Heartfelt heartland rock ‘n’ roll in the tradition of John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen and Steve Earle has been the recipe for Will Hoge’s success since his 2001 debut Carousel. The Nashville singer-songwriter is best known for songs such as “Even If It Breaks Your Heart,” a No. 1 country hit for Eli Young Band, and radio-ready anthems such as “Middle of America,” from 2015’s Small Town Dreams, which some other country act needs to cut for a surefire hit.
But when the times call for it, Hoge has never been shy about confronting social and political issues. 2012’s Modern Protest Songs included “The Ballad of Trayvon Martin,” for example, and 2018’s My American Dream was a broadside hurled at Trump’s America by someone with a lot to get off their chest. Asked about the continuing news cycle since that album’s release, Hoge admits that not much has changed.
“I wouldn’t say any of the current events make me feel better about too much,” he says. “I do, however, have plenty more to write and sing about.”
“Gilded Walls” opens My American Dream with a direct message to Donald Trump that references everything from clean air and water (and Flint, Michigan) to high school shootings and street protests, while “Thoughts & Prayers” confronts the frequent refrain used by politicians and others after every tragedy. Hoge’s voice is imbued with outrage throughout in an impassioned performance, and he says the album’s completion was cathartic.
“I felt like the thoughts were all completed and I was able to clear my head for other ideas,” he recalls, adding that he doesn’t want to be seen as a protest singer or political writer, even though that is a meaningful part of his catalog.
“It has always been important to me that the live show isn’t a political rally and that will never change,” he says.
Playing in downtown Lexington, South Carolina, as he will this week at the Icehouse Amphitheater, brings with it some inevitable questions about the local political celebrities in the Republican stronghold, and Hoge admits the subject matter in his more directly political writing probably wouldn’t go over well with them.
“Joe Wilson has always been an example of what is wrong with our politics,” Hoge says of the South Carolina congressman. “He definitely wouldn’t like a bunch of the songs. Nikki Haley I always liked as a conservative, and I thought as governor she did a pretty good job.”
“Her unwillingness to call out current administration abuses is something I have found troubling,” he adds, “but I’d like to think at some point she’d find her moral compass. So, she probably won’t like a few of the tunes either.”
Hoge has been busy since the album’s release, with new music and new ventures, including an electric car service in Nashville that exclusively uses Tesla vehicles.
“I feel like I’m in an incredibly creative space right now,” Hoge offers. “The band and I are in the process of completing a new album for release next year, which will include some video components that I’m fired up about creating, and I’m writing and producing some things with other artists.”
Music, business and politics aside, Hoge has arrived at a point in his career where he’s thankful for the small stuff that really matters.
“The kids and family are growing like wildfire and that’s definitely my favorite thing going on right now,” Hoge says. “All in all, I’m very fortunate and that is not lost on me, for sure.”
What: Will Hoge
Where: Icehouse Amphitheater, 107 West Main St., Lexington
When: Thursday, Oct. 17, 6:30 p.m.
With: Jordan Igoe
Price: $15 ($12)
More: 803-358-7275, icehouseamphitheater.com