Music

Will Hoge Survives the Wreckage

Bill Clifford

It never entered his mind that he wouldn’t tour again, but after the accident, Will Hoge was eager just to walk again.

In August 2008, a tragic accident nearly took the life of Nashville based singer/songwriter Will Hoge. Recording tracks for his then unfinished and untitled recording at the renowned Sound Emporium Studios and just miles from his home, he left at 8PM, planning to stop a local market on his way home.

“I was going to go home and hang with the family a little bit early, everybody else was going to go have a drink. And I was going to pick up milk; that was the other thing I was going to do. My wife said we needed milk, so I thought I’d stop by the store on my way home.”

Relaxing on his tour bus after a gig a little more than a year later, he recalls the trip to the store for the dairy product, and reflects candidly about fatherhood, learning patience and life after The Wreckage.

“I remember getting to the light, and making a left hand turn, to go up to the main road where I would make a right hand turn to go to the store. Seventh and Main is where the accident was, that turn would have been on Second and Main. I remember making that turn, but then I don’t remember anything at all from the next five blocks, and really not much at all from the next five days, if we’re going to get right down to it.”

Hoge spent the next five days in intensive care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the result of slamming head first into a van whose driver failed to yield while making a left hand turn. He suffered multiple fractures and contusions, including two broken shoulder blades and several ribs, a shattered right femur and kneecap. He received over 100 stitches in his face alone and was temporarily blinded.

“The big thing was my knee, they built my knee back together. It was in ten or twelve pieces I think, and they were able to somehow stick the damn thing together with some screws and glue or whatever it is they did. It broke a six-inch mid section out of my femur; it broke it literally through the skin. That whole piece of bone is gone.”

Born and raised in nearby Franklin, Tennessee, Hoge’s been writing and recording his own songs since 1999. A stalwart and zealous performer, he built a steady fan base up and down the eastern seaboard, and released one CD on Atlantic in 2003. Shortly after, he was released from his contract with the major label and went on to independently release several live recordings and a studio CD, before finding a home with the venerable Ryko Disc label and releasing several more CDs.

August 2008 found Hoge at Sound Emporium with producers Ken Coomer and Charlie Brocco, and band mates Sigurdur (Siggy) Birkis on drums and Adam Beard on bass working on a then as of yet untitled CD. Now married and the proud father of a son, he’d found his priorities had begun to shift.

Asked for a tangible example of how bringing a child into the world has changed his perspective, he says, “It was like a cannon going off! There are things about rock and roll that are incredibly immature. And some of them need to always be immature, it’s something that… You know, ridding around in a bus, trying to conquer the world playing music and stuff with some of your best friends in the world…I mean, there’s an immaturity that goes with that that’s something that we all want to maintain,” he says with a slight hint of sarcasm in his voice. “But, when there’s a kid involved, like all of a sudden, some of the things that… everything just gets a lot more focused. That’s the only way I can describe it.”

His son, William, was 16 months old at the time of the accident. Though difficult, the decision was made not to see his son for four weeks after the accident, due to the stitches in his face and overall condition. Aware he’d be unable to roughhouse in the typical father son manner, his wife, Julia, explained to William about his fathers’ injuries. Hoge states that when he finally saw him again, it was one of the most moving moments of his life.

“So she (Julia) brought him over, sat him on the bed facing me like this. And he looked up at me, and he leaned forward and he put both his little arms as far as he could stretch them out around my chest, and he put his head down on me. And he sat perfectly still right there, for what must have been 35 or 40 minutes. He didn’t want to do anything, he didn’t want to wrestle, didn’t want to do anything, just held my torso. And it killed me. It may have been even more powerful than… your child’s birth is one of the most amazing things that you’ll ever witness. But I was able to get through that. But that moment just wiped me out. It was really one of those, ‘OK. This is worth surviving all of this. To get to do this, will make all of the struggle worth while for sure,’ you know.”

After the accident, Hoge spent the next three months hospitalized and in rehab, going through as many as 12 surgeries. He says that he never contemplated giving up his career as a songwriter and performer, however.

“It never entered my mind that I wouldn’t do it (tour) again. I mean, people have asked that question, they’d come to the hospital a week after the accident and say, ‘God, I bet you can’t wait to get back to tour,’ and ‘can’t wait to get back to writing,’ blah, blah, blah. And my standard answer is just, ‘I can’t wait to walk!’ Music just wasn’t a concern. I knew that it would be again. But at the time…? No, it was something that I always knew that I’d do again.”

Eight months after the accident, Hoge and the same musicians as well as multi-instrumentalist Devin Malone reentered Sound Emporium on a mission to complete the recording, along with Brocco and Coomer. Though they had recorded as many as seven tracks prior to the accident, only four from the original sessions made the final cut of the 11-track CD The Wreckage, and one of those four was completely revised and re-recorded.

The nine-month period between recording sessions proved to be one of the most fertile periods for Hoge as a songwriter. Despite the title track’s blatant reference, though, the songs tread familiar ground for Hoge, and serve more as a metaphor for failed relationships rather than as dour ruminations on the accident. In the weepy title cut, life keeps revolving around a couple in a stalemate of a relationship. While on the more rocking “Favorite Waste of Time”, the protagonist puts an ex who would no longer give him the time of day in the rear view mirror.

The last track on The Wreckage, the tender piano and string ballad “Too Late Too Soon”, is totally different from the original recording prior to the accident. “When we had recorded it initially in those first sessions, it was like Free, like Bad Company, like total heavy, guitar rock,” Everyone was happy with the initial recording at first. “But when we took that time away and started listening back to it, there were certain things that just sort of stood out as…. something about it wasn’t right, like the further that we got away from it, the more we listened to it, it always came off kind of limp,” Hoge says.

“Too Late…” in particular benefited from being re-imagined as an aching ballad. “Piano is something that I approach totally differently because I don’t have any clue what I’m doing. So that’s the first song that’s ever been recorded that I wrote on piano. So I rewrote everything and it took on this whole different vibe for the song to fit way better and it was the perfect ending.”

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