Gary Allan Brings on the ‘Pain’
"'Cause I love the long shots, and the left out lost causes, hanging out in the back of the pack with the dark horses, I ride the wrong road just as fast as I can, God knows there's no one else to blame, sometimes I think I get off on the pain."
Those are the relatively autobiographical lyrics from the title track of Gary Allan's new album, 'Get Off on the Pain,' out this Tuesday (March 9). Gary, who relocated from California to Nashville several years ago, says the song describes his life, both on a personal and professional level.
When The Boot sat down with Gary to talk about his new album, he appeared happy, relaxed and most importantly, at peace. In 2004, Gary's wife Angela committed suicide, and the devastated widower poured his heart, soul and pain into his 2005 release 'Tough All Over,' with songs such as 'Life Ain't Always Beautiful' and 'Puttin' Memories Away.'
On 2007's 'Living Hard,' a change occurred with a few songs of reflection, introspection and wistfulness, including 'Watching Airplanes' and 'Learning How to Bend.' He wrote several songs on that album that he said brought more truth to what he was singing, since he tends to write from personal experiences. Some of those personal experiences can be found on the new album, as well, in songs like 'No Regrets,' which is a tribute to his late wife. Gary has come out on the other side of tragedy and loss with a strength and sense of hope, due in large part to the therapy of making music.
During our interview, Gary also chatted about the healing process he went through, writing songs with one of his daughters, his all-or-nothing attitude towards love, recent troubles with a stalker and what he learned from touring with Brooks & Dunn.
Given all you've been through these past few years, is it therapeutic for you to put your thoughts down on paper?
Absolutely! Gosh, when my wife passed, that's how I got through it. Having your friends come over and kicking around every emotion, just turning it over from every angle really gives you a peace. For a while, I wondered what that was, but I recently met somebody who went through the same things that I did with family members and if anybody mentioned anything about it, they were a mess. And you wonder what that's gonna get you -- the therapy and all the things that you do -- but that's what it gets you is you're able to talk about that and live with it in a comfortable place, instead of just falling apart at the mention.
A great tribute to Angela and your love for her is 'No Regrets.' How was that writing session, and have you performed it live?
I don't know if I can perform it. There's lots that I can't sing just because it would be too emotional. But writing it, I can distinctly remember [my co-writers] Jon Randall and Jaime Hanna -- we had three hooks that we were kicking around. It was more of just "Are you willing to go there?," and I said, "Yeah." And we were able to get a real heartfelt, honest song out of it. That's where the best ones come from. It's just whether you feel like crying, whether you feel like going down that path. Yeah, I like that song, 'No Regrets.' I sleep well at night.
What about the kids, how are they coping?
We all went to a lot of therapy. There were six kids at the time. She had three, and I had three. Just making sure everybody was well taken care of, that was really healing to me. With the writing, what that gives you when you kick it around so much is the ability to speak about it and a peace with it, and I think that everybody's got a peace with it.
When people go in to buy this album, what do you want them to go away with?
A glimpse of me, where I'm at, what I'm going through and how I'm healing.They get a little piece of every album that I've done in the past with this one, too. I feel like it's got a good round. I've got that 'Smoke Rings [in the Dark]' vibe on there with '[We] Fly By Night,' and I've still managed to take turns I've never taken, like 'That Ain't Gonna Fly' ... and 'Kiss Me When I'm Down' -- those are just directions I haven't headed yet.
Your song 'Today' tells a heartbreaking story that unfortunately a lot of people can relate to.
That was a song that I was amazed wasn't written yet. It just seems so obvious standing there at the altar watching somebody get married that you thought you might care about. It was so well-written. I wished I would've written it! We've all got one of those.
'Kiss Me When I'm Down' depicts another road a lot of us have been down.
I'll be shocked if that doesn't end up as a single sometime. I think that's every girls' favorite on the album. It's a breakup song, but it's human nature to go back to your comfort zone when you do break up with somebody and call them and try to get them to come over one more time. And that's what that song is about -- trying to talk somebody back in just for a night. You don't think you want them back forever, but just come and kiss me when I'm down. I love that song.
