Gary Allan’s songs about heartbreak and dark places have made him one of country music’s biggest stars since the 1990s—and continues to draw large crowds.
He’ll be coming to Fantasy Springs this Saturday, Jan. 20.
During a recent phone interview, Allan he has a new album in the making. His most recent album, Set You Free, topped the country charts in 2013.
“I ended up switching record labels during the middle of making it,” Allan said about the upcoming album. “We’re looking for a launching point right now. The label hasn’t heard a single, and I’m going to go in and cut three songs, and one of those three songs will be a single for the launching point of the record. I’m with EMI now, which is still under Universal, but I switched from MCA.”
On Allan’s 1998 album, It Would Be You, he recorded a hidden track called “No Judgment Day,” a song about a restaurant owner in Texas who was killed by two ex-coworkers in a robbery to fund drugs and alcohol. While the song was never intended to be a single, it did receive radio play.
“That was actually a true story written from the front page of the newspaper,” he said. “… I didn’t write that though. Allen Shamblin, who is a very deep writer, wrote that song. I heard him do it in a writer’s round, and I was just floored by it. I asked him questions about it, and it was authentic and real—and I fell in love with it. It was never intended to be a single and really was never intended to be heard. When it was done, we made a simple recording of it with just me and a guitar, and I felt like it needed to be on there. It didn’t fit the album, and I had the album end for 2 1/2 minutes—and if you were still paying attention, I’d all of a sudden come back on.”
Country songs at one time used to explore dark places—but in recent times, it’s become more about recreational drinking and fun, at least in some circles.
“I actually get criticized a lot for writing dark songs,” Allan said. “I had to try to force myself to write light-hearted songs. But that’s one of the things I love about country music: I love the dark stuff. Pop was always about what happened on the weekends, and country was what happened Monday through Friday and was hard songs about life. I’ve had to learn how to write differently as of late, which has been a struggle and a challenge for me. I started writing with girls to try to find ways to soften my writing. ‘Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)’ is a great example.”
The business side of country music is rapidly cycling through artists, meaning many newer singers don’t have the staying power of the artists of the past.
“I think it’s always been the nature of the business to change, and I think technology changes things the most,” Allan said. “We’ve had a ton of technology, and I think that’s why we’ve had a ton of change. I think the talent is always cycled in with younger people, and I think everything is pushed towards pop. I really think you feel in my genre versus the other genres, because we were less pop and the furthest from it. … There are stations here that used to play hardcore rap and Kanye West, and now they’re playing Adele. So I think every genre is moving toward the middle, and I think it’s going to be sad when we really get there. I’ve been around for 20 years, but the way the genre works now, some artists only get one hit, and they don’t get behind you like they used to get behind you and walk you through your 20 years. Now it’s everybody swinging for as young as they can get.”
I asked Allan if there was anything in his career he’d do differently if he had a chance.
“I think there’s a lot. I always could have made turns that would have made me more popular, turns that could have put me on awards shows—but I don’t think I would have been as happy with myself,” he replied. “I think I did it my way. I’m proud of everything I did, and I’m happy with it. There were a lot of songs I got my hands on first, but I didn’t want to be responsible for the song. I would think, ‘That’s a big hit, but I don’t want my name on that.’ and thought, ‘I’d have to sing this every night for the rest of my life.’”
Allan started out in honky tonks as a kid, and Allan said he sometimes misses those days.
“I miss just being a guitar player. I miss just being able to play whatever I want,” he said. “Now there are songs you have to playm and your setlist is pretty much set. You can try to change it, but 90 percent of the hits have to be played. I miss the freedom. I miss just going out and being a guy in the band.”
On this tour, Allan is going to try something a little different.
“We play a little bit off every album,” he said. “I went and saw Stevie Wonder recently, and he played for 3 1/2 hours. He didn’t play anything I knew. He played some stuff from his albums in 1976, and it made me go home and take everything off my setlist that I didn’t think somebody would know. It’s going to be sprinkled hits from all 10 albums.”
Gary Allan will perform at 7 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 20, at Fantasy Springs Resort Casino, 84245 Indio Springs Parkway, in Indio. Tickets are $29 to $69. For tickets or more information, call 760-342-5000, or visit www.fantasyspringsresort.com.