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Watch & Listen
“I hit a wall,” says Will Hoge. “I was doing the best touring of my career and I had a great, steady gig writing songs, but I was falling out of love with being in a band. I didn’t have a good answer when I asked myself, ‘Why am I still doing this?’ So I walked away. I had to figure out what was next.”
For Hoge, what came next was a quest to reclaim the joy and the magic that had drawn him to music in the first place. He let his band go and hit the road for roughly a year of solo shows, crisscrossing the country by himself with just a guitar and a keyboard. He felt rejuvenated by the freedom and began writing material that reenergized him, that made him feel like a kid falling in love with rock and roll all over again. Those songs ignited a dormant flame somewhere deep within Hoge’s soul, and now they form the bulk of Anchors, his strongest and most nuanced album to date.
“All the solo work made me fall back in love with the process and really inspired me from a writing perspective,” says Hoge. “I was so excited when it was time to record this album because I didn’t have any parameters that I had to stay inside anymore. I could reach out to anyone I wanted and put together a band that could play these songs in a way that just felt cool and natural, like we used to do in my garage back when I was a teenager.”
Hoge’s teenage garage band years were spent in Franklin, TN, but his music career didn’t begin in earnest until he moved roughly twenty miles up the road to Nashville. Starting with the release of his acclaimed 2001 debut, Carousel, Hoge established himself as a masterful songwriter and performer as well as a critical favorite, with Rolling Stone comparing him to Bob Seger and John Mellencamp and NPR praising his “sharp, smart, passionate rock ‘n’ roll that seems to exist out of time.” Hoge built up a loyal fanbase the old fashioned way, maintaining a steady studio output and a relentless touring schedule of more than 200 shows a year, including bills with the likes of My Morning Jacket, the Black Crowes, and Drive-By Truckers, in addition to festival slots from Bonnaroo to Austin City Limits.
Then, in 2012, Hoge found himself suddenly thrust into the spotlight when the Eli Young Band hit #1 on the Billboard Country chart with their recording of his song “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.” The single went Platinum, earning Hoge coveted nominations at the CMA, ACM, and GRAMMY Awards, where the track was up for Country Song of the Year. The wider world took notice of what those paying attention to Hoge had known for a decade, and soon he was performing everywhere from the Grand Ole Opry to The Late Show with David Letterman, his music was soundtracking a high-profile Chevy truck campaign, and he’d signed a major publishing deal.
“All of the sudden, people were coming and offering me money to be a songwriter,” reflects Hoge. “I hadn’t had a regular paycheck in fifteen years at that point, and suddenly I was a ‘paid songwriter.’ It was an incredible opportunity, and I did that for four years while I continued to tour and make my own records. I learned a lot of valuable things and wrote some songs that I really loved, but it was a very different kind of writing. I felt like I was working for somebody else.”
So, as he’s always done throughout his career, Hoge took a gamble on himself and left behind the security and comfort of the familiar in order to pursue the kind of art that moved and inspired him. The result is Anchors, an album that blends elements of literate folk, vintage country, and heartland rock into a passionate, genre-busting masterpiece. Recorded with an all-star band comprised of drummer Jerry Roe (Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Darius Rucker), bassist Dominic Davis (Jack White, Wanda Jackson), and guitarists Brad Rice (Son Volt, Ryan Adams) and Thom Donovan (Lapush, Ruby Amanfu), the album is a prime showcase for Hoge’s soaring, gritty vocals, as well as his remarkable gift for crafting complex characters with real emotional depth and plainspoken profundity.
“There’s some seeds you plant that never grow,” Hoge sings on loping album opener “The Reckoning.” It’s a beautiful, bittersweet introduction to a record that grapples with the messy challenges of adulthood and takes an unflinching look at the ways in which we persevere (or don’t) through hard times. On “This Grand Charade,” Hoge paints a portrait of a crumbling marriage going through the motions to keep up appearances, while “Angel’s Wings” channels classic country in the search for one more chance to turn things around, and the spare, piano-driven “Cold Night In Santa Fe” laments that “it ain’t the knowing that it’s over / it’s the watching it slip away” that causes the most pain.
