Gary Allan: Breaking the Silence

Gary Allan opens up about writing songs, playing live and Living Hard.

In the Dec. 17 issue of Country Weekly you’ll find an article on Gary Allan, who’s speaking out for the first time since his wife’s death three years ago. In these Internet-only exclusive excerpts from that interview, Gary discusses the evolution of his live performances and songwriting over the years, as well as the reasoning behind the title of his new album, Living Hard.

On his recent musical changes
“I think this album right here, especially, is transitional—a lot more rock, a lot more in your face. My live show has become that over the past couple of years. I made some changes in my band. Some of it’s just to keep it moving for me. I get bored myself if I do the same thing, so I push myself in a new direction just so that I can enjoy playing live. I feel like with this album, I’m pushing the envelope as far as I can. And I think the format has opened up enough where I can do that right now. I’m going to see how far I can push it.”

On writing songs by himself
“That’s something I’ve forced myself to do again in the last few years. I was with [songwriters] Jamie O’Hara and Odie Blackmon three or four years ago and we were having a discussion about what the music business takes from you. I said it hadn’t taken anything from me. Jamie turned around and said, ‘When was the last time you wrote by yourself?’ That was like a hammer on the forehead. I thought, ‘Wow, not since I got a record contract have I just sat down with a pen by myself and asked myself if I had something to say.’ So now I try to.”

On touring after his Greatest Hits album was released
“When something like that happens, it’s great for your career, I guess, but you don’t have any new songs to put in the set list. I’m really looking forward to playing new stuff. I try to be conscious about not playing too many things that people don’t know. Nobody likes to go to a concert and not know any of the songs.”

On the title of his new album, Living Hard
“That’s always a weird thing for me. I always want to call it something that has nothing to do with anything. I almost called it Doing the Math, from that ‘Watching Airplanes’ song [Checkin’ my watch, doing the math in my head/Counting backwards to when you said goodbye]. Gary Allan, Doing the Math. I felt like Living Hard was the coolest looking on the shelf. That’s where we’re at right now. Everything’s a little out of control right now. It’s real heavy out there right now.”

On how playing live has changed since his teen years
“It’s different. There was a newness when you were a kid, the rush of the fans. Now it’s more about where I can take you. I feel like I have the ability to take you on an emotional rollercoaster with the arsenal of songs that I have now. The fans dictate that. Some nights you can get away with singing sad stuff and drag people through the dirt, and sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you’ve got to get in their face and keep it up and rocking. I’ve got a lot more freedom now because of that. Our set list is very loose. [The band members] just follow me, and that’s very exciting. I think that’s why people come to see us over and over. You can come see two days in a row and something’s going to be different.”

On his songwriting trip to Costa Rica with Odie Blackmon and Jim Lauderdale
That was last year. I found a house that was in the middle of a wildlife preserve. It was six hours from the airport. We’d never do it again, because it took too long to get to the airport. It backed up to a marine preservation. We couldn’t even get there by car, we had to have guys carry our stuff across the river and get us to this place. I paid some lady to come and cook for us. She charged me seven dollars a day. These fishing boats would come in in the morning and we would choose what we wanted to eat, and she would cook it that day. We were woken up by baboons every morning. Jim is quite the character—he’s way into tai chi and stuff like that. I’d have my coffee every morning and there were a few guys that gave jungle tours that would hike up to see us because they could hear us playing music. There’s nothing forever, so you could hear us far away. I just love the visual of those guys sitting there watching Jim do tai chi in the jungle.

“It’s the first time I’d ever sat down and written 24/7 like that. That’s all we did, was sit around with guitars and kick over stuff. I needed that. My wife had just passed. I’m sure they were looking at me going, ‘He is a wealth of emotion right now,’” Gary laughs. “It was good for all of us. The song that made the record off of that session was ‘We Touched the Sun.’”

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