Will Hoge, Dave Hause
Will Hoge is a mainstay of 21st century rock & roll, carrying the torch for a blue-collar sound rooted in ringing Telecaster guitars and anthemic songwriting. He makes music for roadhouses and rallies, for car stereos and dive-bar jukeboxes, for Saturday night hell-raising and Sunday morning comedowns. In an era of social media influencers looking to fast-track their way to fame, Hoge has proudly taken the long way around, dedicating himself not to the destination, but to the journey itself.
The trek continues with Wings On My Shoes, the twelfth studio album in a career whose milestones include Number One hits, Grammy nods, major-label record deals, and hard-won independence. Written amidst the doom and gloom of a pandemic that brought his touring schedule to a standstill, it’s a record that seeks out silver linings, emphasizing bright moments over looming darkness. For Hoge, Wings On My Shoes also marks a recommitment to the amplified Americana sound that’s earned him a global audience, as well nods from Rolling Stone, Forbes, and NPR.
“I always want to embrace change — to accept new things artistically— but at the end of the day, I can try to run from this idea that I love good, guitar-based rock & roll music, or I can wear that badge of honor,” he says. “I’m in the ‘wearing the badge of honor’ phase now.”
He wears it proudly with songs like “All I Can Take,” a fast ‘n’ furious blast of bar-band bombast that he recorded in a single take. “Dead Man’s Hand” slows the tempo but deepens the groove, with Hoge delivering a Springsteen-sized story of desperation and dirty business dealings. “John Prine’s Cadillac” celebrates life and love with power chords, cymbal crashes, and a nod to Hoge’s songwriting hero, while “It’s Just You” remakes the jubilant jangle of Buddy Holly’s best work into a heartland-rock love song.
Recorded during a week’s worth of live performances at Nashville’s Sound Emporium Studios, Wings On My Shoes spotlights the chemistry shared by Hoge and his group of hard-touring road warriors: guitarist Thom Donovan, drummer Allen Jones, and bassist Christopher Griffiths. Hoge pulls triple-duty as the album’s writer, frontman, and producer, while guest multi-instrumentalist Joshua Grange adds touches of pedal steel and organ throughout. Featuring few overdubs and zero studio trickery, Wings On My Shoes stands tall as a document of a hardscrabble band at work, wearing its rough edges with pride, sweating and stomping its way toward rock & roll redemption.
“There are common things we all love — the Beatles, the Stones, the Mount Rushmore of rock music — but everyone brings their own influences to the table,” Hoge says of Wings‘ lineup, whose members previously joined him on Tiny Little Movies and My American Dream. “Allen comes from a punk-rock background. Christopher is a Detroit native with Motown influences. Thom loves Johhny Marr and does great things with guitar effects. As we’re arranging the songs, I’m encouraging these guys to push a little bit and help steer. I don’t want to make a record where I play everything, because that defeats the whole purpose of ensemble playing. I’m trying to incorporate everyone else’s gifts into what we’re doing.”
At its core, though, Wings On My Shoes remains a songwriter’s record. Hoge began writing these 10 songs months into the Covid pandemic, his world rattled by the isolation that came with the world’s shelter-in-place recommendation. “I was a mess,” he remembers. “I didn’t realize how much this touring lifestyle had afforded me a certain level of built-in vulnerability and connection with people. Normally, you get into a van with a group of musicians, and you naturally hang out during the weeks that follow, and there’s a communal aspect. There’s a feeling of being connected. I’d gotten used to that, and without it, I went through something of a nervous breakdown. I needed to recenter myself.”
Hoge revamped his schedule, making time for daily blocks of journaling, exercise, and songwriting. He meditated. He practiced yoga. He read and wrote. “It was regimented and unsexy,” he admits, “but it helped. There was a real focus on songwriting once again. Over the course of eight to nine months, that’s where the music came from, and I got really excited about this new batch of songs.”
Those daily songwriting sessions yielded more than full-throttle rockers. On the acoustic “Whose God Is This,” Hoge explores the middle ground between classic country textures and irreverent Bible School takeaways. “Queenie” finds him strumming a gentle salute to the strong, determined women in his life, while the stunning “The Last One To Go” — a career highlight, laced with gorgeous strings and interwoven acoustic guitars — tackles hard realities about marriage and mortality. Wings On My Shoes makes room for all of it, highlighting the diverse perspectives of a craftsman whose songs turn southern storytelling into universal sentiment.
Years before Americana music received its own category at the Grammy Awards, Will Hoge was on the frontlines, helping to pilot and popularize the genre’s blend of American roots music. With Wings On My Shoes, he distills that sound down to its strongest ingredients, steering himself from roadhouse rock & roll to southern soul, from guitar-driven grease ‘n’ grit to Tennessee twang, from amplified barn-burners to acoustic numbers. For Will Hoge, that’s how you take flight, and Wings On My Shoes finds him flying high.
