Gary Allan purposefully spent a long time working on his upcoming album, Set You Free. The California native, whose last CD, Get Off on the Pain, was released in early 2010, says he was biding his time until things settled into place at his record company, MCA Nashville.

"I've been saying I was waiting for the head of the label to change," the singer-songwriter explains. "I wasn't having success [before]."

Gary waited until new label chief, Mike Dungan, took his position before turning in the finished product. But while he had more time to work on what will be his ninth studio album, the 44-year-old still feels the same anticipation about letting others hear the new set of tunes.

"I think when you hole up and make an album, you come out going, 'God, I hope somebody likes it," he explains. "When they start to respond and check it out, it's really exciting, taking it to radio stations. I've done a ton of these things when they invite listeners in, and you go in and play them the record. I think the most nerve-wracking is when I had to play my album for Mike Dungan. That was super nerve-wracking. I brought him into the studio and just played it front to back. He turned around, said he loved it and left. He's been a great guy to get to know -- a breath of fresh air."

Above all, Gary says he hopes to always keep evolving as an artist. "[The challenge is] to keep sounding fresh," he admits. "I try never to focus on the radio, just find great songs, find emotion and just write the best songs you can. I think when you get fixated on trying to do something too accurate, it becomes more washed out and less what you intended it to be. So I think each time the challenge for me is to try and reinvent a little bit."

Set You Free won't hit stores until next year, but the debut single, "Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)" is already climbing the charts. Gary will spend much of the next few months on the road, including stops in Texas, California and Tennessee. See a list of his upcoming shows here.