Hedley frontman Jake Hoggard listens to music every single morning “like it’s my morning coffee,” he says, on the phone from a B.C. recording studio. “I wake up and I look for something to inspire me, and draw from everything that’s happening around me constantly.”
It’s what infuses his songwriting, and the sound of the band’s new album, Cageless – with its notable Weeknd-esque first single, “Love Again,” that’s racked up four million streams and landed in the Top 10 at four radio formats. It’s what prompts some to view the band – Hoggard, guitarist Dave Rosin, bassist Tommy MacDonald and new drummer Jay Benison (replacing Chris Crippin) – as ever-evolving, and others to believe it’s chasing trends.
Hoggard has an honest – and passionate – explanation. “I’m the one in the band coming into practice going, ‘Yo, you guys gotta hear this! Have you ever heard a snare drum sound like that?’ Little details, little nuances, trends. Also, the way pop music’s evolving is very much a derivative of urban music. I’m sensitive, too. My ears are trained to be observant. I’m not just listening; I’m listening to a culture, in a sense. That sensitivity has always been filtered and factored into our writing process.”
“I’m listening to a culture, in a sense. That sensitivity has always been filtered and factored into our writing process.” – Jacob Hoggard of Hedley
The Hedley of today doesn’t sound like the Hedley that debuted nationwide with 2005’s self-titled album, which went double-platinum. With all six albums that followed on Universal Music Canada, Hedley has evolved from a pop-punk band, to EDM-infused pop/rock, to essentially an urban-dance-pop band (always sure to include big ballads); unlike, say, The Tragically Hip, Nickelback, Rush, or Blue Rodeo, all of whom have long maintained a strongly identifiable sound. Hoggard co-produced the latest album with long-time co-writers and collaborators Brian Howes and Jason “JVP” Van Poederooyen.
Hedley co-writer Brian Howes
Brian Howes was brought in as a Hedley songwriter and producer for the debut album in 2005, and remains Hoggard’s main collaborator.
“We were both rookies, to be honest,” says Howes. “I lived in a small, dumpy apartment and he came over and grabbed my acoustic and sang ‘On My Own.’ We had such a blast working together, and then we just kept it going. You just have certain chemistry with some people. I’ll get in the room with really great writers and we cancel each other out; there’s no vibe. But him and I, because we’re both kind of hosers, we had a lot of chemistry. We work hard, but it’s fun, and a lot of the stuff comes really quickly. We had some big blow-up fights too, over songs which went on to be big hits. We’re like brothers.
“He’s a killer songwriter, and he’s become better and better and better. Both of us love the craft of songwriting so much that we just dive into it. Every record gets better and better. We made a conscious decision to transition the band from more of a rock edge to more of a pop edge, and he could go there because he’s so into different kinds of music. I think that’s what created the longevity for the band; we’re always evolving.”
“Because we’re so prolific — we write so much and so constantly — we’re almost constantly mirroring where we’re at in life,” says Hoggard. “I’m so thankful to be able to say that it’s constantly evolved, that we’ve constantly pushed ourselves to not be the same. That’s why our music really represents not just that, but times and places throughout our history. I think that’s really cool. It’s a time-stamp.
“I can look back at [2007’s] Famous Last Words, I was like, ‘Fuckin’ yeah, like angry rawr,’ and it’s so funny. I love joking about it now. I still say we’re a pop-punk band, just because it’s funny.”
When Hoggard says “we,” and “our,” he has to clarify. He does not write with his bandmates anymore, like he did on the first three albums, including Famous Last Words and 2009’s The Show Must Go. The shift began with 2011’s Storms, and continued through 2013’s Wild Life, 2015’s Hello and the new Cageless with Howes and JVP as the main co-writers, but also a handful of others.
“We do it once in a while,” Hoggard says of writing with MacDonald and Rosin. “The ‘we,’ I’m almost always referring to the band, like a mechanism, but the reality is, I’m the writer.”
“We magically just shifted it into a place where I took more the lead, as opposed to being more of a democratic process. I spearheaded it because my vision seemed the most in line with where to go, but also because of the trust of the guys. As I started to take more of a leadership role creatively, they also started to see the success of the band still grow, and the music that I was writing on my own [have] impact and [make the audience] react well. It wasn’t like they were, ‘Oh God, we’re fucked,’” he laughs.
