"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.
Dan Layus, primarily known as the frontman of the critically acclaimed band Augustana, is set to release his debut solo album, 'Dangerous Things,' out October 21, 2016 on Plated Records/ADA.
'Dangerous Things' spans influences from Hank Williams to Tom Waits, from Dwight Yoakam to Woody Guthrie. The album was recorded in Nashville at SouthxSea Studios with minimal production. The lyrics are about life's struggles and its simple joys, and harmonies are provided by Muscle Shoals' own The Secret Sisters.
Of the new music, Layus explains, "I always knew this album was out there waiting, I just had to let it come to me. That was the most challenging part of this record. It was three years of repeatedly realizing I was trying too hard to write a perfect song. It all started to make sense and feel good as soon as I stopped treating songwriting like it was songwriting. Somewhere along the way I decided that if an idea was going to turn into a song on this album, then it had to be written organically and purely. It had to be an inspired moment that was unfolding melodically, musically and lyrically, all while making me feel something.
Subsequently, that's how I recorded the songs -- I played the song live a few times in front of some microphones and when I felt something real happen, we moved onto the next one. The songs and recordings on this album are inspired by other people's stories and informed by my own experiences and I've never felt more proud or comfortable sharing an album as I feel with this one."
Layus spent 12 years as the creative force behind American roots-rock band Augustana. After years of grueling touring which took them from basements to amphitheaters, the band as unit had run its course and disbanded. Layus decided to keep the name and subsequently released another album and toured twice more as Augustana. In 2013 he moved to Nashville and found an immediate home in the songwriter community, penning songs for Platinum country artists and pop artists alike. In this new endeavor he also found something even more valuable -- the new sound he had been searching for and scratching at since the inception of Augustana.