On a base level, the term ‘blood harmony’ is simple—it describes the specific sound two siblings make when they sing together. Given that Dave Hause has been writing and recording songs with his younger brother Tim for a while now, it made sense to use that phrase as the title for his fifth solo record. But this being a Dave Hause album also means there’s much more to it than that. Beneath the surface of Blood Harmony, in fact, are multiple layers of meaning relating to Hause’s role as a musician, a brother, a husband, a son and—having become a father to twins a few months before the release of 2019’s Kick—a dad. As such, Blood Harmony is also a reassertion of what family means to him. Even more so because it’s coming out on the label owned by he and his brother. “I thought Blood Harmony was a great title” says Hause, “and really specific to how Tim and I have decided to work over the years. It also pertains to my children because they’ll have their own Blood Harmony. So the germ of the album, the beating heart, is that I’m in a true family. I have a grounded reason to work and a bunch of people that I want to make proud with the work that we do. It’s a family business.”
The importance of that was made all the more apparent after the coronavirus outbreak. Hause, with his brother, used that unexpected downtime to make the Patty/Paddy tribute EPs to Patty Griffin and Dillinger Four’s Patrick ‘Paddy’ Costello. After a while, though, like all touring musicians, he found himself without an income. So when his friend and former manager offered him some work nearby as a Covid safety supervisor for the company she set up after contracting Covid herself, he said yes. It was for one of the biggest celebrities in the world, so to prepare, Hause went to LA and worked on two shoots with two of music’s biggest stars. He was shocked at the scant disregard their teams had for their well-being. “These artists are so successful they never need to work again,” says Hause, “but the label and management were pushing to get away with stuff and it was totally unsafe. I was pretty disgusted seeing the industry at that level, and how much of it was simply greed and not caring about the safety of others. We were just starting to roll out the EPs on our own label, and the whole experience just ironed my resolve—I’m a family artist, and I never want to be in a position where people are urging me to do things that are bad for my or my family’s mental or physical health. That’s not what it’s about for me. It’s about connection. So that experience really reinforced this idea of blood harmony. I’m connected to my people, and this is a small little thing that we’re going to keep pure.”
You can hear Hause’s passion and dedication to his craft—as well as his determined approach to it—flowing through the veins of Blood Harmony’s ten stunning, sumptuous songs. Written with his brother over a series of weekly FaceTime sessions, they began crafting songs together in January 2021. They’d been writing remotely together since 2017’s Bury Me In Philly so it wasn’t an entirely new process for them, but they modified their approach slightly by giving themselves rigid deadlines. “We decided to get together on Mondays,” explains Hause, “to figure out what we wanted to work on, and by Friday we had to have something you could sing to someone who wasn’t a songwriter. It could be bad, but I didn’t want to just have vague ideas. We called it ‘Pencils-Down Fridays’. Over the course of three-and-a-half months, we ended up with 26 songs.”
They traveled with ten of those to Nashville, where acclaimed songwriter Will Hoge took up the helm of producer. Through Hoge’s connections, what Hause calls “a staggering bunch of musicians” was assembled to flesh out the songs he and Tim had written. He’s not wrong. There was Brandi Carlile’s drummer Chris Powell, Bruce Springsteen And The E Street band bassist Garry Tallent, acclaimed session guitarist Tom Bukovac, Jason Isbell’s guitarist Sadler Vaden, and keyboardist Billy Justineau, Mike Webb, and Jen Gunderman, who have played with the likes of Eric Church, Sheryl Crow, and more. Hause is the first to admit that it was a world away from the punk rock scene he’d made his name with as frontman of The Loved Ones. “They say that when you work in any field, you’re happiest when you initially get the respect of your peers,” he says. “Thankfully, I’ve had that respect for some time now. But in this situation, these people were not our peers. They’ve operated at the highest level of the music business that is even possible, so to get their respect was so gratifying. Their kindness and commitment to making the record great because they liked the songs was tremendous. I keep saying that if anybody else likes the record, that’s icing on the cake, because the way we wrote and made it was so wonderful.”
While nobody would say the quality of Hause’s previous albums was lacking, making Blood Harmony with those musicians was nevertheless a concerted effort to ramp it up. And it does. It begins with “Northstar”, a tender paean to the direction, comfort and joy his wife and twins have given him that also drives home the emotional resonance and sense of family at the center of this album. It’s followed immediately by “Sandy Sheets”, a nostalgic trip into a past long-gone that references the Gin Blossoms’ “Hey Jealousy” in its chorus, and which sounds every bit as iconic as that track. The gorgeous, lilting, paradise of “Hanalai” captures that rare sense of peace when you’re with the person you love and nothing else matters, “Surfboard” injects some rare, good-natured humor into the trials and tribulations of being working class—something that remains, as ever, an undercurrent here—while “Carry The Lantern” and its life-affirming, almost Thin Lizzy-esque riffs double down Hause’s commitment to his sobriety and his family. “A lot of being an adult for me is recommitting to your better angels instead of chasing your own tail,” he says. “That song is about facing temptation but redoubling your efforts to stay committed to the higher things that compel us to be better.” It’s followed by the gorgeous album closer “Little Wings”. Hause calls it a post-script, but it resonates much more deeply and feels more significant than that. In fact, it ends the album the same way it begins—with a tender song for and about his twins that’s full of the purest love and hope. It’s impossible to not hear and feel just how much they and his whole family—that beating heart at the center of these songs—mean to him. It’s a truly beautiful thing.