Much like his hometown Nashville, singer Josh Hoge represents Music City's competing spirits of tradition and rebellion.
A third-generation musician, who loves music, whiskey and rowdy good times, Hoge fits the profile of a typical, lifelong Nashville resident. But the 25-year-old is also part of a growing community of artists who call Nashville home, but do not ascribe to the city's time-honored twang. But even among those artists, the mix of pop and R&B featured on Hoge's 11-song debut with Epic Records, Call It What You Want, is one-of-a-kind. "Nashville will always be country, but this town is filled with musicians who are open to everything from Bill Monroe to Bill Withers," says Hoge, whose voice is honeyed by a good-old-boy drawl. "That's why there are so many different kinds of music being made here today, for example - rock bands like Kings of Leon. Music City USA used to mean only country, but that's changing."
Hoge traces his old-school R&B roots back to the extensive library of music collected by his dad, a rock singer signed to Epic in the 60s. "A lot of it was passed down to him from his father, who played jazz in the 40s," Hoge explains. "My older brother, who's a popular indie rocker, inherited all of my dad's rock records and I was drawn to all of his soul and R&B music. The first record I can remember hearing was by Jackie Wilson. I fell in love with the way he used his voice like an instrument. It blew me away."
Hoge never outgrew his love for soul music and as a teenager started listening to modern R&B superstars such as Babyface, Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight. Later, he began performing at high school talent shows and at clubs in Nashville on songwriter nights. "Making music is a big part of the culture here. I wrote songs and sang just for fun and to impress girls," he says with a mischievous laugh.
That all changed a few years after high school when Hoge began singing demos of pop songs written by country songwriters. "I was working at a record company running the mailrooms for their biggest artists, when someone found out that I could sing," he recalls. "The next thing I know, I was behind a microphone."
Around the time Hoge got serious about music he also got serious about a girl. Following his heart, he packed up his life and left Nashville behind to follow her to Los Angeles. To make a long story short, things did not work out, and Hoge drove back home to Nashville in a U-Haul. "It was just me going cross-country for 40 hours with my pug, Nelly," he recalls. "I was so pissed about everything that I wound up writing most of the album on the drive home."
Propelled by a fluttering acoustic guitar, smoothed out beats and Hoge admonishing his former lover with, "You do somebody wrong, before too long it's gonna get done to you," Hoge says the first single, "360," helped him work through the break up. "It sounds like a sweet love song, but when you listen to the lyrics what you hear is raw emotion coming through," he explains. "It's the perfect break-up song hoping someone hurts them as much as they hurt you."
Call It What You Want is filled with R&B jams with a rock edge, sexy dance-pop and silky ballads that showcase Hoge's crisp songwriting and dexterous voice. He shifts effortlessly from sweet falsetto to libidinous growl on the driving dance floor track, "Call It," a song inspired by Hoge's experience trying to take a friendship to the next level. "Sometimes when you define a relationship lovers or friends you ruin it," he explains. "In a perfect world, people should listen to their hearts and not to their friends who want to complicate things by slapping some meaningless label on a simple feeling. If it feels right, don't question it; let it develop naturally."
With its opening line, "Well I'm not lying baby, didn't plan on spying baby," Hoge says the guitar-based R&B come-on "Work That Body" is the confession of an accidental peeping tom. "I was trying to capture the magic of those random moments of infatuation, like seeing a pretty girl at the stop light and falling in love until the light turns green," he explains.
Featuring performances by members of John Mellencamp's band, "Take It Or Leave It" embraces the instruments and attitude that made Nashville famous and gives Hoge a chance to put his own unique stamp on the city's sound. "I'm proud of my roots and this song is a declaration of who I am and where I'm from," he says. "To me, the screaming Dobro and thumping backbeat, are the sounds of my two worlds country and city colliding."
To record the string arrangements that give the album closer, "Undone," it's celestial edge, Hoge traveled to Philadelphia the home of one of his favs Boyz II Men. A reflection on the emotional journey that inspired the album, Hoge says the sensitive ballad gives the album a sense of resolution. "You can't let the losses in your life define you," he says. "For me, making Call It What You Want was a healing process and this song is the scar that's left over; a symbol of survival."