Hoge’s a happily married man with two kids of his own these days, though, so he knows that time doesn’t inherently doom all lovers. “Ain’t nothing we can’t fix / Ain’t no broken trust / Ain’t no great divide between the two of us ” he sings in harmony with special guest Sheryl Crow on “Little Bit Of Rust.
“I’d always wanted a female vocal for this song because I felt like the ‘we’ in the chorus is important,” says Hoge. “Nobody fixes a relationship on their own. I felt like it deserved this strong female presence, and Sheryl’s just one of the greatest singers I’ve ever heard. Having her on the track breathed a whole new life into the song, and it’s one of my favorite things I’ve ever done.”
While the album has its fair share of heavy moments, Hoge isn’t afraid to mine the more optimistic and playful veins of his creativity, too. He lets his mischievous side shine on the lustful “This Ain’t An Original Sin,” gets romantic on the Traveling Wilburys-esque “Baby’s Eyes” (a co-write with Brendan Benson), and reconnects with the innocence and excitement of his early days on “Seventeen,” a track inspired by his own kids’ exploits in the garage.
“My boys are six and ten, and they started a band with their friend,” explains Hoge. “I was sitting around one day during my period of deep doubt, and then I heard these three pre-teens in my damn garage thinking they can save the world with rock and roll. It was amazing. All of the sudden you remember the feeling of going to band practice and playing with your friends and making sure that you’ve got your jean jacket on just right so you can talk to the girl at the movie theater and try to get her to come to your show. You remember you do it because you love it and it feels right.”
That’s the notion that carries album closer “Young As We Will Ever Be” into the sunset. It’s an ode to the present, to living in the moment, to seeing the splendor in the right now, challenging as it may be. It’s easy to get jaded or lose inspiration in this world when the going gets tough, and it’s even easier to take the good times for granted, only recognizing them for what they are once they’re in the rearview mirror. If there’s one takeaway from Anchors, though, it’s that hard times come and hard times go, but love and art can sustain you through both if you let them. The road you end up on and the stops you make along the way may not be the ones you’d always imagined, but true happiness belongs to those who learn to find fulfillment in the journey rather than the destination.
“Am I as far as I want to go?” Hoge asks himself out loud. “No. Am I further than I ever imagined being at seventeen? Fuck yeah. There’s some beauty in that.”
Within seconds after a guitar plays the intro to her song “Aden,” Jade Jackson’s voice, illuminated by experience, sings: “I grew up my father’s daughter. He said don’t take no shit from no one. You’ll never see me cry ...”
And it’s with that voice and those lyrics that imply a thousand stories, this singer/songwriter hints at what she is capable of crafting, of how many tears she can stir in recounting her rambles to the far corners of her imagination, further even than she has actually travelled.
For Jackson has spent much of her time in a small California town, working in her parents’ restaurant, jotting down verses and picking out chords during breaks, then venturing eventually to more formal music studies in college before coming back home and startling listeners with the depth and intensity of her music.
Released in May on Anti- Records, Gilded introduced her preternatural writing and raw, roots- rough sound. Surrounded by the close friends and gifted musicians that constitute her band, Jackson finds the perfect twist of phrase again and again, to express regret (“Let me walk over the bridges I’ve burned,” on the mournful “Bridges”), foreboding (“He kept his shiny blue gun underneath his dash/Deep inside she knew their lives were gonna crash,” a doomsday premonition set to a galloping beat and spaghetti-Western guitar on “Troubled End”) and freedom (“I feel my boot heels sink in quicksand, baby, every time we kiss,” she tells her baffled lover on “Motorcycle.” “Ah, understand, boy, it’s been fun, but my motorcycle only seats one.”)
