Will Hoge, "We 're always on tour," says Will Hoge, the phone reception crackling as his bus hurtles through the Appalachian Mountains. "Being from Nashville, it 's so easy to get to and from places, so the touring never really stops." Hoge and his road-tested bandmates are currently heading to the college town of Harrisonburg, VA, where they plan to play "a loose and dangerous rock & roll show" in support of Hoge's new record, Draw the Curtains. The album marks his first effort for the Rykodisc label, as well as his first non-independent release since leaving Atlantic Records' roster several years back. It's a soulful disc -- sometimes raucous, sometimes refined -- and Hoge hopes his new label will help spread the group's Southern-fried gospel.

"When we left Atlantic," he explains, "we decided that we weren't going to worry about record labels. There 's so much more to worry about -- how to write great songs, make great records, play great shows." Hoge issued three releases as an independent artist and took up permanent residence on the road, a move that generated interest from other labels. Ryko eventually won out, having impressed Hoge and co. with "small, very logistical steps for turning people on to this record." Hoge is a realistic songwriter -- someone who realizes the value of a single well-played show or a single converted fan -- and his steady approach gelled with Ryko's attitude. "We're not trying to make a bunch of money in the next six months and then be done with it," he says. "We can be patient and let a big series of little things happen."

Will HogeDraw the Curtains is very much a product of the South. It alternately croons and stomps, mixing piano ballads with blue-collar, guitar-fueled rockers that spin tales of heartache. For an artist who's spent the better part of a decade on the road, an album like Draw the Curtains (which was largely completed before Hoge inked a deal with Ryko) is the embodiment of what it means to be an independent artist. It's raw, personal, and artistically valid, starting with the slow-roasted soul of "When I Can Afford to Lose" and not delivering its most radio-worthy tracks until much later. Hoge structured that tracklisting purposefully, and while most labels would prefer to pack an album's potential hits into the first fifteen minutes, Ryko is letting their most recent acquisition do things his own way.

The following week, Hoge brings his entourage to the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, where the band cuts through the bar's smoky air with traditional Southern-styled rock. "This is the most fun we've had in Michigan!" he exclaims before the band finishes. "I'm not saying it's the most fun we will have in Michigan, but it's the most fun we've had yet." And then he exits the stage, another show finished, another audience converted, another step in Will Hoge's big series of little things.