my time there looking at the guitars on the wall and then I'd look at the old revolvers and six shooters. There was this sense of romantic idealism with both of those things -- You were either going to join a band, which is like being in a gang anyway. You travel all over the world, play music and raise hell for a living. Then, there's the option of the cowboy image, where you grow up watching 'Young Guns' and you want to start a gang and ride off into the sunset. I guess when you do this for a living, you sort of split the difference between the two."
Small Town Dreams represents a departure for Hoge, as it marks his first collaboration with Marshall Altman behind the glass as producer. Hoge said making the album was a seamless process.
"Marshall is one of my favorite producers in town and he's an old friend," he said. "One of the things that was that we didn't have to go through a process where we had to establish trust with one another. We were able to skip that step. I know that he likes my music and he knows what I am trying to do as an artist. He just brings an honest sensibility to what I do naturally. I have no doubt I could have made a record going out and recording these songs on my own, but having Marshall there freed me up to just be the singer and songwriter and let him steer the ship in certain spots. There would be moments where I would say 'I really want this to be this particular way,' and we could entertain that. It really came down to what was best for the record and he understood that and wasn't heavy handed at all. Anytime you are still friends with someone after making a record, it means it went well. It certainly did."
The set's first single, "Middle of America," was recorded at RCA Studio A -- one of Nashville's more legendary studios -- an experience that Hoge won't forget anytime soon. "That's one of those studios that is sacred ground as far as I'm concerned. It's everything that you would expect. It's like going back in time," he said, adding that the ghosts of previous sessions there are very much real. "There are things that happen when you make music or do art and bear your soul in a room for that amount of time that it has to seep down into the wood. I know that sounds 'trippy dippy hippy,' but it's very much true. If you talk to the people that have worked in the building, they will tell you stories. It's certainly seeps its' way into the vibe of the room, as well."