Among the band’s accomplishments the past 12 years: headlining arena tours, sales of more than a million albums and four million singles, two JUNO Awards, 11 MMVAs, 17 No. 1 music videos, 16 Top 10 radio singles, 83 million Vevo views,
Hedley co-writer Jason “JVP” Van Poederooyen
Jason Van Poederooyen came in as an engineer on the first album, and started writing with Hoggard on the fourth album, 2011’s Storms.
“My skill set is all over the map,” says JVP. “I’ll build the track and get the music going while they get the lyrics and melody going, but I pitch in on melody as well. We all do a lot of everything. Primarily I work on Pro Tools.
“Sometimes, I’ll have a track pre-made as a start and they’ll be inspired, or Brian will bring in a chord progression and I’ll build the track over that, but in those cases [‘Love Again’ and ‘Obsession’] we were just in the room noodling around, and I would throw a beat up, or some keys, and it just evolved. Sometimes when the melodies come in, the chords will change. Both those songs were born in the room, from scratch.
“[Jake’s] always wanting to do something new. That’s who he is as a songwriter. When we were building the track, he was really into it. Even after ‘Love Again’ was finished, he was texting me, ‘Dude I can’t get that song out of my head.’ Super-excited. Just pure creative energy. Ideas, ideas, ideas, and you just try and sort them out, and take his ideas and mix them with your own. We have a chemistry between us.”
1 billion radio audience impressions, and 65 million streams, and counting.
Hedley – a band Hoggard formed in his teens with an entirely different lineup — had success right out of the gate with its first major label album. Hoggard had the benefit of an awaiting nationwide fanbase, who had watched his campy, charismatic performances on the second season of TV talent search Canadian Idol in 2004, which took him to the Top Three. He was also a natural star, funny and talented, great with his fans. He was perceived as a goofball, but he was one who worked his ass off behind the scenes, wanting desperately to learn and become a better songwriter.
“I think early, in what’s now a career, I was always equipped with that appetite and that hunger to improve, to be better, to realize that you had peers, to realize that you had to apply yourself to a craft,” says Hoggard, who started playing piano at age four and guitar at 12. “Early on, I realized it’s not like accounting, but it’s like an exercise. It’s something you have to show up to every single day, and just put in the time. I think from that early point, I was developing an ethic.”
Subject-wise, even though Hedley has travelled with We Charity (formerly Free the Children) to Kenya and India, and frequently performs at We Day, and there’s been births, deaths and illnesses in the Hedley family, Hoggard sticks with love as the general theme, as well as some fun, party material. Droughts and cancer are not in his lyrical wheelhouse.
“A lot of my life’s work has been centered around falling in love, breaking all your bones on the way down. I’m also very much that type of person,” he explains. “There’s something about developing a sensitivity to all of those experiences, not even just yours, but developing a sensitivity in that search for inspiration.”
For Cageless, he wrote 30 to 35 songs, he says, the chosen 10 with various co-writers: Howes and JVP, of course, plus Dan Book, Andrew Goldstein, Ryan Stewart, Jarett Holmes, Nolan Sipe, Kyle Moorman, Paro Westerlund and Susie Yankou.
Howe, an award-winning producer, has been Hoggard’s main songwriting collaborator since 2005 and is credited on every Hedley album since, some more than others. And JVP, who’s been on board as engineer since the debut album starting getting publishing on songs for Storms, when the band began exploring electronic sounds. The three co-wrote “Love Again.”
“’Love Again’ we wrote at the beginning, before we had an album title,” says Hoggard. “It was a very early idea and it just was killer. It’s so funny when you’re making an album, you don’t know what it’s going be. It’s basically saying, ‘Hey, let’s go on a road trip. Where you wanna go?’ ‘I don’t know.’ And then you just get in the car and it takes shape.’”
Hoggard fully admits that the final destination sometimes surprises his bandmates, who aren’t in that car with him. “There’s always a bit of a disconnect because I’m always pushing us. So I think out of the gate, they’re not too sure how to react sometimes, but I keep them so close to the process.”
And Hedley’s fans are there at the end, too.
“We’ve grown up together with our fans now,” Hoggard says. “It’s always been something I’ve factored into the songwriting process because I’ve never wanted to alienate them. I’ve never wanted to take a huge left-turn and completely shock everyone to the point of a disconnect. I think that’s why it wasn’t like it happened overnight; I think that’s also been a huge contributing factor to our ability to stay relevant.”