Will Hoge is as Nashville as hot chicken and Studio B. The songwriter and roots rocker grew up in Franklin and took his muscular, tuneful sound to the top of the local and regional music scene before truly breaking out with the album Carousel in 2001. Since then he's toured internationally, played the key late night TV shows and built a deeply loyal fan base. And if you were a Nashville based live music lover in the last two decades, Will Hoge has been a staple in your life - music city's answer to Springsteen and Tom Petty.
Now 47 with a family, Hoge is diversifying, adding a new business enterprise to his music career. It's an app-based car service with a green twist - an all electric fleet. It's a small but spirited new competitor to Lyft and Uber. And it seemed like the perfect vehicle, literally, to catch up with Hoge and hear about his new album, Anchors.
(This feature was broadcast as part of The String with Craig Havighurst, which airs Sundays at 8 am and Mondays at 9 pm on WMOT.)
It's a Friday afternoon in East Nashville and I've been invited to ride in a rock star's limousine.
It’s not the usual scenario however. This white Tesla SUV isn't Will Hoge's personal ride. He's a partner in the company that owns and operates it, Nashville Electric Transportation. Hoge and his team call it NET. I climb in with Hoge and his two sons George and Liam.
Hoge: “We are cruising now in the first NET model X 90D. We wanted to make a bigger impression with electric vehicles here in Nashville and we wanted the whole service to be based aroun that. So once we got in first Tesla and drove it, we were sold."
As for why a successful singer songwriter wound up as founder of a tech-oriented startup, Hoge has a wide ranging story to tell.
“You build a music career long enough, and when you do that the right way you can earn yourself a little bit more time. So I was fortunate. For years when I started having kids and my wife and I went on that journey, we were able to dedicate some time - obviously a lot of time - to that. But now, records, I’ve gotten myself on a good clip with that. And I feel like I’ve kind of got my path carved. So this, it’s not something I had huge intentions on. But my best friend and I - one of my partners - we’ve been best friends since the fourth grade. And we’ve talked about kind of random things for years. And we started talking about Teslas. And when this idea got hatched, we got serious about. We wrote it up and we did a real business plan and really did our research. And we took it to a bunch of business managers that I’ve worked with in the music business. And everybody looked at it and nobody would tell us that it was stupid. So we said well let’s try it. So we got the first car. And that’s been about five months ago that the app has been live and it’s been growing every week.”
Hoge says NET is priced somewhere between an Uber and a private car service - a sort of business class service in a luxurious ride. He and his partners are aiming at business travelers, visiting musicians and groups or couples on an outing.
There are six cars in the fleet. Customers book travel on the web or an app. They are promised a professional full time driver who's been formally background checked. Our chauffeur is Steve Jones.
"I’ve been driving with limousine services since 2005, but this is my favorite by far. Not only the make of the car, but to see the people so excited. For example this morning I took six ladies out to Cheekwood. And I drove up to pick them up and they were like ‘oh my goodness did we order this? Do we have to pay more for this?’ And I said, ‘No it’s fine. It’s moderately priced so people can afford it.’ And they just had the time of their lives. They wanted to know everything about the mirror, the glass, how fast it goes, how quick it can go from zero to 60. Which is 2.5 seconds, by the way."
For the record that's faster than a Lamborghini. The car is nice. And backing me up are George and Liam who have been riding quietly in the back seat. All this time.
"I really really like this car,” says one. And the other: "Whenever it drives it feels so smooth."
Hoge's sons also played a part, unwitting but vital, to the stimulation of Hoge's new album Anchors.
Hoge: “I got really burned out a year and a half ago and wasn’t sure how I was even going to do this any more. And they had started a band called The Lonely Man. And they were rehearsing in our garage and in this really dark depression of not knowing how or why I wanted to do this anymore I heard these three kids just making this racket and in love with it and really working on songs and trying. And I watched from the bedroom window the joy that they had in doing that. And it took me back to being 17 and getting a guitar for the first time and wanting to start a band and write songs. And I wrote the song from the record called “17” that night. And that was really kind of the catalyst for the whole record.”
He continues: "I guess it’s sort of about falling in love over and over again - about not just your partner but life and where you are and what you do and how you pursue those things."
That's the sound we're more familiar with coming from Hoge, the sturdy memorable melodies, the country inflected stringed instruments, the swelling horns. It's album number ten for an artist who remains in constant forward motion.