Another highlight is the lovely acoustic duet “Goodnight Goodbye” with Nashville based chanteuse Ashley Monroe. “I met her years ago, she moved to Nashville from Knoxville with her mother when she was… she must have been fourteen of fifteen when I met her. And she just had one of these pure mountain voices, this bluegrassy kind of thing. I’ve always thought she was a fabulous singer and I’ve always wanted to sing with her. And so we brought her in, we were going to have her do a couple of songs on the record. And when we did “Goodnight, Goodbye,” she finished it, and it was like, ‘Get her the hell out of here,’ there was no point in having her sing anything else. There’s moments’ listening to that song that I get chills, just hearing her sing.”
The accident, among other things, influenced Hoge not only as a songwriter, but as a person as well. “There are three things I think in the last few years of my life that it really taught me…” Hoge says, pausing as he chooses his words, “some patience. One being marriage, another being a father, and the accident.” While laid up in the hospital, he found himself in the unfamiliar situation of being dependent on others for mundane tasks of daily life that are taken for granted.
When he was able to get back to work, he found the experience had translated to the studio. “I’m impatient sometimes in the studio, I don’t like to take and over think things. I’m more of a… ‘Let’s get it done and move on and do something else.’ I think before the accident I would have just fallen on that and probably kept the other version of the song. I wouldn’t have really sat and tried to come up with a different version. I don’t know that I would have challenged myself, been patient enough to challenge myself.”
Back at home after the accident, unable to hold a guitar with two broken shoulders and time, quite literally on his hands, he found himself drawn to the piano, and even bought a mandolin to teach himself something new. “It gave me patience for wanting to learn some other instruments. I’m not even a good mandolin player and I’m damn sure not a good piano player. But, it opened up some different things musically. It changes the way I play guitar because I’ve been able to bang out things on the piano a bit.”
In a press release that accompanies The Wreckage, Hoge compares the accident to “…stopping a record as it spins,” and “…taking the needle and pushing it off the turntable.” Asked to further the metaphor in regards to getting back to work with the band, he compared the process to the “baby steps” of his rehabilitation. The act of standing up on his own for the first time, taking that first step weeks later, moving with a wheelchair and then a walker. The band had two options as they saw it; wait it out until he was fully recovered, or just start taking “baby steps”. According to Hoge, it was pretty much a no brainer as far as the band was concerned.
“Everybody was really great about it, you know… I’ve started playing and writing again at my house and that made me feel better, started building up some strength for singing. And then we got together and did a rehearsal or two and we did one little acoustic show at a place in Nashville, just four or five songs. Then we went out and we did a couple of weeks of touring, stripped down, totally acoustic, seated on stage. We did them real spaced out and gave ourselves time to rest in between. We took a month off and then we did a four week stint in Nashville of our first shows back, full on standing rock shows, we did that every Wednesday to give ourselves time.”
Those gigs, a residency at Twelfth and Porter, the famed Nashville haunt that gave Hoge his start as a performer more than 12 years ago, brought the band together emotionally and cohesively. They were presented with the opportunity for one, huge shindig at the legendary Ryman Auditorium, opening it up to more than 2200 people. But that just didn’t feel natural to Hoge or anyone and they choose to go the route of the residency.
“And that way we got to play a little bit more, we got to enjoy it a little more. It didn’t become this one thing that was full of pressure. And we had guests out every week; people that had played in the band in the past or people that had played on records, or just friends that we liked. And it was as much fun as I’ve ever had playing music. I mean really and truly from the day that I started doing it, it was just…. it was ego free, and it was just people that were there on stage and off, really just for the joy of the fact that we can still do this. It was pretty special, I don’t mean to over emphasize it, but it put a whole lot of fuel in our collective tanks. I don’t mean that monetarily, I mean just emotionally and spiritually. It really was one of those things that was like, ‘OK, people give a shit.’ And if we go out and do this the right way, there are people that are going to care. It was a real positive, positive thing to be a part of.”
In the press release for The Wreckage, Hoge says that making this record opened him up and felt to him “…like I’m getting to the core of what I want to do and why.” Asked to elaborate, he says there had been times when “…there had been to many egos involved in the band. Somebody’s doing it more as just a paycheck then something else or…” His voice trails off and he seems lost in thought for a moment, but then he returns and states vigorously, “This was the first time where we really just got back to being about the songs.” He adds that there were songs that Siggy didn’t play guitar on or Adam bass, as guests would be sitting in or Brocco or Coomer would be playing. But everybody was on the same page and they were all moving forward with what they were trying to do.
“And it was great cause it was really like working with a bunch of men for the first time. I felt like we all made it through puberty on this record. We’ve gotten closer and closer to this every time, and we still have got to grow. This is not the be all and end all of the records we’re going to make. But it was a real good firm step forward for all of us I think as musicians.”
Having stared down his own mortality and been temporarily put on workers compensation so to speak, the accident has given Hoge a new outlook on his career and life. He’s always been genuine, down to earth and sincere, but listening to him speak candidly, one gets the impression he’s truly grateful to have a second shot at life.
“I’ve always prided myself on being pretty appreciative about things. I get to play music with my best friends, travel around the country. I’ve a lovely wife at home and a kid. And I’ve always been real fortunate. I’ve been thankful for that. But I think after this, it’s just an even more, supreme version of thankful. You can be thankful for something. But then, when you see how easy it is to truly lose all of it, it’s just thankful on a whole another level, that’s all I can say.”