How did Jackson develop this command so young? First, of course, she was born with talent, which her home life nurtured. Though neither parent was a musician, both of them — especially her father — listened constantly to a range of artists, from Johnny Cash and Hank Williams to The Smiths, The Cure and assorted punk outfits.
“There was always music at home,” Jackson remembers. “In fact, it weirded me out when I’d go to a friend’s house and we were supposed to be quiet.”
Just as important, she had a compelling reason to develop her talent from an early age.
“I was just bored!” she insists. “That’s why I started playing guitar. I’d grown up in a really small house in a small town. I shared a room with my brother and sister until I was 12. Then when I was 13 we moved about 30 miles away to Santa Margarita because my parents wanted to open a restaurant there. So there were more people around but I didn’t know anybody. That summer it was 118 degrees and we didn’t have air conditioning. I didn’t have any friends. My parents were kind of anti-technology, so I grew up without the Internet.”
So she found escape on her own. “Even before I picked up the guitar, my favorite thing was to tell stories. I was so in love with poetry: I would watch how people reacted when I read something I wrote ... and then I’d put myself in their shoes and try to imagine how it felt to be them because I was kind of sheltered.”
She wrote prolifically — still does, in fact. “I couldn’t stop,” she admits. “I would write on whatever I could grab. If I was in the car, I’d write on a piece of trash. If there was no trash, I’d write on cardboard. In my junior year of high school, the local newspaper did a story that said ‘Jade Jackson writes a song every day!’ They had me count all the songs I’d written by then and I think I was up to 375.”
The numbers grew. Through hard work and a willingness to challenge herself with each new effort, the quality of the music grew too. At the same time, Jackson began thinking about music as possibly something more than a private escape. This epiphany dates back to the night she
went to a concert for the first time without her parents; the headliner that night was one of her favorites, Social Distortion.
“When I watched Mike Ness walk onstage and felt the energy from the crowd, it ignited something in me,” Jackson says. “I wanted to be on that stage too. I never knew I wanted to perform until that day. That shifted all the gears in my life.”
She began by playing every Sunday at a coffee shop in Santa Margarita. “They had a guitar hanging on the wall, so I’d take it down, spread all my lyrics out on the floor, sit on the couch and read them from there,” she says, with a laugh. “But then this musician named Don Lampson saw me playing. He asked if I wanted to open for him. So I memorized four or five of my songs and for the first time in my life, sang through a microphone. I connected with that energy of performing. I loved it when I could make people feel emotions through my songs.”
Her following, like her catalog, grew steadily. By the time she’d completed high school, Jackson’s work had become impressive enough to persuade Cal Arts to accept her into its music program. There, she had her first formal music instruction as well as some more personal struggles and applied both to finessing her craft even further.
“When I was little and listening to Johnny Cash, his songs were so sad, kind of slow and melancholy,” she says. “I didn’t understand what the words meant but I understood how they made me feel. In college, when I had my first taste of real depression, all of a sudden his songs and Hank Williams’s stories came true. I was like, ‘Holy shit! Now I actually know what those words meant!’ It was like a circle completing itself.”
One more circle led Jackson to her most critical step forward, when she and Mike Ness began working together. Jackson’s mother and Ness’ wife had been friends in high school, which brought the two artists together. A short while after hearing her perform, he offered to mentor her. They assembled the band that’s been by her side since they came together. He agreed to produce Gilded as well.
“He gave me homework,” she points out. “He made me listen to Lucinda Williams’s Car Wheels On A Gravel Road and told me to listen only to that album for the next three or so months. That was the template of the album he wanted to create with me, so I picked from songs of mine that had a similar feel. If I didn’t have him, Gilded would have been a lot more scattered.”
That’s the key, right there. Gilded is a closed circuit, a masterwork of emotional honesty, of epic tales and intimate confessions. What’s scattered beyond, in songs long completed and many more yet to come, is a promise of more circles, more unique perspectives on hard lessons learned and too soon forgotten.
This is just the first you’ve heard from Jade Jackson. So much more lies ahead, for her and for us.