You've said that the title track, 'Get Off on the Pain,' is a bit autobiographical, as it's about taking wrong roads with dark horses. How exactly do you relate to the song?
I relate to that song on a lot of levels, that's why I loved it so much and wanted it to be the title track. To me, it reflects the road. The road is a very relentless grind that I love. I get off on it. And a lot of those lines "being in the back with the dark horses," I feel like we've been that our whole career, just kind of on the outside of what's happening. If you're gonna do your own thing, you're gonna have that path. Knowing I was gonna do that when I came in to town, my goal was to have a long career. I wanted to be Willie Nelson, and knowing that, I knew that I would never be the latest, greatest thing because the flash in the pan and the big hypes, they never last. So, I knew that whatever I did was gonna have to be constantly doing what I wanted to do, and I think it's paying off. We've got our own sound out there now, and we're getting to reap a little bit now.
Since you've been playing music most of your life, can you remember the first song that made you feel deep emotion?
Probably 'He Stopped Loving Her Today,' and I remember playing that as a little kid and that was just a super-duper powerful song to me ... or Merle Haggard's 'You Take Me for Granted.' That's a great one in that vein too.
Your kids don't go on the road with you that much anymore. Do they still think you're cool and hip?
Yeah, I think so. Of course, I don't know. My middle daughter wouldn't go to yoga with me the other day. She said, "I'm not going with you, Dad." So maybe I'm not cool.
A dad who does yoga is pretty darn cool!
[laughs] The same [daughter] came up and played with me at the Ryman [in Nashville]. [Dallas] came in and sat in on piano.
Watching you at the Ryman, you seem to be best friends with your band. Does that make being on the road so much a bit more tolerable?
If you're truly in a band and you guys have been together for a long time, there's a family bond that you have. In fact, I've talked about this with therapists [laughs], especially if you're talking about a relationship, because when you're with somebody, you're going to your family, and she's alone. And if you date a musician, you're never, ever really gonna be first either. You're gonna be right behind the music and maybe right close. But all those little things give it some kind of tweak that makes it hard to deal with. But I think the gypsy lifestyle that we share ... those guys are truly my friends, and we hang outside of music. They're at my house, and some of them came to Mexico with us and surfed. We're truly friends, and it's that bond. So, when [I'm] home just for a couple of days, I'm usually ready to get out. I just like to go.
You went through so much with your wife's death, and then a stalker comes along and vandalizes your house amongst other things, making your life that much more complicated. Following that harrowing ordeal, have you had to make changes in how you deal with people?
I haven't had too many problems with it. That was the only problem I've really had. I've had fans come and knock on my door. I'm usually polite, but I'm usually very direct and say, "It's not cool that you come here uninvited." But I've only had one person really go off like that and make me feel threatened. And that actually started in the bars around town here. She would just come up randomly and start screaming at me about some history that we had. And it was like, "You don't even remotely look familiar to me." And then we ended up in court, and she came to my home a couple of times. I guess my cameras got better, but I've always had good security at my house anyway. If you come on my property, I've got you from the second that you enter on. There's little lasers ... my TVs come on in my room and fall just right on you. So, there's no way to sneak up on me. And I've got a loud dog.
You're doing your own thing on the road, but you're also going to go out with Brooks & Dunn for their Last Rodeo tour. Did you have to campaign for a spot on the road with them?
I told them I would bring the whiskey! I was on the Neon Circus tour with them, and so we've got some history there. [They're] great guys, and always a great party ... I'm so looking forward to doing that with them. I've learned so much from them, from not only show stuff, but how to treat people that you're touring with. I know a lot of acts, when you tour with them, there's a ton of rules -- you can't walk down on this ramp and you can't step on this speaker and you can't look at this light and whatever their story is. With Brooks & Dunn, man, it was just always, "You get out there and rock and have a good time."