Music Interviews
6:50 pm
Fri August 31, 2012

Derek Hoke: Three Quiet Chords And A Microphone

Originally published on Mon September 3, 2012 6:40 pm

Every Tuesday night at the 5 Spot, some 200 people show up the East Nashville bar for Two Dollar Tuesdays: a $2 coverage charge, $2 beers and five musical guests. It's hosted by Derek Hoke, an unassuming, laid-back guy with the cowboy hat and retro-vintage eyeglasses.

"I call it a speed showcase," Hoke says. "Everybody plays five songs, and I tell them to play the 'best of' — you know, get up there, kill and get off. There's somebody coming up right after you, and we have to plow through this thing."

But many of the regulars at the 5 Spot come as much for Hoke's own music as for his Tuesday night line-ups. Hoke just released his second album, Waiting All Night, and describes his crowd-pleasing music as "quietbilly."

"Me and my producer friend Dexter Green — I just had all these songs, and I was singing them very quietly, but the instrumentation of it was a rockabilly band: upright bass, rockin' snare drum," Hoke tells NPR's Melissa Block. "But we had it all kind of toned down to where I'm kind of crooning on top of it, if you will, instead of doing total JD McPherson or whatever. We called it 'quiet rockabilly,' so 'quietbilly.' "

Like McPherson, Hoke wound up in the country and rockabilly sphere after starting with punk.

"I still have a huge affinity for bands like Fugazi and things like that," Hoke says. "I also have a huge affinity for old country music, and some new country music, as well. The correlation between the two is they're still very simple forms of music. Punk's three chords. Hank Williams is three chords. It's just a different way of expressing yourself, either through a Marshall amp or through a mandolin."

Toilet Paper Rolls On Fire

Strumming a medium tempo and featuring a hiccuping electric guitar, "So Quiet" is about a woman Hoke's father was either dating or was married to. (Hoke is fuzzy on the particulars.) "She'd do things like light rolls of toilet paper on fire, which nearly burned down their house. It's about "how that tornado of a person has left your life, and how it's so quiet around here now."

"Unfortunately, my father passed away before this record came out, but some friends and family know exactly who this person is," Hoke says. "It was a way to get some comic relief out of some craziness."

Hoke says he thinks his father would have appreciated "So Quiet": "I think he would laugh his butt off and shake his head like, 'I can't believe I ever got in that situation to begin with.' "

'Love Is All You Need'

Written during the recession, "Hope We Make It on Love" is about a couple that's lost everything.

"I was watching Dateline NBC, and there was an old couple [from] Palm Springs or something — they're selling their old jewelry at the local pawn shop to buy food," Hoke says. "But they were so in love with each other and happy, that it was just part of their life now. They'd owned the yachts and had the Mercedes and everything, but they remembered the simple things in life: This is all just stuff, and love is all you need."

For Hoke, he's usually in the car when a song comes to him, listening to NPR or just singing out loud with the radio turned off.

"If I sat on the couch with a guitar and a pen and paper, I'm obviously trying to write a song," Hoke says. "But if I'm driving a car, I'm kind of multitasking and not really thinking about it, so I think it comes from a more genuine place, which is wherever songs come from — out of your soul, out of the ether. It seems more natural to me to just start humming and whistling and making a human noise rather than writing ideas on a — like, 'I want to turn this sentence into a song.' I'm kind of terrible at that."

For now, Hoke says he's happy where he's at, but the "little kid" in him still wants to open up for Lyle Lovett or The Mavericks, tour Europe and "keep making little records and keep trucking along."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: Come with me for a moment to a bar in East Nashville, a hangout for local musicians. Come for $2 Tuesday at the 5 Spot.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I hope everybody is getting their $2's worth tonight.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: This is obviously a $5 show, man. Come on.

BLOCK: And very possibly the best deal in town. There's a $2 cover, $2 beer and five musical guests, a lineup put together by local singer and songwriter Derek Hoke.

DEREK HOKE: I call it, like, a speed showcase. Everybody plays five songs, and I tell them to play, like, the best of, you know, get up there, kill and get off.

(LAUGHTER)

HOKE: There's somebody coming up right after you, and we have to, you know, plow through this thing, but...

BLOCK: And if it's not working, you don't get to keep trying.

HOKE: Right.

BLOCK: There might be 200 people at the 5 Spot on any given Tuesday, and here's the thing, they come to hear Derek Hoke play as much as anyone else.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

HOKE: (Singing) Nobody talks around here. They just listen, hoping to hear about this thing called love. And every heart in this town...

BLOCK: Derek Hoke is 37, a mild-mannered guy in a cowboy hat and retro vintage eyeglasses. He grew up in South Carolina and moved to Nashville 12 years ago, worked for a while as Ricky Skaggs' merch boy, but he wasn't just selling T-shirts and CDs at those bluegrass concerts, he was watching and listening, learning how to be a better performer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

HOKE: (Singing) But tonight, I'll just shoot out all the lights on a lonely street.

BLOCK: Derek Hoke has just released a new album called "Waiting All Night," and it showcases the crowd-pleasing style he's come to call quietbilly.

