Ned Hill is a songwriter from Nashville by way of Horse Cave, Kentucky. He was the frontman for the band, Ned Van Go. Here, Music Editor John Freeman talks to him about his first solo release, Six Feet Above Ground (2018).
Tell me a bit about your process for writing and recording your new record, Six Feet Above Ground.
Ned Hill: Around mid-late 2016, I started writing songs for this new record as well as scouring some old demos, some released and some unreleased, in order to create a collection of around twenty-five songs from which I would narrow down. Once I trimmed that down to 15 songs, I reached out to Dave Coleman about producing my new project. Dave had reached out to me earlier in 2016 about possibly doing a record together. So in April, 2017 we started the recording process. I recruited Johnny Mark Miller on bass, Jeffrey Perkins on drums, and Dave would handled the lead guitar parts. We recorded in Dave’s Howard’s Apartment Studio and pretty much had the record done in two weeks. Took about another month to do the overdubs and to record the auxiliary players we brought in. Dave did a great job of getting down what I was hearing and his guitar parts were killer!
What is it like to go out on your own after so many years playing in the band Ned Van Go?
Well, when you’re in a band, playing primarily with the same guys, there is a feeling of camaraderie and comfort within that. And although I was the founder and leader of that band, I gave them a lot of leeway as to how the songs were finalized and how we presented them. Now with the solo record, though I still reach out to the people I play with to get their input, I do demand we stay very close to how the songs were originally recorded. But really the biggest difference is the fact that I have to do a majority of the shows either by myself or as a duo. This naked exposure is a bit unsettling, but is necessary for me to promote this record properly since bringing a band along on most of these shows is not financially viable for me at this point. I’ve been working on this for the last year so we’ll see how I do.
What are your current plans for touring and promoting the record?
Mike Farley of Michael J Media is doing the publicity for the record and Bill Wence of Bill Wence Radio Promotions is handling the radio campaign. Also, I hope to do a 100+ shows this year in different areas of the country, starting with a two week tour out west in late May.
Who are some of your central songwriting influences and what traits of theirs show up in your own writing?
I guess like most people, I have a lot of different influences within the rock’n’roll landscape; The Beatles, Springsteen, Petty, The Replacements, Steve Earle, Randy Newman, to name a few. I’m basically a folk-rock writer in the classic sense who tries to find a melody, a hook, and some power to go along with some working class lyrics for the most part. The afore-mentioned artists, in one capacity or another, do that for me. But for this record in particular I had Mellencamp on my mind especially during his “Lonesome Jubilee” period. You know, taking simple songs and creating hooks with the guitar and violin over the top of an infectious rhythm section. I totally dig that!
I’m curious about the role that geographical places play in your songs. In these songs we get references to towns as disparate as Horse Cave, KY and Detroit, MI. What do these places share, if anything, that resonates with you as a writer and why?
Horse Cave, Ky is the town I was raised in, while Detroit is the city I’ve come to know a little bit over the last ten years, primarily due to my good friend Don “Doop” Duprie who coaxed me up y’alls way a while back to play. In fact, I co-wrote the song, “Detroit City (You’re One Tough Town,” with native Detroiters Don Duprie and Alison Lewis. The differences between the two places are obvious: Horse Cave is an extremely small town, while Detroit has historically been one of our country’s most important cities. But for me as a writer, they share or shared the same fate over the last decade or more. The fabric of a community ripped apart by external forces, progress, greed, politics, whatever you want to call it and left a shadow of its former self. Detroit seems well on its way back but Horse Cave, not so much. Still nothing but empty store fronts there. Vibrant communities are fragile things and it doesn’t take much to get one swirling downward. But there’s always hope. I love my little hometown.
How long have you been in the Nashville area, and what are some of the challenges and advantages of living in such a storied musical town?
I’ve been in this town around twenty years. Of course, this city has changed a lot over that time. It’s now an “it” city with a lot of brand spanking new buildings and businesses catering to the overwhelming influx of tourists. Musically, it’s still home to some of the greatest musicians in the country. Like they say, the guy delivering your pizza might be the best bass player in the world. It’s a songwriting town but it’s also a business town which means music row doesn’t want good songs, they want songs that will sell (good or bad is irrelevant). The music business industry here really means nothing to me in that sense, but I do enjoy the amount of music you can find on any given night and access to all the fine musicians. Plus, it’s a centrally located city, so you don’t have to travel too far to get to Dallas, Atlanta, St. Louis, Winston-Salem, or Detroit. As an independent artist, the biggest challenge is breaking through here. You’re a small fish in an ocean of like minded fish. You just gotta keep swimming and try not get swallowed up.
The songs “That’s My Story” and “Streets Of My Hometown” seem fairly confessional and autobiographical. How true to your own life do you stay in these lyrics?
They’re both true to life tunes. “That’s My Story” is just little snippets of my life that kind of takes you through a journey from where I started to the road that led me to music. “Streets Of My Hometown”, co-written by my brother Billy Hill, is a little trip down memory lane of my little hometown of Horse Cave, KY. The chorus contrasts those great memories to the empty town with it’s vacant store fronts that exists there now.
What are you working on right now, and do you have any near-term plans for new musical projects?
Since I just released my new record “Six Feet Above Ground” on March 9th, my full attention has been on getting it out there and preparing to tour a little bit on it. So there are no near-term plans as far as any new musical projects right now. Of course, like most writers, I have little snippets of song ideas that I collect on my phone when they come to me. I guess that’s a process that never stops whether there’s something new on the horizon or not.
You can purchase Ned Hill’s music and keep up with upcoming shows at http://nedhillmusic.com