Some artists can find it intimidating when it comes to following up a hugely successful album, but Gary Allan is always up for a challenge. His last album, 2013’s Set You Free, debuted at No. 1 on both Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and the all-genre Billboard 200 chart. It spawned the chart-topping single “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)” and earned praise from both fans and critics. Now, Allan is back with a new single, “Mess Me Up,” and has readied a collection of songs that reflect the sweet spot he’s in right now, personally and professionally.
“I’m in a pretty good place right now. All my records reflect where I’m at mentally. If I’m going through something, you guys will know about it. I’m in a good place, so I think it’s going to be a feel-good record. I’m happy with my home life. I’m actually moving right now so that part sucks,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville over the phone with a laugh. “But I’m just in a good place. My kids are all doing well. I’m doing well. I’m just happy.”
The day of the interview he was watching boxes leave his old house, heading for his new one. And they didn’t have far to travel. “Oddly enough I bought the house next door. It used to be Conway Twitty’s house,” he says, admitting he has always been a huge Twitty fan. “I’ve always wanted it and now I have it. It’s been the easiest [move], but kind of a pain in the butt because you don’t carry a box to the truck. You carry it all the way next door.”
When it came to recording his new album, Allan says he didn’t let the success of Set You Free pile on any pressure. “It was business as usual,” he says. “I don’t read my own press or pay attention to that kind of stuff. I think I just keep my head down, keep finding good songs and keep doing what I do. I know it will click with somebody.”
That philosophy has always worked for the California native, who first burst on the scene in 1996 with the single “Her Man.” Since then he’s populated country radio with such hits as “Tough Little Boys,” “Right Where I Need to Be,” “Best I Ever Had,” and “Life Ain’t Always Beautiful” and “Watching Airplanes.”
His new single, “Mess Me Up,” is a song he’s been wanting to release for a while. “I’ve been a fan of the song for years,” he says. “I’ve had it for a while, mostly waiting for the label to come around for it, and I’m excited about the song. I’ve been playing it live and tested it that way. It’s one that just got under my skin. It’s a song that gets inside of you and rips you up a little bit.”
At present, “Mess Me Up” is the only new song he’s sharing with fans on the road. “I try not to play things that people can’t buy or haven’t heard. I went to see this guy play at Bridgestone [Arena in Nashville] and he played for like three hours and didn’t play one song that I knew,” he recalls of going to see a major pop act he’d been a fan of for years. “He played old album [cuts] and it completely changed me and how I do my show. I said, ‘I’d never do that,’ and that concert probably changed the way I did shows forever. I went home and crossed out every song that I thought people wouldn’t know.”
Allan cares very much about giving his fans music he feels will resonate with them, and he’s excited about the songs he recorded for his upcoming album. He’s finished with the new project, but a release date has yet to be set. He turned in 20 songs to the record company so he and the label are in the process of deciding which songs will make the final cut.
At press time, it wasn’t 100% certain, but Allan says his new album will likely be titled Hard Way. “It’s a real visual song about the journey down life,” he shares. “The hook in it is ‘God gave me the rain to wash away the pain and learn from my mistakes, so I made it the hard way.’”
He’s hoping country radio will embrace his new music, but he says that’s not a consideration during the creative process. “I try to let the label do that,” he says of worrying about radio. “I try to just make music and they’ll tell me when it’s not quite radio enough. They are my gauge. It’s always changing and I’ve been here a long time, so it’s probably going to change again, but every few years I kind of look at what’s happening and ask myself, ‘How do I fit into that?’ I don’t ever want to do what everybody else is doing and that’s always a big problem for the label and me.”
These days Allan is busy on the road. “I’m slammed right now until the end of the year,” he says. “I will start out with festivals because that’s the season we are in for the next few months and then it will switch into casinos and rodeos and things like that for the rest of the year. I used to hate festivals just because they were always so odd. You would go on at 2 o’clock or 4 o’clock, and I much prefer playing in the dark, but I’ve gotten used to them. I think they are fun. We always have a good time, so I love them all now.”
Allan has always had a special connection with his fans and one recently celebrated her 300th Gary Allan show. “I make jewelry so I made her a diamond heart ring and gave it to her for her 300th show,” Allan says of finding a special way to show his appreciation for such support.
When he’s not touring or record, Allan really enjoys designing and creating pieces for his jewelry line. “This is all in my house. I carve it out of wax and then I cast it in gold and silver and I set the stones,” he says of the jewelry, which is available online. “I went to a jeweler’s school and when I had my store, I had a silversmith teach me how to cast a few years ago. After I finished the school, and started making stuff, both of my daughters went to a full-blown jeweler’s school. Now that I’m in the process of moving into my new house, we’re moving our shop right now. I’m setting up three work benches and we’re going to start turning out lines. We’re selling it as fast as we can make it.”
Though the jewelry has turned into a successful sideline that he enjoys doing with his kids, music will always be his first love. “I love to tour. I love to play live. Music is just so much a part of me. It’s therapeutic, especially through the hard times,” says Allan who credits music with helping him heal after the 2004 death of his wife. “It’s something that I turn to when I’m happy and when I’m sad. I think that’s why I’m still here. The songs that I end up gravitating towards are real-life songs, Monday through Friday stuff, not like poppy stuff and weekend stuff. I don’t now what I would have done without music. It’s been the best therapy I’ve ever had.”