HOKE: The instrumentation of it was a rockabilly band. It's upright bass and, you know, rocking snare drum. But we had it all kind of toned down to where I'm kind of crooning on top of it, if you will, instead of doing total J.D. McPherson or whatever. And it was quiet rockabilly so quietbilly.

BLOCK: It's funny that you mentioned J.D. McPherson because I've interviewed him for this show. And like you, he told me that he, you know, ended up in this sort of country rockabilly-sphere but started in really loud music. He started with a love of punk and rock 'n' roll just like you.

HOKE: Right. I still have a huge affinity for bands like Fugazi and things like that, but I also have a huge affinity for old country music and some new country music as well. And just the correlation between the two is they're very - still very simple forms of music - punk's three chords. Hank Williams is three chords. It's just a different way of expressing yourself, either through a Marshall amp or through a mandolin.

BLOCK: So there you go, quietbilly.

HOKE: Quiet.

BLOCK: You end up with quietbilly.

HOKE: Yeah.

BLOCK: You have to say it quietly?

HOKE: It sounds creepy, though.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: All right. I just want to hear it again.

HOKE: Quietbilly.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: You have a song called "So Quiet," speaking of quietbilly.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SO QUIET")

HOKE: (Singing) I used to hear you come home through the window, and I could tell that you've been out on the town. Yeah, we fuzz, and we fight and wake the neighbors. But it's so quiet around here now.

My father used to date a - I think he was married to her for a while, a very crazy person who (unintelligible).

BLOCK: Wait a minute, wait a minute. You're not sure if he was married to her?

(LAUGHTER)

HOKE: At the time, I don't know. I don't if they were engaged or married. He was in (unintelligible) Florence, South Carolina, and I was in Nashville. And I just kind of hear about it. I guess, she, like, lit a roll of toilet paper and threw them out and then almost burned the house down. And they've soon broke up after that, but that's not basically about that situation and how this tornado of a person has now left your life and how it's so quiet around here now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SO QUIET")

HOKE: (Singing) I remember the night you ran me over, but it's so quiet around here now.

BLOCK: The song does escalate to a point where there's...

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: ...a line that I had to go back and listen to again. I remember the night you ran me over.

HOKE: Right. It may or may not be an embellishment but pretty close, though.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SO QUIET")

HOKE: (Singing) Why I'd ever let you in...

Unfortunately, my father passed away before this record came out, but some friends and family know exactly who this person is. And it was a way to get some kind of comic relief out of some craziness.

BLOCK: What do you think your dad would think of this song?

HOKE: I think he would laugh his butt off and shake his head, like, I can't believe I ever got in that situation to begin with.

BLOCK: He'd appreciate it.

HOKE: I think so.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SO QUIET")

HOKE: (Singing) It's quiet around here. It's quiet around here now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOPE WE MAKE IT ON LOVE")

HOKE: (Singing) I hope we make it on love. I hope we make it on love because the money is all gone, because the money is all gone. Yeah, we spent every penny. Yeah, we spent every dime. Always thought...

BLOCK: Tell me about the song "Hope We Make It On Love," which has this great perky up-tempo thing going on, but it's all about a couple that's - they lost everything. They've got no money left.

HOKE: I think I wrote it, like, a year and a half ago, but definitely sign of the times kind of a song, just recession. And I was watching "Dateline NBC," and there was an old couple, like, Palm Springs or something. They're selling their jewelry at the local pawnshop to buy food, but they were so in love with each other and happy that it was just kind of part of their life now. You know, they'd owned the yachts and had the Mercedes and everything, but they remembered the simple things in life, and that this is all just stuff, and love is all you need.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOPE WE MAKE IT ON LOVE")

HOKE: (Singing) Yeah, I miss the jing-aling-ling(ph), the jing-aling-ling that we're used to. I miss the jing-aling-ling, the jing-aling-ling. Well, honey, don't you miss it too? We could do what we wanted, and the price was never wrong. I hope we make it on love because the money is all gone.

BLOCK: When you're writing a song, Derek, do you have a favorite place to be, some place that's really inspirational for you?

HOKE: I'm usually in the car either listening to you or...

(LAUGHTER)

HOKE: ...with the radio completely turned off, and I'll kind of see if anything comes. And I do a lot of just kind of singing out loud in the car.

BLOCK: What do you think is it about being in a car?

HOKE: I don't know because I'm not really trying to write a song. If I sat on the couch with a guitar and a pen and paper, I'm obviously trying to write a song. But if I'm driving a car, I'm kind of multitasking. I'm not really thinking about it, and so I think it comes from a more genuine place.

BLOCK: Maybe something about being in motion.

HOKE: That might have something to do with it - moving forward, I guess. I've never tried writing a song in reverse, maybe I'll do that next time.

(LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAITING ALL NIGHT")

HOKE: (Singing) Oh, you're walking in circles, walking in line, running to another (unintelligible) I've been waiting all night. I've been waiting all night. If you won't come home, I'm going to find someone to treat me right.

BLOCK: Derek Hoke, it's so fun to talk to you. Thank you.

HOKE: You too. Thank you, Melissa.

BLOCK: Derek Hoke's new CD is titled "Waiting All Night."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAITING ALL NIGHT")

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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