Nobody wants to learn things the hard way, but, alas, there's a reason there's a school of hard knocks. Sometimes, sense must be beaten into us.
Heartland rocker Will Hoge's education began after the musician was introduced to a van as it turned into his lane as he left his Nashville, Tenn., studio on a motor scooter. At the time, he was in the midst of recording his fifth studio album, an endeavor that would be delayed for more than five months by the accident he suffered that August last year.
Hoge's face required more than 100 stitches. His left eye was almost ripped out. In an Internet post several days afterward, he said his forehead "looked like chopped ground beef." He broke his sternum, a clavicle, both shoulder blades and four ribs while shattering his femur and kneecap. The singer/songwriter was, literally, a mess, but the experience spurred a reawakening that fully blooms on his new album, appropriately titled "The Wreckage."
"I was almost killed in the middle of making this record, and then I went through all sorts of physical and mental rehab, learning to do these things again, and then going into the studio," Hoge said. "This should've been the hardest recording process ever for me, but with all that, this one was head and shoulders easier than every record I've ever made."
Hoge started making music in the mid '90s after discovering guitar shortly before graduating high school. He started a band called Spoonful, toured and recorded a studio EP. It was his introduction to the business, and would shape his approach thereafter.
He spent the ensuing decade indulging in that dream. He recorded 2001's "Carousel" and a live album, which attracted some attention, and eventually earned him and the band a deal with Atlantic Records. Together, they would release but one album, 2003's "Blackbird on a Lonely Wire."
Hoge chafed at having to kowtow creatively to a bunch of suits, and despite a grueling touring schedule, he never sold enough to satisfy the label. So the members went their separate ways, as amicably as one can in that situation.
On his own again, Hoge went back to business, touring extensively, releasing a pair of studio albums, as well as several disc recorded live, where he and the band had developed quite a reputation. It may not have seen workmanlike at the time, but in a sense, it was, until his accident shattered the illusion.
"I don't like to make those bold sweeping statements, but it really did change everything in my life. To go through something like that and come through the other side of it changes everything," he said.
Unable to even pick up a guitar for months, Hoge spent time with his family and recharged an appreciation for what he does. There were months afterward spent regaining his ability to play, sing and perform. He started going daily into a little office, where he'd spend four to five hours working on songs, and really taking the time to focus on writing in a way he hadn't for years.
The routine helped him realize why people take time to write, and it all contributed to arguably his finest disc to date.
While he didn't set out to write about the accident, he admitted the experience probably seeped in unconsciously, especially as much of "The Wreckage" was written after his hospitalization. It can be felt in paeans to perseverance like roadhouse rocker "Long Gone"; the soul-soaked, country-tinged ballad "Where Do We Go from Down"; and "Hard to Love," which sounds like a classic Bob Seger song. But nowhere is it more apparent than on the single, "Even If It Breaks Your Heart," where he sings about how music "lit a fire in a bright-eyed child."
"It felt like magic, when you could figure out a new song. At some point, there gets to be too much business involved, and you get further and further away from that flame. That's what that song was all about, rediscovering that love and passion for songwriting, music and performing," he said. "I never lost it totally, but I got further away from it than I should, and I didn't realize it until all this went down. I'll make damn sure I don't step that far away from it again."
Will Hoge performs at 10 p.m. Friday at Wormy Dog Saloon, 311 E. Sheridan in Bricktown. "Chris Parker